The Lativian conductor, Mariss Jansons, was born while Riga was under military occupation by the Germans who seized it in 1941, a year after its forcible annexation by the U.S.S.R. His father was Arvīd Jansons (or Yansons) (1914-1984), the leading Latvian conductor to emerge under the Soviet system after the Baltic nation was retaken by the U.S.S.R. in 1945. His mother, the singer Iraida Jansons, who was Jewish, gave birth to him in hiding in Riga, Latvia, after her father and brother were killed in the Riga ghetto. As a child, he first studied violin with his father. In 1946, his father won 2nd prize in a national competition and was chosen by Yevgeny Mravinsky to be his assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. When his family joined him in 1956, young Jansons entered the Leningrad Conservatory, where he studied piano and conducting (where he graduated with honors), although his father urged him to continue playing violin. In 1969 he continued his training in Vienna with Hans Swarowsky and Karl Österreicher, and in Salzburg with Herbert von Karajan. In 1971, he was a prize-winner at the International Herbert von Karajan Foundation Competition in Berlin. H.v. Karajan had invited Jansons to be his assistant with the Berliner Philharmoniker, but the Soviet authorities blocked Jansons from ever hearing about the offer.
In 1973, Yevgeny Mravinsky, then Music Director of Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (now St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra), invited Mariss Jansons to assist him as Associate Conductor. In 1985 he was promoted to principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under music director Yuri Temirkanov. During his tenure there, he conducted the Orchestra on many of its successful tours to Europe, America and Japan. In 1979, Jansons was appointed Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he performed, recorded and toured extensively. Under his leadership it came to international attention as one of the finest and most exciting of major world orchestras. He has brought the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra on tours to all of the major European, American and Japanese music centers. Jansons resigned his Oslo position in 2000 after disputes with the city over the acoustics of the Oslo Konserthus. In 1992, Jansons was named principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He has worked as a guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra and has recorded Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 6 with them for the LSO Live label. In 1997, Jansons became the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. His initial contract was for three years, but his subsequent contract renewals were evergreen contracts that required yearly renewal. His relationship with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has been widely hailed both nationally and internationally as one of the most successful partnerships in the orchestral world today. During his tenure as music director, led the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall each season and on tours of Japan (five-city, seven-concert tour in 1998), west coast USA cities and an international tour (1999), South America (2001), the Far East (2002) and Europe (1999, 2000, and 2003), all to exceptional acclaim. In June 2002, he announced that he would leave the orchestra in 2004.
In April 1996 in Oslo, Mariss Jansons nearly died while conducting the final pages of La Bohème, after a heart attack. He recuperated in Switzerland. Later, surgeons in Pittsburgh fitted a defibrillator in his chest to give his heart an electric jolt if it fails. (Jansons's father died at a 1984 concert, conducting the Hallé Orchestra.) Jansons has stated that he suffers from jet lag, and this was one reason that he left his American position. At the start of the 2003-2004 season, Jansons began his tenure as chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO), for an initial contract of 3 years. His commitment with the BRSO is for 10 weeks per season. In September 2006, Jansons extended his initial BRSO contract to August 2009. In July 2007, he further extended his contract with the BRSO to August 2012. In October 2002, Jansons was named the sixth chief conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, effective September 1, 2004, succeeding Riccardo Chailly. His initial Amsterdam contract was for 3 years, and his commitment in Amsterdam is for 12 weeks per season. As of March 2008, no published reports of the continued length Jansons' tenure with the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam have been given, although Jansons stated in February 2007 that the next opera production in Amsterdam that he is scheduled to conduct is Georges Bizet's Carmen. Jansons continues to be listed as the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam's Chief Conductor on the orchestra's website for the 2008-2009 season.
Mariss Jansons is recognized as one of the most distinguished musicians of his generation, and is considered one of the leading conductors to emerge from the former Soviet Union. He has become known to audiences worldwide through his acclaimed recordings, concert performances and touring activities, as well as numerous radio and television appearances. He has guest conducted many of the world's major orchestras. In North America, he has appeared with the Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the symphony orchestras of Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Montreal. His summer engagements have included concerts at the Mann Music Center, and at the Blossom, Ravinia, and Tanglewood festivals. Abroad, he frequently conducts the leading orchestras of Europe, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Wiener Philharmoniker, Wiener Symphoniker, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Zürich Tonhälle Orchestra. Since 1995, Jansons has appeared annually at the Salzburg Festival with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Wiener Philharmoniker and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
In 2006, Mariss Jansons conducted the Vienna New Year's Concert. Also in January 2006, he was awarded MIDEM's Artist of the Year Award in Cannes. On considering his driving force, in a December 2006 WNYC radio interview, Jansons explained to his host: "I want that every [one] of my concerts should be [an] event, for me, for [the] orchestra and [for the] public." In October 2007, Jansons (who himself is Lutheran) conducted L.v. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonieorchester for Pope Benedict XVI and 7000 other listeners in the papal audience hall (Auditorio Paul VI). The concert was televised world-wide in many countries.
Mariss Jansons has recorded on the EMI and Chandos labels. For Chandos Records he led the Oslo orchestra in a complete Tchaikovsky symphony cycle, and led many Dmitri Shostakovich symphonies for EMI. His recordings comprise works by a wide range of composers, including Berlioz, Johannes Brahms, Dvorak, Camille Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner. His reputation is particularly strong as a conductor of great 20th century symphonic classics, including composers such as Béla Bartók, Dukas, Arthur Honegger, G. Mahler, Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninov, Ravel, Ottorino Respighi, D. Shostakovich, Sibelius, Igor Stravinsky, Svendsen, and Weill. In addition to his 30 recordings with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, he has made recordings with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra. Several of His recordings have received international awards, including a 1989 Edison Award for D. Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra; a coveted Dutch Luister Award for Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; a Penguin Award for Dvorak's Symphony No. 5, a 1998 Grand Prix de Disque for A. Honegger's Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3, both with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, and a 2006 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance for D. Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 with Sergey Aleksashkin (bass) and the Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonieorchester & Chorus.
In 995 King Harald V of Norway appointed Mariss Jansons Commander with Star of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit for his work and achievements with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, the highest such award available to foreigners. In July 1999 he was appointed Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, and in June 2001 he was named an Honorary Member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, the highest Viennese musical honour. Jansons has also been awarded the prestigious Norwegian Culture Prize of Anders Jahre and the Paul Harris Fellowship by Rotary International.
Mariss Jansons has been married twice. He and his first wife, Ira, had a daughter, Ilona, a pianist who currently works at the Mariinsky Theatre. The marriage ended during his tenure in Oslo. Jansons and his second wife Irina, a former speech therapist, have a home in St. Petersburg, where Jansons keeps his collection of scores.