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Born in hiding during World War II, the Latvian Mariss Jansons was one of the world’s most respected and in-demand conductors.
Mariss Jansons was born while his mother - the singer Iraida Jansons, who was Jewish - was in hiding in Riga, Latvia, after being smuggled out of the Riga Ghetto. As a child, Jansons first studied violin with his father, the conductor Arvīds Jansons who was chosen by Yevgeny Mravinsky to be his assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic. When his family joined him in 1956, young Mariss entered the Leningrad Conservatory.
Jansons studied piano and conducting. In 1969, he trained in Salzburg with Herbert von Karajan, who invited Jansons to be his assistant with the Berlin Philharmonic. But the Soviet authorities blocked Jansons from ever hearing about the offer.
In 1979, Jansons was appointed music director of the Oslo Philharmonic, with which he performed, recorded and toured extensively. He resigned his Oslo position in 2000 after disputes with the city over the acoustics of the Oslo Concert Hall.
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 Mahler's Symphony No. 6 with them for the LSO Live label.
In April 1996 in Oslo, Jansons nearly died while conducting the final pages of Puccini's 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.
In 1997, Jansons became the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He left the orchestra in 2004. The conductor has stated that he suffers from jet lag, and this was one reason that he left his American position.
In 2006, Jansons conducted the Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Concert for the first time. He conducted it again in 2012. The concert was televised in 73 countries.
In October 2007, Jansons - who himself was Lutheran - conducted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for Pope Benedict XVI and 7000 other listeners in the papal audience hall.
The winner of numerous awards, Jansons was presented with the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany by the President of Germany, Joachim Gauck, in Berlin, Germany, in October 2013.
Pianist Lang Lang, baritone Thomas Hampson and violist Janine Jansen joined Jansons at a concert marking the 125th anniversary of the Royal Concert Hall Orchestra in Amsterdam, April 2013.