Mariss Jansons was one of the finest conductors to emerge from the former Soviet Union in the last quarter of the twentieth century. 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 Arvid 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.
Mariss studied violin, piano, and conducting at the Leningrad Conservatory, graduating with honors. In 1969 he began training in Vienna with conductor Hans Swarowski and in Salzburg with Herbert von Karajan. In 1971 he won the International Herbert von Karajan Foundation Competition in Berlin. He began to work with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1973 when music director Yevgeny Mravinsky invited him to become associate conductor.
In 1979 he became music director of the Oslo Philharmonic. Under his leadership it came to international attention as one of the finest and most exciting of major world orchestras. In 1985 he was promoted to principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic under music director Yuri Temirkanov. Jansons has conducted both great orchestras on several international tours to great acclaim. After the fall of the Soviet State, as Russia's second city reverted to its original name, the Leningrad Philharmonic was renamed the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. He conducted it in Europe, North America, and Japan, and led the Oslo Philharmonic on tours to even more music centers of Europe, the U.S., and Japan.
He has guest conducted many of the world's major orchestras. For Chandos Records he led the Oslo orchestra in a complete Tchaikovsky symphony cycle, and led many Shostakovich symphonies for EMI. His reputation is particularly strong as a conductor of great twentieth century symphonic classics, including composers such as Bartók, Honegger, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Weill, Sibelius, Respighi, Dukas, and Mahler. His recording of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony with the Leningrad Philharmonic won an Edison Award in 1989.
In 1995, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra announced Jansons' appointment as its eighth music director, effective in 1996. He has led it on successful tours, including a five-city, seven-concert tour of Japan in 1998, a tour of west coast U.S. cities and an international tour in 1999.
In 1995 King Harald V of Norway appointed Jansons Commander with Star of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, the highest Norwegian honor ever given to a person not of Norwegian descent, for his services to Norway as director of the Oslo Philharmonic. He was given honorary membership in Britain's Royal Academy of Music in 1999 and in Vienna's Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in 2001. In 2003, he was named chief conductor of the Bayerischer Rundfunk Orchestra.