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Symphony conductor Jansons leaving orchestra in two years

Friday, June 07, 2002

By Caroline Abels, Post-Gazette Cultural Arts Writer

Mariss Jansons, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for the past five years, will leave the orchestra after the 2003-04 season.

Mariss Jansons, who turns 60 next year, told orchestra leaders he wants to make changes in his life. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette photo)

Jansons told orchestra leaders he has decided to make changes in his life, given that he will turn 60 next year and has been working under a grueling concert and travel schedule for many years. He was not more specific, said Gideon Toeplitz, the PSO's managing director.

"I have to speculate that turning 60 means wanting not to work so hard, because he's been complaining that he doesn't have enough time or space to do all that he wants to," Toeplitz said.

Jansons was in Vienna last night and unavailable for comment because he was conducting the Oslo Philharmonic in his last concert as music director of that orchestra, a position he held for 23 years.

Jansons, whose health has been a subject of concern since his heart attack in 1996, has long been told by doctors to slow down.

  More on this story

Finding Jansons' successor likely to be a difficult job


He travels to Pittsburgh from his hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, four times a year and performs as a guest conductor throughout Europe. Next year, he will assume the directorship of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich.

Thomas Todd, president of the PSO board, said Jansons was not stepping down because of any new health problems.

"I think he's just trying to develop a less hectic lifestyle, and certainly traveling back and forth overseas three or four times a year adds complications," Todd said.

Jansons' long-standing disappointment over low attendance at Heinz Hall concerts was not given as a reason for leaving, said PSO officials, nor did he mention any of his recent frustrations with orchestra musicians over artistic direction. And while he's previously expressed the feeling that the arts get too little respect in Pittsburgh, orchestra officials said Jansons made no mention of that in announcing his departure.

Jansons, who makes about $1 million as PSO music director, reportedly is also a serious candidate for the music directorship of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, but that speculation, too, went unmentioned.

"He told Gideon and me that it has been difficult for him to make this decision because there are no major issues," Todd said. "There are, I'm sure, things going on [with the PSO] that he would have preferred were moving more quickly, but I think he feels we were moving in the right direction in terms of audiences and other factors."

Todd said that when it became clear recently that Jansons would leave, he and a few other board members tried to convince the Latvian conductor to stay by pointing out that the orchestra is outstanding, that he is liked here, and that he admires the community and the musicians.

"We tried to point out the positives about his position, but it's hard to argue against a decision that is based on giving oneself more flexibility and more time," Todd said.

The orchestra got the news yesterday afternoon -- the same day as the full PSO board. A few musicians said afterward they did not expect the announcement but understood Jansons' desire for a less hectic pace. It is widely known that he found jet lag a burden.

"He did a lot of good for the orchestra, and I think we will miss him," said Harold Smoliar, who plays English horn. "But it is not the end of the world. We will attract a good replacement."

Helge Wehmeier, president and chief executive officer of Bayer Corp. and vice chairman of the PSO board, said he is looking forward to Jansons' last two years with the Pittsburgh Symphony, given the conductor's ability to rouse concertgoers.

"In my view, it will always be to Mariss Jansons' lasting credit to have turned an attentive audience into inspired, excited, exuberant aficionados," Wehmeier said. "These stirring performances will always be with me, and I'm sure with the orchestra and the audiences."

Jansons made his intentions known to the PSO leadership only recently, although Toeplitz said it had been clear for many months that he was questioning his future in Pittsburgh. He asked to be in Pittsburgh only eight weeks in the 2003-04 season instead of the usual 10, and he complained to Toeplitz during the orchestra's Far East tour in February that he does not have enough time to explore his longtime interest in conducting opera.

Toeplitz said he first began to wonder about Jansons' future in Pittsburgh when the conductor looked into becoming the music director of the New York Philharmonic in the summer of 2000. At that point, the PSO asked community leaders to write to Jansons, asking him to stay, although Jansons was not offered the job.

One of those community leaders, Allegheny County Chief Executive Jim Roddey, said yesterday that the region should celebrate what Jansons has accomplished with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, both in Heinz Hall and around the world on tours.

"He has been a great ambassador for this region," Roddey said. "When the PSO tours, people talk more about the symphony than our sports teams. Jansons is responsible for that.

"We have been blessed over the years with great musical directors, and hopefully that will continue."

Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod contributed to this report.

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