Iraida Jansons, who was Jewish, gave birth to her son in hiding in Riga, Latvia, after being smuggled out of the Riga Ghetto, where Iraida's father and brother were murdered by the Nazis. As a child, Jansons first studied violin with his father.
In 1946, Arvid Jansons won second prize in a national competition and was chosen by Yevgeny Mravinsky to be his assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic. When his family joined him in 1956, young Jansons entered the Leningrad Conservatory, where he studied piano and conducting, although his father urged him to continue playing violin. In 1969, he continued his training in Vienna with Hans Swarowsky and in Salzburg with Herbert von Karajan. Karajan had invited Jansons to be his assistant with the Berlin Philharmonic, but the Soviet authorities blocked Jansons from ever hearing about the offer.
In 1973, Jansons was appointed Associate Conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (now the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra). In 1979, he was appointed music director of the Oslo Philharmonic, with which he performed, recorded and toured extensively. Jansons 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 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. In June 2002, he announced his departure from the orchestra in 2004.
In April 1996 in Oslo, 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 April 2011, he extended his BRSO contract to August 2015 in Munich. In June 2013, the BRSO further extended Jansons' contract through August 2018. He has regularly campaigned for the construction of a new concert hall for the orchestra.
In October 2002, Jansons was named the sixth chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) of Amsterdam, effective 1 September 2004, succeeding Riccardo Chailly. His initial Amsterdam contract was for 3 years, and his commitment in Amsterdam was for 12 weeks per season. In April 2014, the orchestra announced the scheduled conclusion of Jansons' tenure as chief conductor after the 2014-2015 season. His last performance was on March 20, 2015, in presence of Queen Maxima. At the occasion he was honored with the silver medal of Amsterdam. In addition, a portrait of Jansons, painted by the Belgian artist Sam Dillemans was unveiled. It will be hung at the Concertgebouw conductors foyer.
In 2006, Jansons conducted the Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Concert for the first time. Also in January 2006, he was awarded MIDEM's Artist of the Year Award in Cannes. In October 2007, Jansons (who himself is 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 (Auditorio Paul VI). Jansons conducted the Vienna New Year's Concert for the second time in 2012. The concert was televised worldwide in seventy-three countries.
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 Saint Petersburg, where Jansons keeps his collection of scores.
Jansons has been awarded various Austrian and international honours for his achievements, including Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit from King Harald of Norway and memberships of the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Music Friends) in Vienna. He was awarded the St. Hallvard Medal in 1986. In May 2006, he was awarded the Order of the Three Stars (2nd class or Grand Commander), Latvia’s highest state honour. He was awarded the Bavarian Order of Merit in 2007 and in 2010, the Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art. In 2008, Jansons received the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art.
Jansons' recording of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13 with Sergey Aleksashkin (bass) and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus won the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance at the 2006 Grammy Awards.
In January 2006 he was awarded a Midem, a Cannes Classical Award as Artist of the Year. In 2007 he was honoured by the German Phono Academy with the Echo Klassik as Conductor of the Year. In 2011, he was awarded the same title by the German journal Opernwelt.
Jansons won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize in 2013. On 31 March 2013 Jansons was awarded a medal of honour "For the Merits before St. Petersburg". On 4 October 2013, Jansons received the Grand Merit Cross with Star of the Federal Republic of Germany.
- Ludwig Heinrich (2011-08-20). "Viele Werte sind verloren gegangen". Oberösterreichische Nachrichten. Retrieved 2011-08-21.
- Colin Hughes (1 May 1999). "Straight from the heart". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2007.
- Hugh Canning (15 January 2006). "On the upbeat". The Times. Retrieved 19 August 2007.
- Richard Morrison (6 December 2003). "A hundred to one". The Times. Retrieved 19 August 2007.[dead link]
- Hugh Canning (27 July 2003). "Classical CD of the Week: Mahler: Symphony No 6". The Times. Retrieved 20 April 2008.
- Mark Kanny (7 June 2002). "Jansons to bid city adieu in '04". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 17 March 2007.
- Geoff Brown (12 April 2003). "Brave heart". The Times. Retrieved 22 February 2007.[dead link]
- Tom Service (2007-02-09). "It's good to have dreams". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-02-11.
- Geoffrey Norris (12 September 2002). "Musician, magician". Telegraph. Retrieved 24 February 2007.
- Martin Kettle (30 January 2004). "Prime Timer". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2007.
- Hilary Finch (26 August 2003). "Every performance is a brave new world". The Times. Retrieved 22 February 2007.
- Geoffrey Norris (6 May 2004). "'I've decided to cut myself in two'". Telegraph. Retrieved 19 April 2007.
- Vivien Schweitzer (22 September 2006). "Mariss Jansons and Bavarian Radio Symphony to Make First US Tour Together in November". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 19 April 2007.
- "Mariss Jansons bleibt Chef". Der Tagesspiegel. 11 July 2007. Retrieved 10 September 2007.
- "BR verlängert Vertrag mit Mariss Jansons" (press release). Bayerischer Rundfunk, 15 April 2011.
- "Mariss Jansons - Vertragsverlängerung bis 2018" (Press release). Bayerischer Rundfunk. 3 June 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
- David Lister (2009-04-08). "Mariss Jansons: Maestro with a mission". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-03-26.
- Martin Cullingford, "Jansons confirmed as Royal Concertgebouw head". Gramophone, 17 October 2002.
- Guido van Oorschot, "Mariss Jansons to Succeed Riccardo Chailly at the Concertgebouw Orchestra". andante.com (overall website now defunct), 16 October 2002.
- "Mariss Jansons Bids Farewell" (Press release). Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. 22 April 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-23.
- Imogen Tilden (22 April 2014). "Mariss Jansons announces Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra departure". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
- "Queen and King at last concert of Janssons". 20 March 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
- "Afscheid Mariss Jansons". Concertgebouw. 20 March 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
- Markus Thiel (26 October 2007). "Götterfunken im Vatikan". Müncher Merkur. Retrieved 10 November 2007.
- Richard Morrison (31 March 2006). "My other band's the Concertgebouw". The Times. Retrieved 3 February 2007.
- "Seks ble hedret med St.Hallvard-medaljen" (in Norwegian). Norwegian News Agency. 15 May 1986.
- "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1877. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
- "Die Ergebnisse der jährlichen Kritikerumfrage von Opernwelt". Opernwelt (in German). 4 October 2011. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
- "Preisverleihung 2013" (Press release). Ernst von Siemens Musikpreis. 4 June 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
- "Ordensverleihung zum Tag der Deutschen Einheit". bundespraesident.de (in German). 4 October 2013. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
- "Mariss Jansons Made A Knight of The Order of The Lion of The Netherlands". concertgebouworkest.nl. 5 November 2013. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
- Gilbert Kaplan, "Mad About Music: Mariss Jansons". WNYC-FM radio interview, 3 December 2006
- Mariss Jansons at AllMusic