“I don’t really have much time to have guest conductings,” he says. “All these orchestras constantly invite me, and I feel a little embarrassed that I am not coming.” But, he adds, “you can’t do everything. You can have a thousand wishes, and you can’t fulfill them.”
Jansons, 70, is speaking by phone from his hotel in Amsterdam, where he spends 10 to 12 weeks a year. His life is mostly on the road. This year, the Concertgebouw is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a world tour that will take it to six continents, including its first performances in Australia (in November) and Africa (in March), as well as the current U.S. appearances — Tuesday’s concert will be his first in Washington since 2010.
Add to that his commitments in Munich with the Bavarian Radio Symphony and that ensemble’s touring schedule — Jansons recently went with the group to Asia — and he’s left with very little time in the city he technically calls home. “I am in St. Petersburg so short a time, you can’t say that I’m living there,” he says.
This kind of punishing schedule makes some conductors jaded. But Jansons doesn’t let anything become routine. In Asia with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, he did a cycle of Beethoven symphonies — warhorses, chestnuts or, depending on your outlook, revelations. Jansons’s gravelly voice brightens at the memory. “It was musically extremely exciting,” he says. “We did a video from Suntory Hall, a DVD — wonderful hall, very good public. It was one of the highlights, I must tell you, of my life.”
There’s the hyperbole again. It’s hard to write about Jansons and avoid it. He’s a brilliant musician, and everybody likes him.
“I think he makes, fairly consistently, deeply felt and committed performances,” says Henry Fogel, the dean of Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, who earlier in his career ran the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic — not at the same time. “Any orchestra he plays with, the musicians seem to fall in love.”
Fogel adds, “The CSO musicians . . . kept asking me why we didn’t bring him more often. The issue was, you can’t get him.”
You can’t get him — because he’s too busy and because of his health issues. The latter represent what appears to be the sole tension in Jansons’s biography. His story closely parallels that of his father, the conductor Arvid Jansons, who moved the family from their native Latvia when his son was 13 because Arvid was offered a post at the Leningrad Philharmonic assisting the great Yevgeny Mravinsky. Arvid Jansons died of a heart attack on the podium in Manchester, England, in 1984.