Conductor  Mariss  Jansons

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Born January 14, 1943 in the Latvian capital of Riga, Mariss Jansons grew up in the Soviet Union as the son of conductor Arvid Jansons, studying violin, viola and piano and completing his musical education in conducting with high honors at the Leningrad Conservatory. Further studies followed with Hans Swarowsky in Vienna and Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg. In 1971 he won the conducting competition sponsored by the Karajan Foundation in Berlin. His work was also significantly influenced by the legendary Russian conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky, who engaged Jansons as his assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic in 1972. Over the succeeding years, Jansons remained loyal to this orchestra, today re-named the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, as a regular conductor until 1999, conducting the orchestra during that period on tours throughout the world. From 1971 to 2000 he was also professor of conducting at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire.

In 1979 he was appointed Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, with which ensemble he performed, recorded and toured extensively. It was in 1996, whilst in Oslo, that Jansons had a serious heart attack whilst on the podium. He was subsequently fitted with a defibrillator. (Earlier, Jansons's father had died while conducting the Halle Orchestra in Manchester). Jansons remained with the Oslo orchestra until 2000. In 1992, he became principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and in March, 1997, he was appointed music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Since 2003 Jansons has been Chief Conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. After two exceptionally successful seasons his contract was extended in June of 2005 for three additional years until 2009. Jansons follows Eugen Jochum, Rafael Kubelík, Sir Colin Davis and Lorin Maazel as the fifth Chief Conductor of these two renowned Bavarian Broadcasting ensembles. In 2004 Jansons assumed the position of Chief Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam.

Jansons places special emphasis on his work with young musicians. He has conducted the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra on a European tour and worked with the Attersee Institute Orchestra, with which he appeared at the Salzburg Festival. In Munich he gives regular concerts with various Bavarian Youth Orchestras and the Academy of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. He is also Artistic Director of the Masterprize Composing Competition.

Jansons’s discography includes many recordings for EMI, some of which have received prestigious international prizes. The recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.7 with the Leningrad Philharmonic won the 1989 Edison Prize and his recordings of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Dvorák’s Fifth Symphony were awarded, respectively, the Dutch Luister Prize and the Penguin Award. In 2005 Jansons concluded recording his cycle of all the Shostakovich Symphonies, an EMI project in which a number of major orchestras participated.

On January 1, 2006, Jansons was, for the first time, conductor at the annual New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, which was telecast by 60 different stations on every continent, and seen by more than fifty million viewers.


--  Biography from Warner Classics  [Text only; photo from the Bavarian Radio Orchestra webpage]  
--  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

Conductor Mariss Jansons was on an international tour with the Oslo Philharmonic in the fall of 1987, and arrived in Chicago on the second day of November.  He was most gracious to take a few minutes from his overcrowded schedule for a conversation.

His English was quite good, and he was able to make his thoughts clear by re-stating some of the ideas in two or three ways.  A friend of his was with him during our chat, and a few times he would look to him for a translation of a word, or a clearer meaning of a phrase.  For this presentation, I have smoothed out his responses so they are clear and concise, while retaining a few of his charming turns of phrase.

Bruce Duffie:   Thank you very much for seeing me on your hectic tour-schedule.

Mariss Jansons:   Yes, terrible.  We came in only yesterday after nine hours of traveling.  I have a bit of jet-lag.

BD:   You are conductor and Music Director?

MJ:   Yes, both.

BD:   As conductor, is all your work done at the rehearsal, or do you leave something for the performance?

MJ:   Oh, yes, I leave something.  The last thing must be in the concert.  I cannot leave too much to improvise, but a little bit must be in the concert so there’s a last expression.  What you give in the beginning of the concert, this is when the fire burns.  It’s important the concert, of course, but it’s necessary to make everything in rehearsal so that in the evening you can be sure that you can be very free to make music.  But you must have something new in the concert, which is very important.

BD:   Is every concert different?

MJ:   Oh, yes!  Of course!  It is most difficult on the tour when you conduct the same program many, many times.  For example, when you must conduct one symphony eight, or nine, or ten times, and before the concert you need to have a new expression to bring in the performances.  Otherwise, it will be boring for the players when you play the same piece.  It could be a problem, but if you try to improvise a little with the tempi or the dynamics, it helps when you play the same piece too often on the tour.

BD:   As Music Director, how do you decide which pieces you will select for each concert, or each season?

MJ:   In Norway we have a little different system.  We have a Program Committee which decides together the repertoire for the orchestra for all of the season.  I am with this Program Committee, and there are three representatives from the orchestra musicians, one from the Composers’ Society, and one from the radio.  This committee is a democracy in Norway, and we decide together.  We try to not to repeat the pieces which we played, for example, last year.  We don’t play things too often, which is very good, especially in cities which are not so big.  That would be too boring.  But we have a good public, and we don’t have problems because all concerts are ninety-nine per cent sold in the last two or three years.  It’s really fantastic.  We have a lot of friends in the society, about 1,500 members of the Music Friends, and they are big enthusiasts.  They follow us like a football team to many countries.  For example, on this tour, in New York we’ll have about fifty people.

BD:   Groupies!

MJ:   [Laughs]  Groupies, yes, which I think is very nice.  So our concerts are very good and have a good atmosphere.


Conductor Zubin Mehta, pianist Lang Lang, tenor Plácido Domingo, Jansons, conductor Christian Thielemann (l-r)
at the opening of the World Cup, 2006

BD:   Is symphonic music for everyone?

MJ:   You mean in Norway, or as a general question?

BD:   In Norway, and for the rest of the world.

jansons MJ:   Symphonic music, no, unfortunately it is not.  It would be nice if symphonic music could be for everybody.  It must be for everybody, but not all people know what symphonic music is because now, especially now in our times in the twentieth-century, we have many concerts, and sometimes the public relations for symphonic music is not enough.  So, it means we always have a special group of people who know this symphonic music, and understand and follow, and our responsibility as musicians is finding out how to build a new generation to understand and like this music.  I know so many people who would like to hear and understand symphonic music, but they are afraid.  They think it’s something so difficult, and when they are afraid, they don’t listen to this music.  They follow the way which is much easier, to listen to pop music and light music.  But everybody must know many kinds of music, and they must try to listen to decide perhaps it’s very nice.  This is especially important for young people.  The real problem now is that we don’t have enough propaganda.

BD:   Good propaganda?

MJ:   [Smiles]  Good propaganda, I mean.  It must be.  Everybody must make this music much closer to the people.  

BD:   In symphonic music, where it the balance between art and entertainment.

MJ:   Sorry, what is entertainment?  It’s something like business?

BD:   No, more like pop music or rock music, which is entertaining.

MJ:   [Asks a friend who is with him, and they discuss it briefly]  This is a question which is difficult to understand because I play all classical music, and it’s only art.  Do you mean some sort of light music?

BD:   Well, let me ask it this way... Is there any entertainment value in a big artistic symphonic work?

MJ:   Yes, I understand.  If you mean in the symphonic music, is there entertainment especially in these very popular works?  [Thinks a moment]  It’s more art.  I don’t like it when they use a symphonic piece to get more and more applause.  It’s not for this kind of symphonic music to get big cheers.  The music speaks for itself.

BD:   Then what is the purpose of music in society?

MJ:   Everybody knows that you don’t need languages because everybody understands when they listen to music.  It is to make your life easier because you forget all your problems.  You listen to the music with your heart, which is very important, because we are very busy in our usual day with our problems.  Then, in this moment when you listen, you must forget everything in your feelings and situations.  This is a language for your heart.  Everybody has a heart, and it makes the people closer and understand each other better.  For example, after a wonderful concert or opera, you can fly because you get many fantastic expressions and impressions from the concert.  You are quite different from a usual day with your problems.  Music is one of the best arts, and very important because you don’t need words.  You only need your heart to listen to this music.

BD:   Do you conduct any vocal music, such as operas?

MJ:   Oh, yes, but not so much because I’m so busy with two orchestras
the Leningrad Philharmonic, and the Oslo Philharmonic, and their individual tours.  I don’t have so much time to spend to do operas because you need a lot of time when you have performances, especially premiere performances.  In opera, you need one month to be in the opera house, which is for me not possible because I am so busy that I cannot spend so much time in one place.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Are you too busy?

MJ:   Too busy, yes.  [Laughs]  I must reduce my work, but it’s not possible.  I am chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic, and I’m a second conductor in the Leningrad Philharmonic.  Our chief conductor, Yvengy Mravinsky, is eighty-four years old, and he doesn’t travel at all.  So, I have a lot of work in Leningrad, and I teach in Leningrad in the Conservatoire.  My students wait for me when I come back from the tours.  I must teach them.  It’s a very busy life.

The eminent Russian conductor, Yevgeny [Evgeny] Aleksandrovich Mravinsky (Russian: Евге́ний Алекса́ндрович Мрави́нский), was born in Saint Petersburg on June 4, 1903. The soprano Yevgeniya Mravina was his aunt. His father, Alexandr Konstantinovich Mravinsky, died in 1918, and in that same year, Yevgeny began to work backstage at the Mariinsky Theatre. He first studied biology at the university in Leningrad, before going to the Leningrad Conservatory in 1924 to study music (conducting with Aleksandr Gauk and Nikolai Malko), graduating in 1931. He also had courses in composition with Scherbachev.

mravinsky Mravinsky served as a pantomimist and rehearsal pianist (repetiteur) at the Imperial Ballet from 1923 to 1931. His first public conducting appearance was in 1929. He was conductor of of the Leningrad Theater of Opera and Ballet from 1932 to 1938 (Kirov Ballet and Bolshoi Opera). In September 1938, he won the All-Union Conductors Competition in Moscow.

In October 1938, Mravinsky took up the post that he was to hold for 50 years, until 1988: Principal Conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he had made his debut as a conductor in 1931. Under Mravinsky, the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra gained a legendary reputation, particularly in Russian music such as Tchaikovsky and Dmitri Shostakovich. During World War II, Mravinsky and the orchestra were evacuated to Siberia. He gave world premieres of six symphonies by Shostakovich: Nos. 5, 6, 8 (which is dedicated to Mravinsky), 9, 10 and finally 12 in 1961. His refusal to conduct the premiere of Symphony No. 13 in 1962 caused a permanent rupture in their friendship. He premiered Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 6 in Leningrad the year of its composition (1947). He also conducted works by Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky.

Mravinsky made commercial studio recordings from 1938 to 1961. His issued recordings from after 1961 were taken from live concerts. He first went on tour abroad in 1946, including performances in Finland and in Czechoslovakia (at the Prague Spring Festival). Later tours with orchestra included a June 1956 itinerary to West Germany, East Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Their only tour to Great Britain was in September 1960 to the Edinburgh Festival and the Royal Festival Hall, London. Their first tour to Japan was in May 1973. Their last foreign tour was in 1984, to West Germany. His last concert was on March 6, 1987. In 1973, he was awarded the Order of Hero of Socialist Labor.

Mravinsky died in Leningrad on January 19, 1988, aged 84.

He represented the best of the Soviet school of conducting, in which technical precision and fidelity to the music were combined with individual and even Romantic interpretations. He was especially noted for his fine performances of Tchaikovsky’s operas, ballets, and symphonies. Recordings reveal Mravinsky to have an extraordinary technical control over the orchestra, especially over dynamics. He was also a very exciting conductor, frequently changing tempo in order to heighten the musical effect for which he was striving, often making prominent use of brass instrumentation. Surviving videos show that Mravinsky had a sober appearance at the podium, making simple but very clear gestures, often without a baton.

BD:   Is the public different in Leningrad and Oslo and United States and Europe?

MJ:   Yes, in one way, perhaps, but it’s similar because the public is the public.  Of course, the public is different because the character is difficult in people in every country.  In one country the public is more spontaneous, and some other public is more reserved.  But if the performance is very good, every public will understand and will be very happy and spontaneous.  But it depends on the character of the people.  They will enjoy the concert, and everybody will be happy, and the only difference, perhaps, is in the length of their applause or if some yell,
“Bravo!” or stamp their feet.  But it’s more their outside feelings.  If the performance is good, everybody in all countries in one way they are singular.  

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You talked about selecting music in Oslo.  How do you select music in Leningrad?

MJ:   In Leningrad it’s a little different because we have an Artistic Director, who is not a conductor but a music-historian.  His responsibility is to make and decide programs.  Of course, he asks the conductor and sometimes the orchestra, but mostly this is his decision.  Always he asks the conductor and soloists what they want to play, and his work is to compromise when everybody has different minds how to connect it all.  This is the difference from Oslo.  In Scandinavia you have this Program Committee, but in the United States, the decision is from Music Director.

BD:   However, here in the United States, the Music Director is the conductor.

MJ:   The Conductor, yes, but not in our country.  Maybe in some small cities, but in Moscow or Leningrad where you have a big philharmonic, the chief conductor has influence, but it’s a separate job for an Artistic Director who is responsible.

BD:   Do you then assume that the Artistic Director in Leningrad goes out and looks for new scores, and understands all of the music from all over the world in order to make his selection?

MJ:   Yes, yes, he must, of course, understand very well the symphonic music.  He must know the names and everything, but the conductor, especially the Chief Conductor, has influence.  But it’s not like in America where only the Chief Conductor or Music Director decides.  We have two people, and they work together.

BD:   Are you pleased with the repertoire that you are handed?

MJ:   Oh, yes!   I can play what I want, so there’s no difficulties.  Nobody presses me to play this piece if I don’t want to.  There are big problems in all countries.  Composers always want to play as much as possible their own works, and this is a problem between the public, the Philharmonic, and the composers.  The orchestra is in the middle, and the public does not always enjoy these works.  This makes difficulties.

BD:   Do you feel you have a responsibility to the composers to play their music on some concerts?

jansons MJ:   Oh, yes, of course.  We must play contemporary music.  For example, in Leningrad we must play the works of Leningrad composers.  Otherwise, they write the music and couldn’t get it played.  If we in Leningrad will not play this music, who will play it?  But if it’s a very good piece, later everybody can play this work.  It started the same with great composers.  I remember, when I was a small child in the
50s, not everybody understood Shostakovich.  Now it’s not a problem, but seventy years ago, not all people in the public understood Shostakovich.

BD:   Is there another Shostakovich coming along?

MJ:   No, unfortunately.  I think it’s not possible because he’s so great a composer.  You can see in history that you have many composers that are wonderful, but I don
t see a new Shostakovich now.

BD:   [Optimistically]  Maybe thirty or forty years from now?

MJ:   I don’t know.

BD:   Do you hope so?

MJ:   Difficult to say.  For me, he’s one of the greatest composers.  I like him very much.  He’s really a philosopher in symphonic music; a fantastic composer.  Today we have many good composers, but I don’t see anybody who could be so great as Shostakovich now.  Perhaps later...

BD:   In Leningrad, or in Oslo, do you ever play any music by American composers?

MJ:   Yes, but not so often.  I would like to play an American music evening at the end of December.  I think the concert will be on 30th December, and we didn’t decide on the program yet, but I think it will be Gershwin and Bernstein.  Gershwin, for example, is very popular in the Soviet Union as a composer.  But we can’t play him so often.  We have big sympathy for American music and American symphony orchestras because we know the level is very high.  You have many fantastic great orchestras, and everybody in our country knows about them.  Formerly, all your best orchestras have been in our country, but it was many years ago.  I hope now, with the new relationship between our countries, which seems much better than before, we have the possibility to listen again to your wonderful orchestras.

BD:   Can you get any idea of the sound of our orchestras from recordings?

MJ:   Oh, yes, of course.  I personally know the orchestras very well from recordings.  I studied in Vienna in the
70s, and I heard all your best orchestras.  I know very well that they are fantastic.  But in the Soviet Union, they didn’t hear your orchestras since ’69 or so, which is a long time between performances.  We have some records from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Philadelphia, and the people who like symphonic music all follow them, and they bring back records when they go abroad.  Musicians know which are the very best ones.  It’s no secret.

BD:   Do you like to make records?

MJ:   Yes, but it’s very hard work.  I like it very much, but I only like it when it is a really good result, and if I have enough time to make a good record.  I don’t like to make records as a business, or to get popularity.  No, when I do the records I would really like to do the best quality.  If you want to make records at the highest level, you need time, and you must give all your strength, which is very difficult.  The precept
to make records not for business, not for popularity, but only for good qualityis a precept I always follow.  To make records otherwise, I think, ugh, it’s not nice.

BD:   When you make a record, when you’re conducting the same work in the concert hall do you feel that you’re competing against that record?

MJ:   Not against it, but in concert I will conduct a little differently from the recording... not a hundred per cent differently, as I don’t change my precepts, but it is the small things which change in the concert.  When we make records in Oslo, we make a record during the week and then there’s the concert.  In the concert, it’s something else than on the record because it’s a live performance, and it’s a little bit different.  It’s not so you really play one hundred per cent differently in the concert, but they are different situations, and each one influences the performance.  But your interpretation, in general, is the same.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What advice do you have for young conductors?

MJ:   My first advice is never to be arrogant, and never to start to think that you are now very good.  You must work and study.  Everybody can study for all their life.  I would like it very much if I could spend my time to travel the world and only listen to records and some concerts from other conductors, but I must always work.  It’s very necessary, and the young conductors must work and work and work.  It’s the most important principle to never be satisfied with what you are doing, and always think that you can do better.  That means not be arrogant.

BD:   Is this what you learned from Mravinsky, and Karajan, and Swarowsky?

MJ:   Nobody told me, 
Don’t be arrogant, and please don’t be satisfied.  It’s my inner feeling.  But I learned a lot from them.  I was really, really happy because I had fantastic teachers.  My teacher in Leningrad had always been a professor and a most wonderful musician, and Professor Swarowsky was wonderful and a very interesting person.  Of course, Karajan was the greatest conductor, and Mravinsky couldn’t have been better, but it’s necessary for musicians to always get new inspiration, and to study all your life.  Not to be satisfied, and not to stop your development is precept number one.  Development is hard, hard work again and again and again work!

swarowsky Hans Swarowsky (September 16, 1899 in Budapest - September 10, 1975 in Vienna) was celebrated as both a conductor and as a teacher. He studied composition in Vienna with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern and conducting with Richard Strauss, Felix Weingartner and Clemens Krauss.

He held positions in Stuttgart, Gera, Hamburg (1932), Berlin (1934), Zürich (1937-1940), Krakow (1944-1946), Graz (1947-1950) and at the Vienna State Opera (1957). He was chief conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, from 1957 to 1959. From 1959 he was chief conductor of Vienna Symphony Orchestra, and appeared also as guest conductor of the Vienna State Opera.

Perhaps Swarowsky's fame rests most with his reputation as a teacher. For many years Professor Swarowsky held master classes in conducting at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, where he was head of conducting from 1946. Famous students of Swarowsky's include Claudio Abbado, Albert Rosen, Jesús López-Cobos, Bruno Weil, Mariss Jansons, Giuseppe Sinopoli and Zubin Mehta.  Many aspiring young conductors compete in the Hans Swarowsky International Conductors Competition, held in Vienna.

Swarowsky's lectures and essays were collected into the publication Wahrung der Gestalt (Keeping Shape), which today serves as an encyclopaedia for performance and conducting.

Swarowsky made many recordings with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. His recordings appear on the Supraphon, Concert Hall, Nonesuch, Erato, Preiser, Vox and Vanguard labels. He also recorded a complete Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Prague National Theatre Orchestra.

BD:   What advice do you have for composers?

MJ:   [Laughs]  It’s very difficult in this because I’m not a composer!  I don’t want to give advice because only great people can give advice.  You asked me for advice to young conductors, and I teach, so I can give small advice.  As for composers, I only wish they write good music which we will then enjoy to play.

BD:   What is good music?  What makes good music?

MJ:   Good music is such that when you hear this music, it brings a feeling in your heart, and you enjoy this music.  It’s this music which tells you something, and after listening to it you feel it’s good music.  But if the music doesn’t tell you anything, and you listen to a performance and you forget everything, it’s not, perhaps, good music.  But it’s difficult, of course, and it depends on the public.  For example, when you have people in the public who don’t understand music, and don’t know music, when you say they should listen to this piece or to this music, perhaps they don’t understand anything.  For professional people, when they listen to this music they will have some feelings.  But in spite of this, when the music is good, the music means something to the people.  It could be that if you play some pieces, you don’t get anything from them, or have no influence.  But with good music it’s not possible at all.


BD:   Should the orchestras only play great works, and good works?

MJ:   It’s a difficult question.  Generally, you must play only good or great works, but at the same time, especially for contemporary music, your obligation is to help composers
especially young composersby playing their music.  Otherwise they don’t have any possibility to listen to their music.  But it’s only a question of the priority and the balance.  Of course, you must play mostly good music, and if you only play bad music it’s not good.  But in repertoire planning, it is not good to think we must play only the great pieces, only the best pieces.  One forgets sometimes you have good musicnot, perhaps, great music, but good music which is interesting to hear and to listen to.  So why not play it?  If you only play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Mahler’s First, and so on, it’s not good.  You must try to use a wide range of repertoire, and have a balance between good and bad music.  It’s your decision how to make this balance, but on the other hand, what is good music or what is bad is individual.  When you speak about pieces from the great composerslike Beethoven and Mozarteverybody knows it’s great music.  But if you speak about some symphonies of Saint-Saëns, some people love this music, and others do not.  But that doesn’t mean that it is bad music.  Certainly, some people don’t like it, but it doesn’t mean we must not play this music.  I think it is good music, and it’s individual what is good and bad music.

BD:   How far back do you go
through Haydn and Mozart?  Anything before that such as early music?

MJ:   Yes.  Many years ago I conducted a lot with a chamber orchestra.  For about three years I conducted every month one or two concerts, and we played a lot of music before Haydn and Mozart.  I was the first conductor who played in Leningrad all of the Haydn London Symphonies as a sequence, together with other instrumental works.  It was very interesting for me, and very interesting for the public.  Now I concentrate more on big symphonic music, but it was a very interesting time to play this kind of music, because Haydn and Mozart is most difficult music for everybody
not only for conductors, but for instrumentalists.

BD:   [Surprised]  Why?

MJ:   Because it moves very simply, but it’s so difficult in the second movements.  For example, for Mozart and Haydn, there’s this slow adagio.  It’s so difficult for interpretation.  It seems very simple, but I think it’s most difficult music.

*     *     *     *     *

:   Do you enjoy conducting concertos?

jansons MJ:   Yes.  I have had very good relationships with many soloists.  I like very much accompaniment, and I give attention to accompaniment.  I always try to give, if possible, more time to rehearse accompaniments.  I never play concertos with just one rehearsal.  I’ll always have at least two rehearsals for accompaniment.  It’s the same, even if it’s a very, very popular concerto, like Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, or Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto.  I always would like to have two rehearsals because I think it’s necessary.  It’s not that we need the extra time.  I know the piece very well; the orchestra knows it; the soloist, of course, but it’s the ensemble playing, the preparation.  You need time so that in the evening you can be very free and follow the soloist.  You know very well how his pulse is going, and you can only know it when you rehearse with him.  I like very much when we have enough time for accompaniment.

BD:   Who makes the final decisions
the soloist or the conductor?

MJ:   The soloist.

BD:   In everything?  In tempi, etc.?

MJ:   Oh, yes.  [Laughs]  It’s a very difficult question, and I don’t like to fight with the soloist.  I am the kind of person who, if I’m not satisfied with the tempi, or what the soloist wants, okay.  I give a possibility to play how he wants, because otherwise, when we start to fight, he will play in his tempo, and I will play in my tempo.  But he’s the soloist, and he must make the last decision.  Perhaps it seems very funny, but I think that he’s a soloist, so okay.  If I’m not satisfied, perhaps in the future I will not play with him anymore.  [Both laugh]  But it was very seldom when I really have these difficulties with the soloist.  Always you try to play with the person who you know very well, and it helps.  But if it is the first time you see the soloist, it doesn’t help when you start to press him.  You must explain to him what you want, and if he is clever enough and intelligent, perhaps he will follow you.  If not, okay, there is nothing to do.  But it’s wrong when conductors press and tell the soloist,
Please, only play it that way!  They are the soloists, and it’s our small obligation to follow them, even when they make wrong things.  It’s difficult when you want to play it so, and he or she wants to play it differently.  When you start to fight, what will be the result?  You must concentrate when it’s a concert.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  They can have the concerto, and later you have the symphony?

MJ:   Yes, [laughs].  But you must be a little bit flexible in this moment.  As I told you, okay, you play, and you can tell him never again!  [They laugh]

BD:   Are musicians getting technically better over the years?

MJ:   Oh, yes, I think the technical progress continues to develop, which is great, but this is not the question number one.  I think many young instrumental musicians give too much attention on the technical things, and they forget that the most important thing is interpretation and feeling of music.  Now you see many, many young musicians who are prize winners from the competitions, and many of them are so equal because they are not enough individuals.  For your development, you must not develop only one side, the technical side, but you must have a complex development.  It comes from ourselves because it’s our life, it’s the progress, it’s evolution.  It must be progress, not regress.  This is a very philosophical question.  In one way I think we are going the wrong way.  We’re regressing in morale, but it’s a very special question, which means we can discuss it for many hours, but the technical progress is fantastic.

BD:   Where is music going today, and where is music taking us?

MJ:   [Thinks a moment]  Music is so important today because it’s a big help to the spirit in times of distress.  Now people are so busy with their technical progress, with material things, that they forget the spirit, and they forget to think about the spirit.  They think how they can get a meal for their stomach, but you must never forget that you must have a meal for your spirit.  It’s so important, and this is where I think we go wrong.  We give too much attention to the material things, and to this kind of progress, and we must always more think about our spiritual development, our evolution.  Music is this meal which gives us our spirit, and in this way, music will be always a fantastic help.  It’s on this basis which builds our development, but we must always give more attention to our spiritual development.


BD:   One last question.  Is conducting fun?

MJ:   Oh, yes, of course.  I like it very much [Laughs], and it’s my profession.

BD:   Is it your life?

MJ:   Oh, yes, it’s my life, of course.  I don’t see my life without conducting.  My wife told me that sometimes I conduct when I sleep.  [Both laugh]  She told me this, but I don’t know really what it means...

BD:   Conducting your dreams!

MJ:   Perhaps.  It means that really conducting is my life
during the day, and in the night.  [More laughter]

BD:   Good luck with the concerts on this tour.

MJ:   Thank you.


© 1981 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on November 2, 1987.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in March and November of 1990, and again in January of 1993.  This transcription was made in 2018, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.