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Gregor Tassie interviews Mariss Jansons - 4 September 2001



You worked with Mravinsky over many years. What effect did this have on you and your work?

I worked with him for 18 years and he had an enormous effect and influence on me; both in the relationships with music and musicians and he had a great influence on the entire Russian/Soviet conducting school. He penetrated very deeply into each work he conducted, gaining a profound, clear understanding of the music, its interpretation and preparation and to rehearse as it one should. He very much loved nature. Beethoven's Pastoral is one of his finest interpretations. He loved plants and flora, and the fantasy in music.

He adopted very sparing gestures [as a conductor] reflective of his deep thoughts about the inner world. He did'nt like excessive movement ... very economic. He liked to perform a work as a real performance, a creation on the night based on many deeply thought through rehearsals.

He was both very strict for himself and with others.

Which conductors of the 20th century would you compare Mravinsky with?

I think most of all Fritz Reiner, in his model of economy in movement and thought ... also George Szell.

Why did he make so few studio recordings?

He was very demanding of quality. With the Soviet record firm Melodiya this was not always possible. He didnít want to take risks if there was no guarantee of quality of the highest class. He wasnít always sure that high class performances would be recorded. The only exceptions were his records for DG in 1956 and 1960. Also high payments for recordings were made only for Moscow-based ensembles; and lower fees were offered Leningrad artists.

Did he restrict his repertoire in later years?

He conducted fewer and fewer concerts, but he was still interested in new works, fresh interpretations. I remember three completely different interpretations of Tchaikovsky's 5th in his last years. He always thought deeply through the music. He was more interested in quality of work not in the quantity of works he performed.

Also the same with Shostakovich's Fifth

Yes, this is quite true.

You toured with him 4 times, how did he seem on tour?

He didnít conduct every day. He conserved his energy. He would ensure the programme for rehearsals was prepared well in advance ... not travelling on the day of the concert. He would assess the acoustics for instance to ensure the correct balance ... insist after a concert that he enjoyed a free day. On the day of the concert he wouldnít speak with anyone. His sole concern was the performance and the highest quality was essential.

Of course we met and talked on tour. We were close friends.

How was he as a person?

We often met either at his or at our homes; he was a great man. At once in his presence, you were aware of his greatness as a person, yet he loved to joke, tell stories. There was a great energy force within him. It was strange in the 1980s [that] he suddenly became interested in ice-hockey on TV. Yet he would often love just to sit on his own, thinking about music ... life in general. He loved philosophy. He didnít like to go to big social events, receptions. When he did, he would be quiet, not talking to anyone. He preferred a small company of friends to socialize with.

Is it true he never compromised himself with the Soviet authorities?

No, he never went to compromise, he always stood by his own beliefs.

Did he suffer because of this?

Mravinsky was recognised as a great artist. Everyone knew this, even the Party. Although he missed several foreign tours, nothing worse ever happened. They could do nothing against him. He was so great a figure. He could not be touched in his career. He had colossal principles in life of such high morality. Everyone realised this and could not hurt him.

How has Mravinsky influenced the present generation of conductors?

First of all, he influenced me and others who knew him and I pass on this to others. I know others pass on his influence as well. Certainly for many young musicians this often, like Toscanini, remains only through recordings. His principles in art and music are the most important and live on amongst us today. They are [also] still alive in his orchestra. They maintain the divided strings as in Mravinsky's time.

End of interview Ö.

Interviewer: Gregor Tassie


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