Jansons Conquers Japan: Mariss Jansons's Tokyo Odyssey to Record a Complete Live Set of the Beethoven Symphonies with His Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra Marks the Pinnacle of His Affinity with Both His Players and the Master Himself, Writes Guest-on-Tour and Longtime Jansons Admirer

By McManus, Michael | Gramophone, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Jansons Conquers Japan: Mariss Jansons's Tokyo Odyssey to Record a Complete Live Set of the Beethoven Symphonies with His Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra Marks the Pinnacle of His Affinity with Both His Players and the Master Himself, Writes Guest-on-Tour and Longtime Jansons Admirer


McManus, Michael, Gramophone


The logistics of the under taking are ominous: a full-size symphony orchestra, transplanted, with instruments, secretariat and roadies, from southern Germany to the Far East, for slightly more than two weeks. For the final weekend of the tour, they will be joined not only by four leading vocal soloists, but also by a full chorus from Munich. A total of 67 stringed instruments have made the trip (34 violins, 13 violas, 11 cellos and 9basses), plus 23 brass instruments and a full complement of wind. Some 70 packing cases, weighing eight-and-a-half metric tonnes and covering 45 square metres of the aircraft's hold, have required 924 separate customs forms to be filled in. It's all worth almost three million euros apparently. Nor is this just 'any' orchestra. In 2008, Gramophone placed the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra sixth in the world, ahead of numerous (far) more fancied competitors.

The occasion for this great odyssey is a landmark of some significance in the history of recorded music. As he approaches 70 years of age, the great Latvian-born maestro Mariss Jansons has decided to record a full set of the Beethoven symphonies on both CD and DVD. His eye is not on today's public, but firmly on posterity. He has already recorded a full set on CD only (between 2007 and 2012), as a 'special present' for the people of Japan --and it's on sale at a very reasonable price indeed in the concert-hall foyers. I am astonished to discover that Symphony No 6was recorded, in a series of concerts, just 10 days before the orchestra flew east. Once the Tokyo series has been edited, Jansons will compare all the performances and a 'best of both' set will enjoy an international release.

BIG IN JAPAN

I've been to Japan twice before, and then, as now, I stayed at the Hotel Okura, favoured by US presidents for its proximity to their nation's embassy and, I feel certain, at least a partial inspiration for the hotel in the film Lost in Translation. For the Bavarians, the proximity of Suntory Hall is, presumably, a more paramount consideration.

Arriving on a chilly Saturday morning, I abscond at once to the Shibuya shopping district where, in the Tower Records store, I register immediately the Japanese people's abiding love of Western classical music. Japanese listeners are highly discriminating, venerating only the really great names, preferably those to whom great age has brought extra insight and wisdom. Entire sections are devoted to the likes of Richter, Arrau, Celibidache, Karajan, home-grown nonagenarian Takashi Asahina and my old friend Gunter Wand. Now Jansons, already widely recognised and admired for his unique talents, is moving into this very special category, too.

Although a convert to recording live in concert, Jansons still demands technical excellence. Every final master must receive his imprimatur before there can be any question of a commercial release. He's a busy man and this can take time, but no one on the commercial side of the enterprise complains. He also engages seriously with 'patch' sessions after each concert, all presided over by Wilhelm Meister (known to all as 'Ton-Meister', a gentle pun on the German for 'producer').

A MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN

Unlike most international maestros, Jansons has a straightforward professional life, and he takes both of his musical directorships (in Munich and Amsterdam) very seriously indeed. His guest appearances in subscription series elsewhere are now confined to Berlin and Vienna, a level of immersion that has turned him into the leading evangelist for a new purpose-built hall in Munich. He would never countenance a project as important as this Beethoven marathon in the difficult acoustics of the BRSO's usual home, the Gasteig, or in the Philharmonie, which everyone seems to loathe. The choice of Japan is far from arbitrary. Jansons's father, Arvid (1914-84) played a major part in introducing Western music to Japan, and his son, who speaks of him with love and reverence, has inherited that devotion to this extraordinary country. …

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