Seiji Ozawa obituary


Seiji Ozawa, who has died aged 88, was one of many main conductors of his technology. Although his place within the pantheon of actually nice conductors was questionable, Ozawa was for a number of a long time a significant participant on the worldwide scene and a determine of some historic significance on a number of counts.

He was, to start with, the primary conductor from Japan to attain recognition within the west, the one one to this point to achieve celebrity standing, the longest serving music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1973-2002) and one of many longest serving of any American orchestra. He had a prodigious reminiscence and habitually carried out with the rating unopened in entrance of him.

Together with his shock of black (latterly gray) hair, modish costume sense (significantly in his youthful days, when he favoured flowery shirts and cowboy boots and, on the stage, a roll-necked sweater quite than a dress-shirt) and balletic podium actions, he attracted consideration from his first engagements in America within the Sixties. However many critics felt that his music-making was equally characterised by glossiness and superficiality, however some notable landmarks in his profession and a dedication to the coaching of artists of the longer term.

If the performances of his early years have been characterised by high-octane power, these of the later interval, maybe looking for the elusive soul of the music, too typically adopted vitality-sapping sluggish tempi and flaccid rhythms.

Ozawa was born in Shenyang, China. His dad and mom have been Japanese, and having begun music classes on the age of seven, he entered the Toho Faculty of Music in Tokyo when he was 16. Although initially learning piano, he broke each index fingers whereas enjoying rugby and turned as an alternative to conducting and composition. He gained precious expertise with skilled ensembles such because the NHK Symphony Orchestra and Japan Philharmonic whereas nonetheless a scholar and received first prizes in each disciplines.

Graduating in 1959, he emigrated to Europe to pursue additional research, supporting himself in the meantime as a travelling salesman of Japanese motor scooters. He received first prize within the worldwide conductors’ competitors at Besançon, jap France (1959) and so impressed Charles Munch, one of many judges, that he invited him to the US, to the Berkshire Music Middle at Tanglewood, Massachuesetts, the next 12 months, the place he was in a position to research with each Munch and Monteux.

Having then taken the distinguished Koussevitzky award (1960), Ozawa received a scholarship to review with Herbert von Karajan in Berlin. It was there that he was noticed by Leonard Bernstein, who supplied him a put up as an assistant conductor with the New York Philharmonic (1961-65). 

Ozawa’s profession took off at this level, with a Carnegie Corridor début in 1961, an invite to conduct the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1962, and engagements with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, culminating within the inventive directorship of the Ravinia pageant (1964-68) and the music directorship of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1965-69). Throughout this era he made an impression with the brilliance of his interpretations, together with his supreme command of probably the most intimidatingly complicated scores and as a swish, even glamorous stage performer.

Describing the primary time he noticed Ozawa conduct the Boston Symphony in 1965, the critic Michael Steinberg famous “an unbelievable present of power that appeared to start within the small of the again and stream up the backbone and throughout the shoulders, alongside the arms, via the fingers all the best way to the purpose of the stick, and into the air past. It was a ravishing factor to look at.”

In 1970 Ozawa was appointed music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, a put up he held till 1976. A dedication to new music was evident in these years, not least within the commissioning of works reminiscent of György Ligeti’s San Francisco Polyphony (1975). Additionally in 1970 he grew to become co-artistic director, with Gunther Schuller, of the Berkshire music pageant, taking sole management in 1973, the 12 months wherein he additionally grew to become music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The three-decade-long tenure in Boston was riven with controversy. His admirers level to the sense of confidence he constructed within the musicians: a enjoyment of their very own virtuosity. He’s additionally credited with making a darker, extra Germanic sound color, appropriate for the mainstream repertoire of Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler, versus the French-flavoured tone developed over earlier a long time. His detractors criticised his frequent absences abroadand, extra critically, questioned his credentials as a top-flight conductor.

Within the mid-90s a publication, Counterpoint, produced by a dissident group of BSO musicians, commented that Ozawa gave no “particular management in issues of tempo and rhythm”, supplied no “expression of care about sound high quality” and even didn’t share any “distinctly conveyed conception of the character of every piece the BSO performs”. Orchestral musicians are infamous for bad-mouthing their conductors, however the Counterpoint contributors included each the concertmaster and principal cellist. Furthermore, they mirrored reservations expressed within the worldwide press – and sometimes by the general public. 

A efficiency of Idomeneo at Salzburg in 1990, for instance, was roundly booed, whereas few recordings of this era achieved something like benchmark standing. Some recordings, nevertheless, have been higher obtained. That of Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher (1991) was praised for its rhythmic vitality and for its delineation of the distinctive qualities of the rating, whereas a staged model, launched on video, of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex received a number of awards. Ozawa’s recording of Messiaen’s opera St François d’Assise (1983) – a piece he premiered – was thought to be an enormous achievement and magnificently atmospheric.

In 1984 Ozawa was instrumental within the founding of the Saito Kinen Orchestra, an ensemble of distinguished Japanese musicians, gathered in tribute to the educationist Hideo Saito (Ozawa was considered one of his many pupils).

A lot of high-quality performances and recordings emanated from their periodic reunions and ultimately, in 1992, the Saito Kinen pageant was established in Matsumoto (now often known as the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto pageant). The pageant is oversubscribed by many instances annually and is thought to be a status occasion. Ozawa’s expertise as a mentor, in addition to his curiosity in opera, have been additionally exploited on the Tanglewood summer season pageant, the place he resurrected an operatic element.

That predilection for opera was strengthened in 2002 by his appointment as music director of the Vienna State Opera and in 2005 by his simultaneous inventive directorship of the brand new Tokyo Opera Nomori. A lot of performances needed to be cancelled in Vienna and Paris in 2006 on well being grounds. In 2010 he was identified with oesophageal most cancers. He tried a comeback in April 2016, conducting the Berlin Philharmonic within the capital’s Philharmonie and the orchestra of the Seiji Ozawa Worldwide Academy, Switzerland (based by him in 2004), in Paris, however was pressured to drag out of an engagement with the Boston Symphony that July, missing the power to conduct.

In November 2022 he returned to the stage, wanting very frail in a wheelchair, to conduct the Saito Kinen Orchestra in a dwell broadcast to outer area. In collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Company (JAXA), a efficiency of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture was despatched to the astronaut Koichi Wakata on the Worldwide Area Station.

In 2016 he printed a ebook of conversations with the novelist Haruki Murakami underneath the title Completely on Music.

His first marriage, to the pianist Kyoko Edo, resulted in divorce. Together with his second spouse, Vera Ilyan, he had two youngsters, Seira and Yukiyoshi, who survive him.


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