Seiji Ozawa

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Seiji Ozawa
小澤 征爾
Fengtian, Manchukuo
DiedFebruary 6, 2024(2024-02-06) (aged 88)
Tokyo, Japan
NationalityJapanese
OccupationConductor
Organizations
Spouses
  • (m. 1962; div. 1966)
  • (m. 1968)
Children2, including

Seiji Ozawa (小澤 征爾, Ozawa Seiji, September 1, 1935 – February 6, 2024) was a Japanese conductor known internationally for his work as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, and especially the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), where he served from 1973 for 29 years. After conducting the Vienna New Year's Concert in 2002, he was director of the Vienna State Opera until 2010. In Japan, he founded the Saito Kinen Orchestra in 1984, their festival in 1992, and the Tokyo Opera Nomori in 2005.

Ozawa rose to fame after he won the 1959

Koussevitzky Prize earned him a scholarship with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic and brought him to the attention of Leonard Bernstein, who made him his assistant with the New York Philharmonic in 1961. He became artistic director of the festival and education program in Tanglewood in 1970, together with Gunther Schuller
. In 1994, the new main hall there was named after him.

Ozawa conducted world premieres such as György Ligeti's San Francisco Polyphony in 1975 and Olivier Messiaen's opera Saint François d'Assise in Paris in 1983. He received numerous international awards. Ozawa was the first Japanese conductor recognized internationally and the only one of superstar status.[1]

Life and career

Early years

Ozawa was born on September 1, 1935, to Japanese parents in the

Japanese-occupied Manchurian city of Mukden, now known as Shenyang in China.[2][3][4] He began piano lessons at age seven.[1] When his family returned to Japan in 1944, he began studying piano with Noboru Toyomasu, with a focus on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach
.

After graduating from the Seijo Junior High School in 1950, Ozawa broke two fingers in a rugby game. Hideo Saito, his teacher at the Toho Gakuen School of Music, brought him to a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, ultimately shifting his musical focus from piano performance to conducting. He studied conducting and composition, achieving first prizes in both fields, and worked with the NHK Symphony Orchestra and the Japan Philharmonic while still a student.[1] He graduated in 1957.[2][5]

International success

Ozawa travelled to Europe for further studies; he supported himself by selling Japanese motor scooters.[1] He achieved the first prize at the 1959 International Competition of Orchestra Conductors in Besançon, France, which made him known internationally;[1][6] Charles Munch, then the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, invited him to attend the Berkshire Music Center (now the Tanglewood Music Center) the following year to study with Munch and Pierre Monteux.[1] Shortly after his arrival there, Ozawa won the Koussevitzky Prize for outstanding student conductor, Tanglewood's highest honor, which earned him a scholarship to study conducting with Herbert von Karajan.[1]

Ozawa moved to West Berlin. Under the tutelage of Karajan, Ozawa caught the attention of Leonard Bernstein, who then appointed him as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, where Ozawa served during the 1961–1962 and 1964–1965 seasons.[6] He first conducted at Carnegie Hall in 1961 and first conducted the San Francisco Symphony in 1962.[1] Ozawa remained the only conductor to have studied under both Karajan and Bernstein.[2] In December 1962 Ozawa was involved in a controversy with the NHK Symphony Orchestra when some players, unhappy with his style and personality, refused to play under him. Ozawa went on to conduct the rival Japan Philharmonic Orchestra instead.[2][7]

From 1964 until 1968, Ozawa served as the first music director of the Ravinia Festival,[1] the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1969 he served as the festival's principal conductor.[2] He conducted the Vienna Philharmonic first in 1966 at the Salzburg Festival.[8]

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

In his first post as music director, Ozawa led the

Mahler were new for him, and he described the audience as patient and supportive in a later interview. Concerts were held at the Massey Hall; they played for the opening of the new Toronto City Hall in 1965, for the Commonwealth Arts Festival in Glasgow and the Expo 67 in Montreal.[9] Ozawa made notable recordings with the TSO, including the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz in 1966, highly lauded recording by music critics. In 1967, they recorded Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie that Koussevitzky had commissioned and Bernstein first conducted with the BSO.[10] In Ozawa's version, the first in North America, Yvonne Loriod was the pianist as in the premiere.[10][11][12] The recording was nominated for a Grammy Award.[13] When it was reissued on CD in 2004, a reviewer noted: "The orgiastic fifth and 10th movements still pack quite a punch, and in a very real sense, while many more modern versions have come and gone this one still holds its own with the best of them."[14] The composer would entrust Ozawa with the premiere of his opera Saint François d'Assise in Paris in 1983.[11]

San Francisco Symphony

Ozawa was music director of the San Francisco Symphony from 1970 to 1976.[1] In San Francisco, he combined Bernstein's charismatic style with the flower power of the west coast, wearing long hair and flowery shirts, and sometimes conducting cross-over programs.[11] In 1972, he led the San Francisco Symphony in its first commercial recordings in a decade, recording music inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In 1973, he took the San Francisco Symphony on a European tour, which included a Paris concert that was broadcast via satellite in stereo to San Francisco station KKHI.

He was involved in a 1974 dispute with the San Francisco Symphony's players' committee that denied tenure to the timpanist Elayne Jones and the bassoonist Ryohei Nakagawa, two young musicians Ozawa had selected.[15] He was committed to contemporary music then, for example commissioning San Francisco Polyphony from György Ligeti in 1975.[1] During the time, he impressed by "the brilliance of his interpretations, with his supreme command of the most intimidatingly complex scores and as a graceful, even glamorous stage performer".[1]

Boston Symphony Orchestra

External audio
audio icon Ozawa conducting Tchaikovsky's
The Queen of Spades with Vladimir Atlantov, Mirella Freni and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1992 archive.org

In 1970, Ozawa and Gunther Schuller became artistic directors of the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).[1] Ozawa became music director of the BSO in 1973. He remained in that position for 29 years, the longest tenure of any music director there, surpassing the 25 years held by Serge Koussevitzky.[2] He conducted more world premieres, including by Ligeti and Tōru Takemitsu.[11]

Ozawa won his first

Emmy Award in 1976, for the BSO's PBS television series, Evening at Symphony; in 1994, he was awarded his second Emmy for Individual Achievement in Cultural Programming for Dvořák in Prague: A Celebration.[16] He played a key role as a teacher and administrator at the Tanglewood Music Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer music home that has programs for young professionals and high school students.[17] In 1994, the BSO dedicated its new Tanglewood concert hall "Seiji Ozawa Hall" in honor of his 20th season with the orchestra.[2] In recognition of his impact on the BSO, Ozawa was named music director laureate.[18]

On October 24, 1974, Ozawa conducted a Japanese combined orchestra which included the Toho Gakuen School of Music Orchestra and members of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra with solo cello Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi and solo violist Nobuko Imai in a world-wide telecast (carried on the PBS television network in the United States) from the United Nations building in New York City.[19] The concert included a work by Beethoven and Strauss's Don Quixote with the two Japanese soloists.

In December 1979, Ozawa conducted a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra.[20] This was the first time since 1961 that the symphony was performed live in the People's Republic of China due to a ban on Western music.[20]

Ozawa made his debut the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1992, conducting Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (opera), in a cast with Mirella Freni as Tatyana. He returned to the house in 2008 with The Queen of Spades, both productions described as passionate and electrifying.[21]

Ozawa created a controversy in 1996–1997 with sudden demands for change at the Tanglewood Music Center, which made Gilbert Kalish and Leon Fleisher resign in protest.[22] Subsequent criticism by Greg Sandow generated controversy in the press.[23][24][25]

Ozawa used unorthodox conducting wardrobe, wearing the traditional formal dress with a white turtleneck instead of the usual starched shirt), waistcoat, and white tie.[26]

Saito Kinen Orchestra

In an effort to merge all-Japanese orchestras and performers with international artists, Ozawa, along with Kazuyoshi Akiyama, founded the Saito Kinen Orchestra in 1984, named after his teacher.[1] Since its creation, the orchestra has gained a prominent position in the international music community, establishing a festival in Matsumoto in 1992, later named the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival.[1][27] A 2013 recording from the festival of Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges earned Ozawa his only Grammy Award in 2016, for best opera recording.[28][13]

In 1998, Ozawa conducted a simultaneous international performance of Beethoven's Ode to Joy at the opening ceremony of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Ozawa conducted an orchestra and singers in Nagano, and was joined by choruses singing from Beijing, Berlin, Cape Town, New York City, and Sydney – as well as the crowd in the Nagano Olympic Stadium. This was the first time a simultaneous international audio-visual performance had been achieved.[29][30][31]

Vienna State Opera

Ozawa (center) and his family with US secretary of state John Kerry at the 2015 Kennedy Centers Honor dinner in Washington, D.C.

On New Year's Day 2002, Ozawa conducted the Vienna New Year's Concert,[8] the first Japanese in a long tradition.[2] In 2002, he stepped down from the BSO music directorship to become principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera.[27][32] He had conducted at the house before, Verdi's Ernani and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin in 1988, Pique Dame in 1992 and Verdi's Falstaff in 1993, and began his tenure with productions of Janáček's Jenůfa and Krenek's Jonny spielt auf.[33]

In 2005, he founded Tokyo Opera Nomori [fr] and conducted its production of Richard Strauss's Elektra. On February 1, 2006, the Vienna State Opera announced that he had to cancel all his 2006 conducting engagements because of illness, including pneumonia and shingles. He returned to conducting in March 2007 at the Tokyo Opera Nomori. Ozawa stepped down from his post at the Vienna State Opera in 2010, to be succeeded by Franz Welser-Möst. He was named an honorary member of the Vienna Philharmonic then.[8] In 2021, he conducted the orchestra a last time, on a Japan tour featuring the slow movement from Mozart's Divertimento, K. 136.[8]

Personal life

Ozawa had three brothers, Katsumi, Toshio, and Mikio, the latter becoming a music writer and radio host in Tokyo.[34] Ozawa's first wife was the pianist Kyoko Edo [ja].[1][35] His second wife was Miki Irie [ja] ("Vera"), a Russian-Japanese former model and actress (born in 1944 in Yokohama). He was married to her from 1968 until his death in 2024.[1] The couple had two children, a daughter named Seira and a son named Yukiyoshi.[1] During his tenure with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Ozawa opted to divide his time between Boston and Tokyo rather than move his family to the United States as he and his wife wanted their children to grow up aware of their Japanese heritage.[34]

Ozawa and the cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich formed a traveling musical group during the later stages of Rostropovich's life, with the goal of giving free concerts and mentoring students across Japan.[35]

Illness and death

On January 7, 2010, Ozawa announced that he was canceling all engagements for six months in order to undergo treatments for esophageal cancer.[27] The doctor with Ozawa at the time of the announcement said it was detected at an early stage.[36][37] Ozawa's other health problems included pneumonia[27] and lower back problems requiring surgery in 2011.[27][38] Following his cancer diagnosis, Ozawa and the novelist Haruki Murakami embarked on a series of six conversations about classical music that form the basis for the book Absolutely on Music.[1][39]

His last concert took place on November 22, 2022, with the Saito Kinen Orchestra where he conducted, in a wheelchair, Beethoven's 'Egmont' Overture, which was broadcast live to Koichi Wakata, an astronaut onboard the International Space Station.[1][40]

Ozawa died of heart failure at his home in Tokyo, on February 6, 2024, at the age of 88.[41][42]

Daniel Froschauer, speaking for the Vienna Philharmonic, wrote: "We are happy to have experienced so many artistic highlights with Seiji Ozawa. It was a gift to be able to go on a long journey with this artist, who was characterized by the highest musical standards and at the same time humility towards the treasures of musical culture as well as his loving interaction with his colleagues and his charisma, which was also felt by the audience."[8]

His obituary in The New York Times noted: "In the waning years of his life, Mr. Ozawa came to recognize the wisdom that comes from years of music making. 'A musician's special flavor comes out with age,' he told [Haruki] Murakami in the 2016 book of conversations. 'His playing at that stage may have more interesting qualities than at the height of his career.'"[43]

Honorary degrees

Ozawa held honorary doctorate degrees from the Sorbonne University[44] Harvard University, the New England Conservatory of Music, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, National University of Music Bucharest, and Wheaton College. He was a Member of Honour of the International Music Council.[45]

Awards and honors

Discography

External audio
audio icon Ozawa conducting Beethoven's Choral Fantasy with Rudolf Serkin and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) & Tanglewood Festival Chorus in 1982
archive.org
audio icon Ozawa conducting Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Rudolf Serkin and the BSO in 1984
archive.org

Source:[65]

Bibliography

  • Seiji: An Intimate Portrait of Seiji Ozawa (Hardcover) by Lincoln Russell (photographer), Caroline Smedvig (editor), 1998,
  • Ozawa. Mayseles brothers film. CBS/Sony, 1989. A documentary film co-produced by Peter Gelb.
  • Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa by Haruki Murakami (New York: Knopf, 2016)

References

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Further reading

External links

Cultural offices
Preceded by Music Director, Boston Symphony Orchestra
1973–2002
Succeeded by
Preceded by Music Director, Vienna State Opera
2002–2010
Succeeded by