Seiji Ozawa frequently told students: “Listen! You MUST always listen! Only playing your own music is not enough, you must listen to others. To communicate with others who are playing with you is the core of music. Making harmony and ensemble, that is music!”
Even absent today’s proclamation from Mayor Walsh in celebration of Seiji Ozawa’s 85th birthday, we would have recognized him, to anyone who asked, as the most expressive and balletic conductor we have ever witnessed … especially in his favored repertoire.
I have known this since participating in a Dessoff Choirs Summer Sing of the Berlioz Requiem c. 1963. How could a musical high school student ever forget the two hours of preparation under a very young Ozawa before a very old Leopold Stokowski led us in a performance better-remembered for enthusiasm than for polish?
Flash-forward some decades to a post-performance tête-à-tête in the Symphony Hall green room. When I recalled the earlier inspiring moment, Ozawa, sitting on a sofa only inches away, looked into my eyes and claimed to remember.
Many BMInt readers will be able to summon similar recollections. If not, watch “March to the Scaffold” from a 2002 Tanglewood performance of the Symphonie Fantastique HERE.
Late in his progress from lovebeads to sublimity, the master avers that “A life in music is a journey with no real end.”
On the beloved conductor’s 85th birthday, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, along with worldwide organizations closely associated with him — including the New Japan Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, Vienna Philharmonic, Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, Seiji Ozawa Music Academy, Ozawa International Chamber Music Academy Okushiga, and Decca recording label — join a social media celebration—#happybirthdayseiji.
BSO CEO Mark Volpe wishes Seiji Ozawa “a very happy 85th-birthday celebration with his wife, Vera, daughter, Seira, son, Yuki, and dear grandson, Masaki. As the longest-serving music director in BSO history and a most beloved figure worldwide, Seiji holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of his many colleagues and the innumerable young musicians he has mentored throughout his distinguished career.
“Those of us fortunate to know him and to have been present for the fantastic music-making he elicits from an orchestra have been dazzled by his conducting, often described as balletic and always without a score. His prolific body of orchestral and operatic work — captured through hundreds of audio and video recordings — continues to strengthen a legacy of inspiration that will live on for generations. Andris Nelsons joins the entire BSO family in extending our very best wishes to his illustrious predecessor upon reaching this remarkable milestone. Seiji has touched the world with his beautiful humanity and musicianship and the world is no doubt a better place for it. Happy Birthday, Seiji!”
“For me, Boston is like my second home. I love and miss all my colleagues and friends at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
“And of course, I miss my friends at the Red Sox and Patriots. (I have been watching ALL games through Internet!) My time in Boston is a very important part of my life and it is always with me, wherever I am.
“I am grateful to Mayor Walsh and the City of Boston. Thank you, Boston! With love, Seiji.”
The longest-serving conductor in Boston Symphony history, Seiji Ozawa held the title of BSO Music Director for 29 years (1973-2002) and continues his long association with the orchestra with the title Music Director Laureate; his most recent BSO conducting appearance at Symphony Hall took place in November 2008. His legacy of achievement with the BSO is evidenced through national and international touring, award-winning recordings (more than 140 works of more than 50 composers on 10 labels), television productions (winning two Emmy awards), and numerous commissioned works by Toru Takemitsu, Henri Dutilleux, Peter Lieberson, and many others. During his time in Boston, Seiji endeared himself to music lovers through his graceful podium presence and bringing such prominent artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Itzhak Perlman, Mstislav Rostropovich, Peter Serkin, Frederica von Stade, and Krystian Zimerman regularly to the BSO stage. He was widely popular with the greater community through his love of Boston sports. Known to ardent and casual fans alike as “Seiji,” the BSO’s beloved Music Director Laureate continues to be a major fan of the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots.
Seiji Ozawa’s first official association with the Boston Symphony Orchestra came in 1960 when, at age 24, when Charles Munch (BSO Music Director 1949-62) invited him to attend the Berkshire Music Center — now the Tanglewood Music Center, the BSO’s acclaimed summer music academy at Tanglewood, which initiated a lifelong commitment to teaching and mentoring the next generations of young musicians. Ozawa’s led his final concert as BSO music director at Tanglewood in summer 2002.
Among the major events associated with the period of Ozawa’s BSO tenure: the opening of Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall in 1994 in his honor; the history-making 1979 BSO tour to China after diplomatic relations were reestablished; the international Ode: To Joy performance — with six choirs performing on five continents — for the 1998 Winter Olympics; a millennium extravaganza performance at the foot of the Eiffel Tower with the BSO, L’Orchestre de Paris, and Andrea Bocelli; and the establishment of the Saito Kinen Festival, which he co-founded in 1984 and is now named the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival (2015). For the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 100th anniversary in 1981, the Ozawa-led BSO commissioned works by John Harbison, Roger Sessions, Peter Maxwell Davies, Andrzej Panufnik, Leonard Bernstein, Olly Wilson, Donald Martino, Leon Kirchner, among others. Seiji Ozawa has led the major orchestras of the world and has held prominent titles at the Vienna State Opera, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival, San Francisco Symphony; he also founded the Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland (2004) for the intensive study of chamber music. Ozawa has received many prestigious awards and honors, among them France’s Officier de la Légion d’Honneur (2008) and the Kennedy Center Honor (2015).
For more biographical details, click here.