Seiji Ozawa just died in Tokyo at the age of 88. His durable career with the Boston Symphony, where he spent a major portion of his years as music director, spanned 1973 to 2002, the longest such term in the orchestra’s history. The BSO’s press release is HERE. And we embed a video tribute within.
Upon his much-heralded arrival here, the young, love-beaded Ozawa appealed to so many…in manifold ways. The many players hired during his run invariably enthused. Older players, whatever their opinions about his interpretative depth in certain repertoire, completely respected his skill at running a rehearsal, and his balletic conductorial craft; indeed his conducting of polyrhythms with various parts of his bods reached a sine qua non.
Your publishers’ first exposure came in a 1970 (ish) Dessoff Summer Sings of the Berlioz Requiem, in which a very, very young Seiji prepared us for the unforgettable experience of singing under the ancient but inspiring Leopold Stokowski. The Maestro could also bring total concentration to contacts with individuals. I’ll never forget sitting on a sofa with him the Symphony Hall green room while we pondered Art for a few minutes.
Mark DeVoto saw Ozawa conduct only a few times, but found every occasion memorable. “I heard his Gurrelieder in Symphony Hall in 1977, a solid but not notably exciting performance which Ozawa conducted (as he, of course, almost always did) from memory, leaving Schoenberg’s score glaringly visible on the conductor’s desk and never opening it. Ten years later he did a semi-staged Wozzeck, with Luxon and Behrens in the lead roles, and George Perle told me afterward it was one of the most moving performances he had ever heard. A few years later I had a fourth-row seat at a special concert that included the American premiere of Arthur Lourié’s fascinating Blackamoor of Peter the Great, followed by a magical performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Kremer, all superbly controlled. I didn’t hear more than a portion of Messiaen’s seven-hour opera St. François d’Assise, when the BSO did a few excerpts after the Paris premiere; I thought the music was hideous, but couldn’t fault the performance, and Messiaen had personally selected Ozawa to direct it for him. And I was present in Symphony Hall in 1981 for the premiere of Roger Sessions’s Concerto for Orchestra, which Ozawa used, along with Beethoven’s Ninth, as a season opener — a thrilling experience, particularly when I remembered that Ozawa, like his predecessors Steinberg and Leinsdorf, were not much interested in American composers. But he did make a record of Griffes’s Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, triumphantly resurrecting that masterpiece from obscurity after 56 years.
If not everybody was happy with Ozawa’s administration of the Tanglewood Music Center, there’s no doubt that his imprimatur brought that beloved summer institution into flower. The namesake hall proves it.”