TOKYO (AP) — Seiji Ozawa, the Japanese conductor who amazed audiences with the flexibility of his performances during three decades at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has died, his management office announced Friday. He was 88 years old.
The internationally renowned maestro, with his trademark mop of salt-and-pepper hair, led the BSO from 1973 to 2002, longer than any other conductor in the orchestra’s history. From 2002 to 2010 he was music director of the Vienna State Opera.
He died of heart failure at his home in Tokyo on Tuesday, according to his Veroza Japan office.
He remained active in his later years, particularly in his native country. He was artistic director and founder of the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, a music and opera festival in Japan. He and the Saito Kinen Orchestra, which he co-founded in 1984, won the Grammy for best opera recording in 2016 for Ravel’s “L’Enfant et Les Sortilèges.”
In 2022, he is leading his Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival for the first time in three years to mark its 30th anniversary. This turned out to be his last public performance.
Ozawa had enormous influence on the BSO during his tenure. He named 74 of his 104 musicians, and his celebrity attracted famous artists including Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. He also helped the symphony become the largest-budget orchestra in the world, with an endowment that grew from less than $10 million in the early 1970s to more than $200 million in 2002.
When Ozawa conducted the Boston Orchestra in 2006 – four years after he left – he received a hero’s welcome with a nearly six-minute ovation.
Ozawa was born on September 1, 1935, to Japanese parents in Manchuria, China, while the region was under Japanese occupation.
After his family returned to Japan in 1944, he studied music with Hideo Saito, a cellist and conductor credited with popularizing Western music in Japan. Ozawa revered him and established the Saito Kinen (Saito Memorial) Orchestra in 1984 and, eight years later, founded the Saito Kinen Festival, renamed the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival in 2015.
Ozawa arrived in the United States in 1960 and was quickly praised by critics as a brilliant young talent. He attended the Tanglewood Music Center and was noticed by Leonard Bernstein, who appointed him assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic for the 1961-62 season. After his New York debut with the Philharmonic at the age of 25, the New York Times declared that “the music came brilliantly to life under his direction.”
He conducted various ensembles, including the San Francisco Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony, before beginning his tenure in Boston in 1970.
At the time, there were few non-white musicians on the international scene. Ozawa took on the challenge and it became his lifelong passion to help Japanese artists demonstrate that they could be top-notch musicians. In his 1967 book “The Great Conductors,” critic Harold C. Schonberg noted the changing ranks of young conductors, writing that Ozawa and Zubin Mehta, of Indian descent, were the first conductors Asian orchestras “to impress as truly major talents”.
Ozawa had considerable star quality and crossover appeal in Boston, where he was a well-known fan of the Red Sox and Patriots sports teams. In 2002, Catherine Peterson, executive director of Arts Boston, a nonprofit group that markets Boston arts, told the Associated Press that “for most people in this community, Seiji personifies the Symphony Orchestra.” of Boston.
Ozawa is widely credited with raising the Tanglewood Music Center, a music academy located in Lenox, Massachusetts, to international prominence. In 1994, a $12 million, 1,200-seat music hall was named in his honor.
His work at Tanglewood was not without controversy. In 1996, as the orchestra’s musical director and its supreme authority, he decided to move the respected academy in new directions. Ozawa ousted Tanglewood’s longtime principal Leon Fleisher, and several prominent teachers resigned in protest.
Despite receiving rave reviews for his performances in Europe and Japan, American critics were increasingly disappointed during the final years of his tenure at the BSO. In 2002, Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times wrote that Ozawa had become, after a bold start, “the epitome of the established music director who lost his touch.”
Many musicians in the orchestra agreed and even circulated an anti-Ozawa newsletter claiming that he had worn out his welcome in Boston.
Ozawa won two Emmy Awards for his television work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra – the first in 1976 for the BSO’s PBS series “Evening at Symphony” and the second in 1994, for individual achievement in cultural programming, for “Dvorak in Prague: A Celebration. »
Ozawa held honorary doctorates of music from the University of Massachusetts, the New England Conservatory of Music, and Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. He was one of five recipients of the annual Kennedy Center Honors in 2015 for his contributions to American culture through the arts.
Over the next few years, Ozawa’s health deteriorated. He was treated for esophageal cancer in 2010, and in 2015 and 2016 he canceled performances due to various health issues.
Ozawa’s management office said only his relatives were present at his funeral, as his family wanted to say goodbye peacefully.
He canceled some appearances in 2015-16 for health reasons, including what would have been his first return to the Tanglewood Music Festival — the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — in a decade.
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