San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

Conductor led Boston, S.F. symphonies

- By Mari Yamaguchi and Ken Moritsugu

TOKYO — Seiji Ozawa, the Japanese conductor who amazed audiences with the lithe physicalit­y of his performanc­es during three decades at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has died, his management office said Friday. He was 88.

The internatio­nally acclaimed 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 the music director of the Vienna State Opera.

He died of heart failure Tuesday at his home in Tokyo, according to his office, Veroza Japan.

He remained active in his later years, particular­ly in his native land. He was the 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 Sortileges (The Child and the Spells.)”

In 2022, he conducted his Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival for the first time in three years to mark its 30th anniversar­y. That turned out to be his last public performanc­e.

That year, Ozawa also conducted the Saito Kinen Orchestra to deliver Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture live to Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata at the Internatio­nal Space Station. The event was co-organized with the Japan Aerospace and Exploratio­n Agency, just as the world was divided by the coronaviru­s pandemic.

“Music can link the hearts of people — transcendi­ng words, borders, religion, and politics. It is my hope that through music, we can be reminded that we are all of the same human race living on the same planet. And that we are united,” Ozawa said in a statement.

Ozawa exerted enormous influence over the BSO during his tenure. He appointed 74 of its 104 musicians and his celebrity

Steven Senne/Associated Press 2008 attracted famous performers including Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. He also helped the symphony become the biggestbud­get 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 had left — he received a hero’s welcome with a nearly six-minute ovation.

Ozawa was born Sept. 1, 1935, to Japanese parents in Manchuria, China, while it was under Japanese occupation.

After his family returned to Japan in 1944, he studied music under Hideo Saito, a cellist and conductor credited with popularizi­ng Western music in Japan. Ozawa revered him and formed 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 first arrived in the United States in 1960 and was quickly hailed 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 age 25, the New York Times said “the music came brilliantl­y alive under his direction.”

Ozawa held leadership posts at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra before becoming music director of the San Francisco Symphony in 1970. His Beatles haircut and trademark love beads brought a new level of popular appeal to the orchestra, and Ozawa expanded the reper

toire to include music by such living masters as Olivier Messiaen, György Ligeti and Toru Takemitsu.

But in 1972, San Francisco patrons and musicians were startled to learn that Ozawa had accepted an offer to become the music director of the Boston Symphony — and that he intended to hold both positions simultaneo­usly. Orchestra members learned of this developmen­t from an item in Newsweek.

“It’s Boston AND S.F. for Ozawa,” read a headline in the Chronicle after Ozawa canceled a rehearsal with the Philadelph­ia Orchestra to fly home and address the San Francisco Symphony musicians.

From 1973 to 1976, Ozawa conducted both orchestras, but there was never any doubt that Boston was his priority. When he announced his departure from San Francisco, Chronicle critic Robert Commanday wrote, “The fact that this was no surprise did not lessen the sense of letdown and confusion.”

At the time there were few nonwhite musicians on the internatio­nal scene. Ozawa embraced the challenge and it became his lifelong passion to help Japanese performers demonstrat­e they could be first-class musicians. In his 1967 book

“The Great Conductors,” critic Harold C. Schonberg noted the changing ranks of younger conductors, writing that Ozawa and Indian-born Zubin Mehta were the first Asian conductors “to impress one as altogether major talents.”

Ozawa had considerab­le star quality and crossover appeal in Boston, where he was a wellknown fan of the Red Sox and Patriots sports teams. In 2002, Catherine Peterson, executive director of Arts Boston, a nonprofit group that markets Boston’s arts, told the Associated Press that “for most people in this community, Seiji personifie­s the Boston Symphony.”

Ozawa is largely credited

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press 2015 with elevating the Tanglewood Music Center, a music academy in Lenox, Mass., to internatio­nal prominence. In 1994, a 1,200seat, $12 million music hall at the center was named for him. His work at Tanglewood was not without controvers­y. In 1996, as music director of the orchestra and its ultimate authority, he decided to move the respected academy in new directions. Ozawa ousted Leon Fleisher, the longtime director of Tanglewood, and several prominent teachers quit in protest.

Despite glowing reviews for his performanc­es in Europe and Japan, American critics were increasing­ly disappoint­ed in the

later years of his tenure with the BSO. In 2002, Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times wrote that Ozawa had become, after a bold start, “an embodiment of the entrenched music director who has lost touch.”

Many of the orchestra’s musicians agreed and even circulated an anti-Ozawa newsletter claiming he had worn out his welcome in Boston. But the city, marking his 85th birthday in 2020, announced it designated Sept. 1 as Seiji Ozawa Day. Ozawa won two Emmy awards for TV 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, Mass. He was one of five honorees at the annual Kennedy Center Honors in 2015 for contributi­ng to American culture through the arts.

In later years, Ozawa’s health deteriorat­ed. 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 — in a decade.

Messages of condolence poured in from around the world, including orchestras in Vienna and Berlin, musicians and residents of Matsumoto. “The Boston Symphony Orchestra remembers Maestro Ozawa not only as a legendary conductor, but also as a passionate mentor for future generation­s of musicians, generously offering his time to education and master classes,” the symphony said in a statement.

Vienna Philharmon­ic Orchestra Chairman Daniel Froschauer said in his comment posted on X, formerly Twitter, that Ozawa “has left a great artistic legacy with the Vienna Philharmon­ic. We will sorely miss Seiji Ozawa as a friend and musical partner. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Japanese maestro Yutaka Sado, who studied under Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein and now serves the music director at the Tokyo-based New Japan Philharmon­ic, which Ozawa founded, told NHK public television that Ozawa was the one who inspired him to be a conductor. “I’ve kept following his back, but I could never catch up with him no matter how hard I tried.”

Ozawa’s management office said his funeral was attended only by close relatives as his family wished to have a quiet farewell.

 ?? ?? Seiji Ozawa, former director of both the San Francisco Symphony and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducts the latter during a rehearsal of Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastiqu­e.”
Seiji Ozawa, former director of both the San Francisco Symphony and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducts the latter during a rehearsal of Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastiqu­e.”
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 ?? ?? Acclaimed Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa arrives at a reception for himself and other Kennedy Center Honors recipients at the White House.
Acclaimed Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa arrives at a reception for himself and other Kennedy Center Honors recipients at the White House.

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