Seiji Ozawa, groundbreaking Japanese conductor, dies at 88 | EUROtoday

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Seiji Ozawa, the shaggy-haired, high-voltage Japanese maestro who served as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for nearly 30 years and was broadly thought of the primary Asian conductor to win world renown main a classical orchestra, died Feb. 6 at his dwelling in Tokyo. He was 88.

The Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland introduced the demise on its webpage however didn’t present a right away trigger.

Mr. Ozawa, who underwent therapy for esophageal most cancers in 2010, had been in fragile well being for years. He was anticipated to conduct the Boston Symphony in July 2016 however pulled out that May due to what was described as a “lack of physical strength.”

It was a melancholy coda for a person who had arrived in Boston within the early Seventies as a long-haired and fashionably clad maestro who exuded youthful power. He appeared a pointy distinction to the middle-aged, tuxedoed Northern Europeans who had lengthy dominated the rostrum in classical music.

It was the autumn of the counterculture, Boston was booming, and Mr. Ozawa appeared at dwelling in that almost all collegiate of school cities, newly woke up from a protracted interval of being thought of staid and hidebound. His studiously hip, turtle-necked, love-beaded picture (adroitly superior by the BSO’s public relations division) made him appear a brand new type of music director for a brand new age.

Suddenly, Mr. Ozawa was in every single place: conducting the BSO in addition to the Muppets’ all-animal orchestra on public tv, gracing journal covers, making appearances at Red Sox video games as a high-profile ticket-holder. He gained two Emmy Awards for his televised conducting and was the topic of a documentary co-directed by the Maysles Brothers.

Mr. Ozawa joined a tiny group of classical musicians, amongst them Beverly Sills, Leonard Bernstein and Luciano Pavarotti, who have been recognized not solely to live performance audiences but additionally to an unlimited basic public.

Despite the onslaught of publicity, it was apparent from the start that Mr. Ozawa was a severe, considerate and prodigiously gifted musician. He dazzled orchestras and audiences with what the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Leon Kirchner as soon as referred to as “the scent, the sense, the sensuality of an extraordinary person.” He attracted world-class mentors similar to Bernstein of the New York Philharmonic and Herbert von Karajan of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Richard Dyer, a longtime Boston Globe music critic, wrote in 2002 that Mr. Ozawa “displayed the greatest physical gift for conducting of anyone in his generation, and a range and accuracy of musical memory that struck awe and envy into the hearts of most musicians who encountered it.”

He remained in later years, Dyer added, “beautiful to watch, and unique in the amount of focused information and emotion that he can communicate through glance, attitude, and gesture. Ozawa is calligraphy in motion, precise and evocative.”

Mr. Ozawa had a virtually unparalleled reward for uniting big orchestras and choruses in lengthy, advanced and densely populated works, similar to Hector Berlioz’s “Damnation de Faust,” Arnold Schoenberg’s “Gurre-Lieder,” Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” and Richard Strauss’s opera “Elektra,” which he offered in live performance kind with the BSO.

He led the world premiere of Olivier Messiaen’s 4½-hour opera “Saint François d’Assise” (1983) on the Paris Opera; the rating referred to as for an orchestra of 150 and included 41 components for percussion alone.

He recorded all of those works, in addition to the whole symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Gustav Mahler and a whole lot of different items. Most of his discs have been made with the BSO, however he additionally recorded with main orchestras together with Vienna and Tokyo.

But it’s seemingly that his tenure in Boston — at 29 years, the longest music directorship within the orchestra’s historical past — might be his principal legacy. It was a legacy that turned hotly debated because the years wore on. As his obligations mounted, many critics expressed dismay that Mr. Ozawa, as soon as so exhilarating, appeared more and more to coast on perfunctory and infrequently artistically unreflected performances. Morale plunged among the many musicians.

He retained devoted followers and protectors who continued to bestow laurels on him, and he obtained the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, which cited him as “one of the great figures of the classical music world today.” But there was aid when James Levine, the longtime music director of the Metropolitan Opera, took over Mr. Ozawa’s duties on the BSO.

At first it appeared as if Levine had begun to re-energize the BSO earlier than his personal well being setbacks interfered together with his demanding schedule and he started to cancel lots of his appearances. He left altogether in 2011 in what was offered as a “mutual decision.”

Seiji Ozawa, the third of 4 siblings of a Buddhist father and Christian mom, was born on Sept. 1, 1935, in Mukden (now Shenyang), Manchuria, through the Japanese occupation of that area of China.

His father was there as a railroad firm dentist, however his rising sympathy for the plight of the Chinese and his involvement with a pacifist group led to conflicts. The Ozawas have been quickly deported again to the Japanese mainland.

His household settled in Tachikawa, the positioning of a army air base exterior Tokyo. His father was denied a license to observe and scraped by as a rice farmer. Mr. Ozawa vividly recalled being drawn to music by the church hymns his mom sang across the dwelling.

He quickly started keyboard research, immersing himself in Brahms, Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach with the intention of turning into a live performance pianist, an ambition he deserted in his teenagers after breaking each index fingers in a rugby recreation.

After his piano trainer advised him to think about conducting, he went for the primary time to listen to a reside symphony. Mr. Ozawa, then 14, mentioned he discovered the efficiency a revelation: not the tinny and scratchy noise emanating from the radio or an outdated document participant however a swirl of motion and energy that provoked shivers in his physique.

As Mr. Ozawa remembered it, his mom then wrote a letter to a distant relative of hers, the cellist, conductor and trainer Hideo Saito, who had been influential within the introduction of Western classical music to Japan and notably to Japanese youngsters.

Mr. Ozawa paid for his classes at Saito’s Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo by serving to with orchestration and mowing the garden. Emerging because the star pupil, he set off in 1959 to compete in a world competitors for younger conductors in Besançon, France, making the two-month voyage to Europe by cargo ship.

He gained first place at Besançon and notably impressed one of many jurors, Charles Munch, the music director of the Boston Symphony. Munch invited him to attend the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, the BSO’s summer time dwelling in western Massachusetts, which had been based in 1940 to foster younger gamers and composers.

Mr. Ozawa took Tanglewood’s highest conducting honor in that summer time of 1960, and Bernstein named him an assistant conductor with the New York Philharmonic starting within the 1961-1962 season.

Bernstein’s affect on Mr. Ozawa was vital, not solely within the physicality of their approach from the rostrum but additionally of their choice for modish gown and their equally untamed hair, which they preferred to comb again with a hand amid a very vigorous efficiency.

Such habits did little to endear Mr. Ozawa to his countrymen when he returned to Japan in 1962 to conduct the nation’s main ensemble, the NHK Symphony Orchestra. Some older musicians refused to play for him, discovering his method too cocky and Westernized.

“To the Japanese, my talent had hatched too quickly,” he advised the Globe years later. “I popped into prominence the way kernels become popcorn, fast. The orchestra members boycotted me. They said I had bad manners. It was true. They said I pushed them too hard. It was true. They said I was a bully. It was true. I thought it was just a matter of working hard. But management was on the side of the musicians.”

However, Mr. Ozawa continued to return to Japan for engagements whereas quickly making his identify in North America.

At 28, he turned music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s summer time seasons on the Ravinia Festival. In addition, he was named everlasting conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1965 and of the San Francisco Symphony in 1970. Then Boston beckoned, with the prospect to take the helm of one of many oldest and most prestigious orchestras within the United States.

He turned the BSO musical adviser in 1972 and musical director the subsequent yr. By the top of the last decade, as communist China started to reestablish cultural ties with the West, he accepted an invite to conduct Beijing’s Central Philharmonic Orchestra in China. He additionally took the BSO on a tour of China, the primary Western orchestra to undertake such an journey.

In a wrenching resolution within the late Seventies, Mr. Ozawa determined together with his second spouse, Vera Ilyan, whose heritage was Russian and Japanese, that she would return to Tokyo and lift their two youngsters there, immersing them within the Japanese language and cultural values.

Yet he stored including to his duties. In 1992, he established the Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto, Japan, naming what instantly turned one of many world’s main youth orchestras in honor of his trainer. As was customary with BSO music administrators, he additionally served as director of the Tanglewood Music Festival, and, in 1994, Seiji Ozawa Hall opened on its western grounds. Much of the funding got here from the corporate Sony: Mr. Ozawa was by now a nationwide hero in Japan.

In 1997, Mr. Ozawa turned a controversial determine at Tanglewood when he pushed out a preferred administrator, Richard Ortner, over conflicts involving programming and coaching for the scholars. Many celebrated college members — amongst them pianists Leon Fleisher and Gilbert Kalish and bassist Julius Levine — left in protest.

Moreover, relations with the BSO have been souring over his peripatetic workload, and what had as soon as appeared a magical affiliation with the orchestra appeared more and more stale. The essential consensus was that he had stayed too lengthy. “He still dances on the podium with his trademark pixie charm,” composer and critic Greg Sandow noticed within the Wall Street Journal, “but he looks far better than his orchestra sounds.”

Mr. Ozawa resigned from the BSO in 2002 to turn into the music director of the Vienna State Opera, a place he held for eight years.

He and Ilyan had two youngsters. His first marriage, to pianist Kyoko Edo, led to divorce. A listing of survivors was not instantly accessible.

Mr. Ozawa held twin Japanese-American citizenship and described his life and profession as a profitable, if not at all times completely easy, melding of Eastern and Western tradition and satisfaction. “Western music is like the sun,” he advised Time journal in 1987. “All over the world, the sunset is different, but the beauty is the same.”