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 is a Japanesemarker conductor, particularly noted for his interpretations of large-scale late Romantic works. He is most known for his work as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna State Operamarker.


Japanese conductor, Seiji Ozawa, was born on September 1, 1935 to Japanese parents in the city of Shenyangmarker, Chinamarker, while it was under Japanese occupation. When his family returned to Japan in 1944, he began studying piano with Noboru Toyomasu, heavily studying the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. After graduating from the Seijo Junior High School in 1950, Ozawa sprained his finger in a rugby game. Unable to continue studying the piano, his teacher at the the Toho Gakuen School of Music (Hideo Saito), brought Ozawa to a life-changing performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, which ultimately shifted his musical focus from piano performance to conducting. Almost a decade after the sports injury, Ozawa won the first prize at the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors in Besanconmarker, Francemarker. His success in France led to an invitation by Charles Munch, then the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to attend the Berkshire Music Center (now the Tanglewood Music Center). In 1960, shortly after his arrival, Ozawa won the Koussevitzky Prize for outstanding student conductor, Tanglewood’s highest honor. Receiving a scholarship to study conducting with famous Austrian conductor, Herbert von Karajan, Ozawa moved to West Berlin. Under the tutelage of von Karajan, Ozawa caught the attention of prominent conductor, Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein then appointed him as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic where he remained for the next four years. While with the New York Philharmonic, he made his first professional concert appearance with the San Francisco Symphony in 1962. In December 1962 Ozawa was involved in a controversy with the prestigious Japanese NHK Symphony Orchestra when certain players, unhappy with his style and personality, refused to play under him. Ozawa went on to conduct the rival Japan Philharmonic Orchestra instead. From 1964 to 1971, Seiji Ozawa served as the first music director of the Ravinia Festivalmarker, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

He was music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1965 to 1970, and of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra from 1969 to 1976.

Between the years of 1964–1973, he directed various orchestras until he became music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1973. His tenure at the BSO was maintained for twenty-nine years, the longest tenure of any music director that surpassed the twenty-five years that held by Koussevistzky. Ozawa won his first Emmy Award in 1976, for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s PBS television series, “Evening at Symphony.” In 1994, the BSO dedicated its new Tanglewood concert hall "Seiji Ozawa Hall" in honor of his 20th season with the orchestra. In 1994, he was awarded his second Emmy for Individual Achievement in Cultural Programming for “Dvorak in Prague: A Celebration.” An effort to merge all-Japanese orchestras and performers with international artists, Ozawa, along with Kazuyoshi Akiyama, founded the Saito Kinen Orchestra in 1992. Since its creation, the orchestra has gained a prominent position in the international music community. In the same year, he also made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He has additionally conducted the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic on a regular basis. Ozawa can also be seen in concert with the New Japan Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Orchestre National de France, La Scala in Milan and the Vienna Staatsoper. Ozawa caused controversy from 1996–1997 with sudden demands for change at the Tanglewood Music Center, which caused Gilbert Kalish and Leon Fleisher to resign in protest. Towards the end of Ozawa's tenure, he received strong criticism from the American critic and composer Greg Sandow, which led to controversy in the Boston press. Other critical commentary on Ozawa's tenure in Boston has been aired.

Ozawa has also been an advocate of 20th century classical music, giving the premieres of a number of works including György Ligeti's San Francisco Polyphony in 1975 and Olivier Messiaen's opera Saint François d'Assise in 1983. He is noted to have somewhat of a photographic memory, as he is able to memorize the scores of large works such as the Mahler Symphonies.

In 2001, Ozawa was recognized by the Japanese government as a Person of Cultural Merit.

Since 2002, he has been music director of the Vienna State Operamarker. Ozawa continues to play a key role as a teacher and administrator at the Tanglewood Music Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer music home that has programs for young professionals and high school students. In 2002, he continued to follow in Herbert von Karajan’s footsteps, as he became music director of the Vienna State Operamarker. On New Years Day 2002, Ozawa conducted an all-Strauss concert with the Vienna Philharmonic, programming the concert so it would have a nice flow and keep everyone’s interest as they ushered in the New Year. In 2005, he conducted the Tokyo Opera Nomori’s debut of Richard Strauss’ Elektra. Ozawa has received a significant amount of criticism, especially from Boston music critic Greg Sandow, as he reports that some BSO members claim that Ozawa gives “no specific leadership in matters of tempo and rhythm”, providing no “expression of care about sound quality.” Despite the criticism, Ozawa serves a musical role model: an Asian performer who has not only attained fame in the West, but has also devoted his life to fostering a global community within classical music. On February 1, 2006, the Vienna State Operamarker announced that he had to cancel all his 2006 conducting engagements because of illness, including pneumonia and shingles. He returned to conducting in March 2007 at the Tokyo Opera Nomori. Ozawa is scheduled to step down from his post at the Vienna State Opera in 2010, to be succeeded by Franz Welser-Möst.

Ozawa became famous not only for his conducting mannerisms, but also his sartorial style: he wore the traditional formal dress with a white turtleneck rather than the usual starched shirt, waistcoat, and white tie.

In October 2008, Ozawa was honored with Japan's Order of Culture; and an awards ceremony for the Order of Culture will be held at the Imperial Palace. He is a recipient of the 34th Suntory Music Award (2002) and the International Center in New York's Award of Excellence.

Seiji Ozawa holds honorary doctorate degrees from Harvard Universitymarker, the New England Conservatorymarker, the University of Massachusetts, and Wheaton Collegemarker.

Awards and honors

  • 1958: Toho School of Music: 1st Prize in conducting and composition
  • 1959: International Competition of Orchestra Conductors, Besancon, France
  • 1960: Koussevitzky Prize for Outstanding Student Conductor, Tanglewood
  • 1976: Emmy for "Evening at Symphony"
  • 1994: Emmy for "Dvorak in Prague"
  • 1994: Inouye Award, Japan
  • 1998: Chevalier de la LĂ©gion d'honneur, France
  • 2001: Membership in the Academic des Beaux-Arts de l'Institut de France (Given by French President Jacques Chirac)
  • 2002: Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class (Given by Austrian President Thomas Klestil)
  • 2003: Mainichi Art Award and Suntory Music Prize
  • 2004: Honorary Doctorate from the Sorbonne University of France

Recording Labels

  • Sony BMG
  • RCA Victor Red Seal
  • Philips
  • Deutsche Grammophon
  • Universal Music Group
  • EMI Classics
  • RCA
  • DG Galleria
  • Teldec


  • Seiji: An Intimate Portrait of Seiji Ozawa (Hardcover) by Lincoln Russell (Illustrator), Caroline Smedvig (Editor) ISBN 0-395-93943-7


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