Japanese Conductor Seiji Ozawa Has Died, Aged 88
Ozawa served as Boston Symphony Orchestra's Music Director for 29 years
According to a spokesperson from the Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland, conductor Seiji Ozawa passed away in his home this week due to heart failure.
Born in 1935 in a then-Japan-occupied section of China, Ozawa studied piano from a young age. After graduating from Seijo Junior High School, he went on to study conducting under Hideo Saito at the Toho School of Music.
In 1959, he won first prize at the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors held in France. Charles Munch, who was a judge at the competition and music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the time, invited Ozawa to Tanglewood the next summer.
He went on to study under Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, eventually landing the roles of assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Ravinia Festival, music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and music director of the San Francisco Symphony.
In 1973, Ozawa became the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), a role he held until 2002. His 29-year tenure was the longest in the history of the orchestra, surpassing Serge Koussevitzky who held the role for 25 years.
Ozawa was known for taking the BSO to China, making it one of the first U.S. cultural organizations to do so. At BSO's summer home, Tanglewood, a new hall was named after Ozawa in 1994.
Ozawa founded the Saito Kinen Orchestra (SKO) in 1984 when he and fellow conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama organized a concert series to mark 10 years since the passing of their former teacher, Hideo Saito. In 2022, he returned to lead the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture at the age of 87.
In 2002, Ozawa became music director at Wiener Staatsoper, a position he held until the Spring of 2010, and in 2021, he first Japanese national to be bestowed honorary membership to the Vienna Philharmonic. In April 2016, he was named an Honorary Member of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
As an educator, Ozawa founded the non-profit organization Ozawa International Chamber Music Academy Okushiga, Asia, for talented students from countries in the region — in addition to the specialized Seiji Ozawa Music Academy Opera Project and the Seiji Ozawa Music Academy Orchestra Project. In 2005, he established the Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland to educate European music students.
Ozawa has won many additional awards from international organizations, including the Asahi Prize, an Honorary Doctorate from Harvard University, the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, the Mainichi Art Award, the Suntory Music Prize, France’s Officier de la Légion d'Honneur, Japan's highest honor, the Order of Culture, the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association, and the Kennedy Center Honors, among others.
In February 2016, the Ravel L’enfant et les sortilèges album conducted by Seiji Ozawa and performed by the Saito Kinen Orchestra won the 58th Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.
Our sincere condolences to Mr. Ozawa's family, friends, and colleagues.