Conductor Seiji Ozawa Returns to Podium at Age 87
The renowned Japanese conductor returned to lead the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, which was broadcast live to outer space
In a collaborative project titled “One Earth Mission” with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa returned to conduct the orchestra he founded, for the first time in four years.
At the age of 87, Ozawa conducted the Saito Kinen Orchestra (SKO) performing Beethoven’s Egmont Overture Op. 84 from memory — a world-first performance that was broadcast live for JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata on the International Space Station (ISS).
“I believe that this project will give us courage and hope for those of us who live in difficult times,” said Ozawa in a statement. “Music has the power to connect people’s hearts, transcending language, borders, races, and the atmosphere…I am very happy to be able to realize such an amazing project with JAXA.
BEETHOVEN | OVERTURE TO EGMONT OP. 84 | SAITO KINEN ORCHESTRA | SEIJI OZAWA | 2022
Ozawa founded 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. The latter had taught both Ozawa and Akiyama, who led over 100 of Saito’s former students in the commemorative performances.
“To be able to make music with everyone in SKO, who are like a family of music — I’m so happy that I can’t put it into words,” Ozawa continued. “On Earth, many adults and children are suffering and grieving due to corona infections and wars…Through music, we all live on the same planet, feel that we are all the same people, and become one.”
“We were lucky enough to be able to hear the first-ever orchestral performance from the ground, live here on the ISS,” Wakata added. “I cherish the ‘spirit of harmony,’ and this joint project by JAXA and SKO embodies the idea that ‘science, technology, and music transcend all barriers and bring happiness to mankind,’ I feel that there is a power in that union.”
Born in 1935 in China, Ozawa studied piano from a young age and studied at the Toho School of Music. His mentors included Saito, Charles Munch, Herbert von Karajan, and Leonard Bernstein.
Ozawa has served as 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. He became the 13th music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1973, where his 29-year tenure was the longest in the history of American orchestras.