Seiji Ozawa Dies: His Passionate Conducting Impressed the World

The role he played in the development of classical music across national borders is immeasurable. He will be remembered by many fans as a Japanese conductor who moved and excited people around the world.

Conductor Seiji Ozawa has passed away. He was 88. He served as music director for the prestigious Boston Symphony Orchestra in the United States and the Vienna State Opera, considered the world’s greatest opera house. He also performed with top-class orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic.

Ozawa’s conducting was characterized by precise technique and expression using his whole body. He excelled in works by such composers as Hector Berlioz and Gustav Mahler, and his deep reading and interpretation of musical scores brought out impassioned and exquisite sounds.

His activities not only propelled Japan into being a classical music powerhouse globally, but also created a new wave of excitement that swept the Western music world. He can also be said to have helped popularize classical music in the non-Western world, such as in Asia.

By opening the door to the world when he was in his 20s, he encouraged other Japanese people when the country was entering a period of rapid economic growth.

In 1959, when he arrived in Europe alone, overseas travel had not yet become commonplace. While riding around Paris and other cities on a motor scooter bearing the national flag of Japan, he expanded the scope of his activities through such achievements as winning the Besancon International Competition for Young Conductors in France.

The skills he honed under the mentorship of Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan, leading conductors of the 20th century, later became a major asset. His easygoing personality, which allowed him to quickly become friends with anyone, must have been a driving force behind his success.

What is noteworthy is that he generously brought back to Japan the valuable experience he gained overseas. In his later years, Ozawa said: “I am not a genius. I am a hard worker.” He exuded his determination to “foster the next generation of musicians with the time left to me.”

This passion was evident at the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, which has been held in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, for more than 30 years when one includes the previous incarnation of the festival. There’s no counting the number of great performances that have been given by musicians from around the world who adore Ozawa.

Last year, Ozawa took the stage in a wheelchair. It must have been a festival brimming with passion.

In Japan and Switzerland, Ozawa presided over educational programs for young musicians, and on occasion he was seen enthusiastically instructing young people until late at night. Some young musicians have begun to perform on the world stage after receiving training in the programs.

Japanese orchestras have been improving their skills and enriching their performances in recent years. Conductors and performers who follow in Ozawa’s footsteps are urged to build further on the path he paved.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 10, 2024)