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Seiji Ozawa
Seiji Ozawa 1963.jpg
Ozawa in 1963
Born (1935-09-01) September 1, 1935 (age 87)
Mukden, Fengtian, Manchukuo (present-day Shenyang, Liaoning, People's Republic of China)
Occupation Conductor
Relatives Kenji Ozawa (nephew)

Seiji Ozawa (小澤 征爾, Ozawa Seiji, born September 1, 1935) is a Japanese conductor known for his advocacy of modern composers and for his work with the San Francisco Symphony, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna State Opera and the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he served as music director for 29 years. He is the recipient of numerous international awards.


Early years

Ozawa was born on September 1, 1935, to Japanese parents in the Japanese-occupied city of Mukden. 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 broke two fingers in a rugby game. As he was unable to continue studying the piano, his teacher at the Toho Gakuen School of Music, Hideo Saito, brought Ozawa to a life-changing performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, which ultimately shifted his musical focus from piano performance to conducting. He went to the Toho Gakuen School of Music, graduating in 1957.

International success

Almost a decade after the sports injury, Ozawa won the first prize at the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors in Besançon, France. His success there led to an invitation by Charles Münch, then the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to attend the Berkshire Music Center (now the Tanglewood Music Center), where he studied with Munch and Pierre Monteux. 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 served during the 1961–1962 and 1964–1965 seasons. While with the New York Philharmonic, he made his first professional concert appearance with the San Francisco Symphony in 1962. Ozawa remains the only conductor to have studied under both Karajan and Bernstein.

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 until 1968, Ozawa served as the first music director of the Ravinia Festival, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1969 he served as the festival's principal conductor.

He was music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1965 to 1969 and of the San Francisco Symphony from 1970 to 1977. In 1972, he led the San Francisco Symphony in its first commercial recordings in a decade, recording music inspired by William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In 1973, he took the San Francisco orchestra on a European tour, which included a Paris concert that was broadcast via satellite in stereo to San Francisco station KKHI. He was involved in a 1974 dispute with the San Francisco Symphony's players' committee that denied tenure to the timpanist Elayne Jones and the bassoonist Ryohei Nakagawa, two young musicians Ozawa had selected. He returned to San Francisco as a guest conductor, conducting a 1978 concert featuring music from Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Between 1964 and 1973, Ozawa directed various orchestras; he became music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1973. His tenure at the BSO was maintained for 29 years, the longest tenure of any music director, surpassing the 25 years held by Serge Koussevitzky.

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 Dvořák in Prague: A Celebration.

In December 1979, Ozawa conducted a monumental performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the Peking Central Philharmonic. This was the first time, since 1961, that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was performed live in China due to a ban on Western music.

In 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 made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He created a controversy in 1996–1997 with sudden demands for change at the Tanglewood Music Center, which made Gilbert Kalish and Leon Fleisher resign in protest.

In 1998, Ozawa conducted a simultaneous international performance of Beethoven's Ode to Joy at the opening ceremony of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Ozawa conducted an orchestra and singers in Nagano, and was joined by choruses singing from Beijing, Berlin, Cape Town, New York and Sydney – as well as the crowd in the Nagano Olympic Stadium. This was the first time a simultaneous international audio-visual performance had been achieved.

A controversy subsequently developed over various perceptions of the quality of Ozawa's work with the BSO. Ozawa stepped down from the BSO music directorship in 2002.

Ozawa has 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 also became known for his unorthodox conducting wardrobe, where he wore the traditional formal dress with a white turtleneck, not the usual starched shirt, waistcoat, and a white tie.

Since 2001

In 2001, Ozawa was recognized by the Japanese government as a Person of Cultural Merit. In 2002, he became principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera. He 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. On New Year's Day 2002, Ozawa conducted the Vienna New Year's Concert. In 2005, he founded Tokyo Opera Nomori [fr] and conducted its production of Richard Strauss's Elektra. On February 1, 2006, the Vienna State Opera 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 stepped down from his post at the Vienna State Opera in 2010, to be succeeded by Franz Welser-Möst.

Secretary Kerry Poses for a Photo With 2015 Kennedy Center Honors Recipient Seiji Ozawa and His Family (23612670105)
Ozawa (center) and his family with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the 2015 Kennedy Centers Honor dinner in Washington, D.C.

In October 2008, Ozawa was honored with Japan's Order of Culture, for which an awards ceremony was 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.

On January 7, 2010, Ozawa announced that he was canceling all engagements for six months in order to undergo treatments for esophageal cancer. The doctor with Ozawa at the time of the announcement said it was detected at an early stage. Ozawa's other health problems have included pneumonia and lower back surgery. Following his cancer diagnosis, Ozawa and the novelist Haruki Murakami embarked on a series of six conversations about classical music that form the basis for the book Absolutely on Music.

On December 6, 2015, Ozawa was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors.

Honorary degrees

Ozawa holds honorary doctorate degrees from Harvard University, the New England Conservatory of Music, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, National University of Music Bucharest, and Wheaton College. He is a Member of Honour of the International Music Council.

Awards and honors

  • 1958: Toho Gakuen School of Music: 1st Prize in conducting and composition
  • 1959: International Competition of Orchestra Conductors, Besançon, France
  • 1960: Koussevitzky Prize for Outstanding Student Conductor, Tanglewood
  • 1976: Emmy Award for Evening at Symphony
  • 1981: Grammy Award for "Best solo instrument performance with orchestra"
  • 1992: Hans von Bülow Medal (given by the Berlin Philharmonic)
  • 1994: Emmy for Dvořák in Prague
  • 1994: Inouye Award, Japan
  • 1994: Inauguration of Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, the BSO's summer home in Massachusetts, where he also taught for the International Academy of Young Musicians
  • 1997: Musician of the Year (Musical America)
  • 1998: Conducted Beethoven's Ode to Joy at Nagano Winter Olympics opening ceremony
  • 1998: Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur (France), for the promotion of French composers
  • 2001: Member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France (Given by French President Jacques Chirac)
  • 2001: Person of Cultural Merit, Japan
  • 2002: Doctor honoris causa, National University of Music Bucharest, Romania
  • 2002: Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class (Given by Austrian President Thomas Klestil)
  • 2002: Les Victoires de la Musique Classique (French CD prize)
  • 2003: Mainichi Art Award and Suntory Music Prize
  • 2004: Honorary Doctorate from the Sorbonne University of France
  • 2008: Order of Culture, Japan
  • 2009: Grand Decoration of Honour in Silver for Services to the Republic of Austria
  • 2011: Praemium Imperiale, Japan
  • 2011: Order of Friendship (Russia)
  • 2012: Tanglewood Medal awarded, In Honor Of Tanglewood 75th Season, BSO begins new tradition with first-ever medal awarded to Seiji Ozawa, BSO Music Director Laureate, Tanglewood
  • 2015: Kennedy Center Honoree
  • 2016: Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording
  • 2016: Honorary Member of the Berlin Philharmonic

Personal life

Ozawa has three brothers, Katsumi, Toshio, and Mikio, the latter becoming a music writer and radio host in Tokyo. Ozawa is married to Miki Irie ("Vera"), a former model and actress, born in 1944 in Yokohama and who is a quarter Russian and three-quarters Japanese; he was previously married to the pianist Kyoko Edo. Ozawa has two children with Irie, a daughter named Seira and a son named Yukiyoshi. During his tenure with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Ozawa opted to divide his time between Boston and Tokyo rather than move his family to the United States as he and his wife wanted their children to grow up aware of their Japanese heritage.

Ozawa and the cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich formed a travelling musical group during the later stages of Rostropovich's life, with the goal of giving free concerts and mentoring students across Japan.


  • Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19, Sz. 73 (suite); Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1977 – DG
  • Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19, Sz. 73 (suite); Concerto for Orchestra. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1994 – Philips
  • Bartók: Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta; Viola Concerto. Berlin Philharmonic, 1992, 1989 – DG
  • Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique Op. 14. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1973 – DG
  • Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1976 – DG
  • Berlioz: Grande Messe de la Morte. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1993 – RCA
  • Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust. Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Edith Mathis, Stuart Burrows, Donald McIntyre, 1974 – DG
  • Berlioz and Debussy: Nuits d'été and La Damoiselle Élue. Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Susanne Mentzer, Frederica von Stade, 1984 – Sony
  • Brahms: Symphony No. 1. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1977 – DG
  • Dutilleux: The Shadows of Time. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1998 – Erato
  • Dvořák: Dvořák in Prague: a Celebration. Prague Philharmonic Chorus, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Rudolf Firkušný, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Frederica von Stade, 1994 – Sony, and 2007 – Kultur Video
  • Falla: El sombrero de tres picos. Boston Symphony Orchestra, Teresa Berganza, 1977 – DG
  • Franck: Symphony in D minor. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1993 – DG
  • Ives: Symphony No.4; Central Park in the Dark. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1976 – DG
  • Lalo: Symphonie espagnol. Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin, National Orchestra of France, 1984 – EMI
  • Liszt: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2, Totentanz. Krystian Zimerman, piano. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1987 – DG
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D major; Blumine. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1977 – DG
  • Mahler: Symphony of a Thousand (No. 8). Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, 1981 – Philips
  • Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream – overture and incidental music, Op. 61. Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Kathleen Battle, Judi Dench, Frederica von Stade, 1994 – DG
  • Poulenc: Concerto in G minor for Organ, Strings & Timpani. Boston Symphony Orchestra, Simon Preston, 1993 – DG
  • Orff: Carmina Burana. New England Conservatory Chorus Boston Symphony Orchestra, Evelyn Mandac, Stanley Kolk, Sherrill Milnes, 1970 – RCA
  • Panufnik: Sinfonia Votiva (Symphony No. 8). Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1982 – Hyperion
  • Poulenc: Gloria; Stabat Mater, Kathleen Battle, soprano. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1987 – DG
  • Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.2, Yundi Li, piano. Berlin Philharmonic, 2007 – DG
  • Prokofiev: Symphonie Concertante. Mstislav Rostropovich, cello. London Symphony Orchestra, 1987 – Erato
  • Prokofiev: Symphonies Nos.1–7, including Revised Symphony No.4. Berlin Philharmonic, 1989–1992 – DG
  • Ravel: Shéhérazade. Boston Symphony Orchestra, Frederica von Stade, 1981 – Sony
  • Ravel: Bolero; Rhapsodie espagnol; Valses nobles et sentimentales; Ma Mere l'Oye; Menuet antique; Le Tombeau de Couperin; La Valse; Alborado del gracioso; Une Barque sur l'Ocean; Pavane poue une infante defunte; Daphnis et Chloé. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1974–1975 – DG
  • Ravel: Piano Concerto in G. Yundi Li, piano. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, 2007 – DG
  • Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances, 1979 – DG
  • Respighi: Roman Festivals; The Fountains of Rome; The Pines of Rome. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1978 – DG
  • Saint-Saens: Symphony No.3; Phaeton; le Rouet D'omphale. Philippe Lefebvre, organ. National Orchestra of France, 1986 – EMI
  • Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen. Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin. National Orchestra of France, 1984 – EMI
  • Sessions: Concerto for Orchestra. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1982 – Hyperion
  • Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No.1. Mstislav Rostropovich, cello. London Symphony Orchestra, 1987 – Erato
  • Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex. Peter Schreier, Oedipus; Jessye Norman, Jocasta. Saito Kinen Orchestra, 1992 – Philips
  • Stravinsky: Suite from 'The Firebird'; Petrouchka. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1970 – RCA
  • Stravinsky: The Firebird (1910 version). Orchestre de Paris, 1973 – EMI
  • Stravinky: The Rite of Spring. Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1968 – RCA
  • Takemitsu: Quatrain (with Tashi); A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1980 – DG
  • Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1977 – DG
  • Tchaïkovsky: Symphonie No. 6 'Pathétique'. Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1986 – Erato
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