Photo credit: Steve J. Sherman, courtesy Boston Symphony
Is there a more eloquent testimony to the universality of music than Seiji Ozawa?

Or a more geniune personification of "East Meets West"?



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Could the founder of the Boston Symphony have imagined that a China-born Japanese would be the longest-tenured Music Director of America's most Yankee orchestra, indeed of any of the world's great orchestras?

Or could Gustav Mahler have thought that some one hundred years after his glorious tenure at the Vienna State Opera, the baton would pass on to someone born outside the perimeter of Western music?

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In 2001, Maestro Ozawa rounds out his 28th and penultimate season at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the Fall of 2002 he begins a new phase of his artistic life that will allow him to indulge his passion for the genre - as Music Director of one of the world's great opera houses, the Vienna State Opera. It will surely be another exciting chapter in a life of achievement in music - inspired early on by the hymns of Sunday School in Beijing and nurtured at Tokyo's Toho Gakuen School of Music from where he graduated with first prizes in composition and conducting.
This musicmaker from the Orient began life in the West as a motorcycle salesman and conducting student in Paris. But as fate would have it, he soon abandoned commerce for full-time conducting studies. In 1959, he won First Prize at the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors in Besançon, France. Charles Munch, then Music Director of the Boston Symphony, invited him to attend the Tanglewood Music Center where in 1960 he won the Koussevitzky Prize for outstanding student conductor. The rest (click HERE), as the inauguration in 1994 of the Seiji Ozawa Hall in Tanglewood bears out is history - and one that continues to be made to this day.

Ironically, Japan was slow to embrace its own wunderkind even as he was reaping accolades in the West, the veritable "prophet - not without honor, save in his own country." In a press interview preceding Boston Symphony's 1999-2000 Season Opening Night (shown in photos above), vowing to make only the very best music he can, he professed a nonchalant attitude to press criticism, and reminisced how in Tokyo he was boycotted by orchestra members at what was to have been a concert celebrating his international successes. Nonetheless, he has held steadfast to his roots, not an iota less Japanese than the kimono he slips into at the end of every concert, devoting his creative energies to sowing the seeds of Western music in Japan. And in time, Japan came to love its own with a passion.

In 1984 he co-founded with Kazuyoshi Akiyama the Saito Kinen Orchestra in commemoration of the 10th death anniversary of Hideo Saito - cellist, conductor, early proponent of the study of Western music in Japan, and the teacher who nurtured his dream. In 1992 he co-founded the Saito Kinen Festival, held every summer in the spirit of his beloved Tanglewood, in the Japanese Alps of Matsumoto, with the Saito Kinen Orchestra as resident ensemble. As its Director to date, needless to say, he has brought both the Orchestra and the Festival to international prominence. In 1990 he took the Orchestra on a much acclaimed European tour, a triumph that is bound to be repeated as he takes the ensemble on its first American tour in the first year of the 21st century.