Remembering Seiji Ozawa

Seiji Ozawa, the internationally renowned Japanese conductor, passed away in Tokyo last week (February 6, 2024) as a result of heart failure. He was 88.

Ozawa’s 29-year tenure as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra began in 1973. Prior to the appointment, he served as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1965-1969) and the San Francisco Symphony (1970-1977). In 1984, he founded the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Matsumoto, Japan. In his early years, Ozawa was assistant to Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic. He developed early ties with the Tanglewood Music Center, the summer home of the Boston Symphony.

The Boston Symphony had long been associated with a light and colorful “French” sound. For years, this style of playing was nurtured by the leadership of a series of French conductors, including Pierre Monteux, with whom Ozawa studied, and Charles Munch. Ozawa expressed a desire to expand the orchestra’s tonal range with a weightier “German” approach. Ironically, Ozawa became especially celebrated for his interpretations of French music.

Heralded for his “balletic grace at the podium,” the bushy-haired Ozawa often appeared in tunics, turtlenecks, and hippy-style love beads rather than tails. He was once spotted on a subway platform in Tokyo, dressed in a jacket and cap bearing the insignia of his beloved Boston Red Sox. In 1963, he appeared on the popular gameshow, What’s My Line? Later, he led an orchestra of muppets on Sesame Street.

Here is a brief survey of recordings by Seiji Ozawa. Please include your own recommendations in the comment thread, below.

Ravel: Boléro, M. 81

A thrilling mosaic of orchestral color emerges from this 1974 recording, featuring the Boston Symphony Orchestra:

Fauré: Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 80 (Sicilienne)

This excerpt comes from a celebrated 1987 album dedicated the the orchestral music of Gabriel Fauré:

Mendelssohn: Overture “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Op. 21

This 1994 album of Mendelssohn’s incidental music features the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, with narration by Judi Dench:

Mahler Symphony No. 1

In this 1988 recording with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Ozawa chose to include the Blumine second movement, part of the piece in its original form, but later cut by Mahler.

Takemitsu: Requiem for String Orchestra

Especially in his early years, Ozawa was a champion of contemporary music. On this recording, featuring the string section of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, we hear the music of the Japanese composer, Tōru Takemitsu. Seiji Ozawa was regarded as an ambassador between East and West. A similar fusion occurs in the music of Takemitsu.

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake, Op. 20, TH 12 / Act IV – No. 29 Scène finale (Andante)

The dramatic finale from the ballet score:

Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra (Finale)

This performance, featuring the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was recorded in Frankfurt in 1992:


Featured Image: “Seiji Ozawa conducts the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood in 2006,” photograph by Hilary Scott/Boston Symphony Orchestra 

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

2 thoughts on “Remembering Seiji Ozawa”

  1. RIP dear Maestro Ozawa… thank you Tim for this remembrance. Interesting that you mention his desire to bring a more German sound to the BSO in the context of their renowned French one. Although I have many of Ozawa recordings, the ones I’ve loved the most are his complete Ravel orchestral recordings with the BSO on DG… a vinyl box set I’ve had since 1977. The liner notes booklet has a precious photo of him with long hair in a turtleneck sporting his hippie beads. Another recording of his I cherish is his blistering reading of the Rite of Spring with the Chicago SO when he was younger.

  2. A particularly touching and triumphant performance of the Beethoven Choral Fantasy with Ozawa conducting and Martha Argerich on piano is on a YouTube performance of several years ago.
    Two veterans still powerful.


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