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Seiji Ozawa


Seiji Ozawa

Seiji Ozawa was born to Japanese parents in Hoten, Manchuria, on September 1, 1935. He began music lessons at the age of seven. At 16 he entered the Toho School of Music in Tokyo intending to pursue a career as a professional pianist, but he had to abandon that dream after breaking both of his index fingers in a rugby game and turned to conducting and composition instead, as a student of Hideo Saito. He was still a student when he conducted the NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai, or Japan Broadcasting System) Symphony Orchestra of Japan and the Japanese Philharmonic. He graduated with first prizes in conducting and composition in 1959, and then went to Europe for further study.

Ozawa was supporting himself as a traveling salesman of Japanese motor scooters when he saw a notice for an international conducting competition at Besançon, France, and entered it, and won. One of the judges was longtime Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Charles Münch, who was so impressed that he arranged for Ozawa to study at the Berkshire Music Center (now Tanglewood Music Center) in Massachusetts. In 1960 Ozawa received the center's Koussevitzky Prize and a scholarship to study with Herbert von Karajan in West Berlin, West Germany.

While in Berlin, Ozawa met Leonard Bernstein, who hired him as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He made his debut with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall on April 14, 1961, and traveled with the ensemble on tour (including appearances in Japan) through the 1961-1962 season.

Ozawa made his North American debut as a professional conductor in January 1962, with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. He subsequently led the Toronto (Canada) Symphony Orchestra from 1965 to 1969, and then returned to the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, from 1970 to 1976. He also served as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Ravinia Festival, from 1964 to 1968; became music advisor to the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in 1968; made his operatic debut at the Salzburg Festival and became principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1969; and, in 1970, became the music director of the San Francisco Symphony and co-artistic adviser of the Tanglewood Music Center.

Ozawa conducted the Boston Sympony Orchestra for the first time in 1964, at Tanglewood, and made his first Symphony Hall appearance with it in January 1968. He became the Boston Symphony's music advisor in 1972, and its music director in 1973. His subsequent tenure in Boston, which lasted until 2002, was one of the longest in the history of any American orchestra. During this period he was also guest conductor for major opera and symphony orchestras around the world, including a June 16-17, 1978, appearance before China's Central Philharmonic Orchestra, in Peking (he was the first foreigner to conduct that orchestra in China). Ozawa left the Boston Symphony Orchestra to become music director of the Vienna (Austria) State Opera, a position he held until 2010, when health problems forced him to begin limiting his schedule.


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The Robinson Library >> Music >> Biography: Other

This page was last updated on 01/24/2019.