Seiji Ozawa
Ozawa in 1963
Born (1935-09-01) September 1, 1935 (age 88)
Mukden, Fengtian, Manchukuo (present-day Shenyang, Liaoning, People's Republic of China)
RelativesKenji 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,[1] 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.[2] He went to the Toho Gakuen School of Music, graduating in 1957.[3][4]

International success

Almost a decade after the sports injury, Ozawa won the first prize at the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors in Besançon, France.[5] 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.[6] 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 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.[5] While with the New York Philharmonic, he made his first professional concert appearance with the San Francisco Symphony in 1962.[7] Ozawa remains the only conductor to have studied under both Karajan and Bernstein.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] He returned to San Francisco as a guest conductor, conducting a 1978 concert featuring music from Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

External audio
audio icon You may hear Seiji Ozawa conducting Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's opera The Queen of Spades, Op. 68 with Vladimir Atlantov, Mirella Freni and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1992 Here on

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.[7]

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.[7]

In December 1979, Ozawa conducted a monumental performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the Peking Central Philharmonic.[11] This was the first time since 1961 that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was performed live in China due to a ban on Western music.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] Subsequent criticism by Greg Sandow generated controversy in the press.[14][15][16]

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 City, 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.[17][18][19]

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.[20]

In 2001, Ozawa was recognized by the Japanese government as a Person of Cultural Merit.[21]

Since 2002

In 2002, Ozawa stepped down from the BSO music directorship to become principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] Ozawa stepped down from his post at the Vienna State Opera in 2010, to be succeeded by Franz Welser-Möst.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27][28] Ozawa's other health problems have included pneumonia[29] and lower back surgery.[30] 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. [31]

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.[32]

Awards and honors

Personal life

Ozawa has three brothers, Katsumi, Toshio, and Mikio, the latter becoming a music writer and radio host in Tokyo.[39] 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;[40] he was previously married to the pianist Kyoko Edo.[41] 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.[39]

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.[41]


External audio
audio icon You may hear Seiji Ozawa conducting Beethoven's Fantasia In C Minor, Op. 80 with Rudolf Serkin and the Boston Symphony Orchestra & Tanglewood Festival Chorus in 1982
Here on
audio icon You may hear Seiji Ozawa conducting Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 with Rudolf Serkin and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1984
Here on



  1. ^ "Seiji Ozawa". Naxos. Archived from the original on August 21, 2016. Retrieved August 17, 2009.
  2. ^ "Seiji Ozawa at the Kennedy Center Honors". YouTube.
  3. ^ Reitman, Valerie (March 9, 2000). "Crash Course in Passion". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 27, 2020.
  4. ^ Iuchi, Chiho (December 2, 2017). "Master class: Conductor Seiji Ozawa passes on his knowledge to a new generation". The Japan Times. Retrieved July 27, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Aaron Green. "Seiji Ozawa – A Profile of the Great Conductor". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved January 6, 2016.
  6. ^ "Keeping Time at Tanglewood". Retrieved January 6, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c "Seiji Ozawa (Conductor) – Short Biography". Retrieved January 6, 2016.
  8. ^ "Ozawa Seiji: The Self-Made Maestro". July 10, 2018.
  9. ^ Nakasone, Yasuhiro (1999). The Making of the New Japan: Reclaiming the Political Mainstream. trans. Lesley Connors. Routledge. pp. 170–171. ISBN 978-0-7007-1246-5.
  10. ^ "Two Musicians Reinstated for a Year in Coast Dispute" by Lacey Fosburgh, The New York Times, August 2, 1974
  11. ^ a b "Sounds of Joy in China". The Christian Science Monitor. January 2, 1980. ProQuest 1039254269.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved February 12, 2009.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (March 31, 2002). "MUSIC; A Last Bow, To Polite Applause". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  14. ^ Sandow, Greg (December 15, 1998). "Conduct(or) Unbecoming the Boston Symphony". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 18, 2013.
  15. ^ Dezell, Maureen (December 16, 1998). "Ozawa's supporters rebut Journal attack". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 18, 2013.
  16. ^ Dezell, Maureen (December 25, 1998). "Beleaguered BSO Answers Wall Street Journal Attack". The Boston Globe.
  17. ^ Strom, Stephanie (February 7, 1998). "THE XVIII WINTER GAMES: OPENING CEREMONIES; The Latest Sport? After a Worldwide Effort, Synchronized Singing Gets In". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 19, 2021. the first time that images and sounds from around the globe were united in a simultaneous live performance.
  18. ^ Frey, Jennifer; Sullivan, Kevin (February 7, 1998). " A Warm Welcome at the Winter Olympics". Washington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2021.
  19. ^ The Opening Ceremony media guide : the XVIII Olympic Winter Games, Nagano 1998 / NAOC, The Organizing Committee for the XVIII Olympic Winter Games, Nagano 1998. Nagano, February 1998, retrieved August 19, 2021
  20. ^ "Ozawa: A pioneer who dedicated his life to Western music" by Anne Midgette, The Washington Post, December 5, 2015
  21. ^ "Cultural Highlights; From the Japanese Press (August 1 – October 31, 2001)," Archived September 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Japan Foundation Newsletter, Vol. XXIX, No. 2, p. 7.
  22. ^ "Ozawa to Quit Boston Symphony, Adding to a Void on U.S. Podiums" by Ralph Blumenthal, The New York Times, June 23, 1999.
  23. ^ "Seiji Ozawa Inaugurates Tokyo Opera Nomori with Elektra; Outlines Future Seasons" Archived November 27, 2019, at the Wayback Machine, Opera News, March 30, 2005
  24. ^ Matthew Westphal (March 21, 2007). "Seiji Ozawa Returns to Podium After More Than a Year". Playbill Arts. Retrieved October 12, 2007.
  25. ^ Matthew Westphal (June 6, 2007). "Vienna State Opera Appoints Dominique Meyer Its Next Director, with Franz Welser-Möst as Music Director". Playbill Arts. Retrieved October 12, 2007.
  26. ^ "Donald Keene, 7 others win Order of Culture," Archived October 30, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Yomiuri Shimbun. October 29, 2008; 平成20年度 文化功労者及び文化勲章受章者について 平成20年度 文化勲章受章者(五十音順)-文部科学省 Archived July 28, 2020, at the Wayback Machine Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Japan) Retrieved October 28, 2008
  27. ^ "Opera News > the Met Opera Guild". Archived from the original on February 11, 2010.
  28. ^ "Ozawa Discloses Cancer and Cancels Concerts for 6 Months". The New York Times. April 14, 1994. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
  29. ^ "Conductor Seiji Ozawa vows to return to work". BBC News. March 13, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2014.
  30. ^ "Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa beats cancer, plans opera". South China Morning Post. August 5, 2014. Retrieved December 25, 2014.
  31. ^ Vishnevetsky, Ignatiy (November 14, 2016). "Haruki Murakami prods a great conductor for insight in Absolutely On Music". The A.V. Club. Onion Inc. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
  32. ^ "Members of Honour".
  33. ^ "Hall at Tanglewood Named for Ozawa". The New York Times. April 14, 1994. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
  34. ^ "Seiji Ozawa Nagano Winter Olympics". YouTube.
  35. ^ "UNMB". Archived from the original on April 16, 2013. Retrieved January 6, 2016.
  36. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1521. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  37. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1921. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  38. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on January 7, 2019. Retrieved December 25, 2015.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  39. ^ a b Lakshmanan, Indira (September 20, 1998). "Orchestrating Family Life in Japan". The Boston Globe. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
  40. ^ Miki Irie, biography, IMDb. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  41. ^ a b Lakshmanan, Indira (September 20, 1998). "His Other Life in Japan". The Boston Globe. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
Cultural offices Preceded byWilliam Steinberg Music Director, Boston Symphony Orchestra 1973–2002 Succeeded byJames Levine Preceded byClaudio Abbado Music Director, Vienna State Opera 2002–2010 Succeeded byFranz Welser-Möst