Seiji Ozawa, a world-renowned orchestra conductor, has passed away. Despite his physical stature of 1.70 meters, his contributions to the world of music were monumental, standing shoulder to shoulder with giants such as Karajan, Bernstein, and Furtwängler. His death occurred on Tuesday, 6th at his Tokyo home, and his family announced it to the world through NHK after private funeral rituals.
Ozawa was instrumental in transforming the musical landscape through his Zen Buddhism-inspired approach, involving the balanced administration of physical, mental, and spiritual energy to achieve states of euphoria and reflection. His unwavering dedication to contemporary music exposed many authors to the world who might have otherwise remained obscure. His love for knowledge and others led him to become a mentor, guide, and founder of various festivals, competitions, and cultural events, cultivating new audiences.
Ozawa’s reputation was built on the incredible number of albums he recorded with various orchestras and record labels. His distinctive conducting style was both unique and revolutionary. He was like an eastern tiger on the podium, with movements akin to sacred Shaolin warriors. Despite his lion’s mane turning white with age, his energy remained youthful, akin to the monks of Zen Buddhism.
Born in 1935 in Manchuria, a region in China occupied by Japan, Ozawa’s family moved to Tokyo when he was 11. Throughout his life, he retained his Japanese identity. Even though he worked in Boston, he flew back to Japan every week where his family resided.
The final concert of his life was held in Japan, on November 22, 2022, with the Saito Orchestra, which he founded. In a memorable moment six years prior, his close friend Zubin Mehta acknowledged him publicly during a concert amidst rumors of Ozawa’s Alzheimer’s.
Ozawa’s playful and unique conducting style set him apart throughout his career. It was a blend of explosions, incandescences, intensities, and intimacies. He was known for creating collective experiences that felt intimate, both in his concerts and albums.
He maintained a close relationship with Olivier Messiaen and Gyorgy Ligeti, two monumental composers in history. He commissioned, premiered, and recorded 44 new works, including two significant operas by Messiaen and Ligeti.
A book titled Music, only music by Haruki Murakami, published by Tusquets, encapsulates his love, ideas, reflections, hypotheses, and certainties. The book is a product of many afternoons spent together with Murakami, listening and discussing music.
Ozawa directed the Boston Symphony for 29 years and later served as the head of the Vienna Opera for a decade. With his passing, his true stature is recognized – he is not just 170 centimeters tall, but a giant whose legacy is now immortal.