Seiji Ozawa, the groundbreaking Japanese conductor famous for his high-spirited performances and unique style, has died at 88 years old.
Ozawa was born in 1935 in Shenyang, China, to Japanese parents and began studying classical piano at the age of 7. At 16, he entered the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, where he turned to conducting after a rugby injury ruined his hopes of becoming a pianist. He then immigrated to Europe, where a series of awards and victories at conducting competitions kickstarted his career. In 1960, he received a scholarship to study with Herbert von Karajan and was later spotted by Leonard Bernstein, who offered him a conducting post with the New York Philharmonic. Ozawa overcame many stereotypes and misconceptions against East Asian musicians, becoming the first Japanese conductor to become a household name in the Western classical music community.
Ozawa will be remembered primarily for his 29-year tenure with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1973-2002), the longest in the ensemble's history. His time with the BSO was riven with controversy, as fans and musicians alike were divided over his contributions to the orchestra. However, Ozawa was always widely respected in the United States — and was quite the celebrity — winning several Emmy awards, gracing magazine covers, and becoming a frequent attendee to Boston Red Sox games.
Ozawa was similarly successful as an opera conductor, directing several operas at the annual Tanglewood Festival with the BSO and serving as the music director of the Vienna State Opera from 2002 to 2010. Ozawa also maintained an incredible worldwide career as a guest conductor. In 2002, he became the first Japanese man to conduct the famous Vienna New Year's Concert, and, in 2016, he was named an honorary member of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
The entire music world mourns the passing of this captivating conductor, whose brilliant interpretations and unparalleled contributions to music will transcend the test of time and forever live on in our memories.