Decca Classics releases a new record marking the 85th birthday of Grammy-winning Japanese conductor, Seiji Ozawa. Recorded live in 2016/17, Ozawa leads the Saito Kinen Orchestra in performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 and Leonore Overture No. 3, also marking the German composer’s 250th birthday year.
Dominic Fyfe, Label Director of Decca Classics and the producer of recordings by Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Orchestra’s since 2003, says, “We all wish Seiji the happiest of birthdays. While recent years have been challenging because of illness, his music-making has shone through with a determination and resilience which are apt for Beethoven and this most exhilarating of his symphonies”.
Born in 1935 in Shenyang, China, Ozawa studied conducting under Hideo Saito at the Toho School of Music, later winning first prize at the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors held in Besançon, France. He was invited in the summer of 1960 to Tanglewood by Charles Munch, who was a judge at the competition and music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the time. Ozawa proceeded to study under Karajan and Bernstein and went on to serve as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Ravinia Festival, music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and music director of the San Francisco Symphony. In 1973, he became the 13th music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where his tenure of 29 years was the longest in the history of American orchestras.
In Japan, Ozawa formed the Saito Kinen Orchestra with Kazuyoshi Akiyama in 1984 to commemorate their late mentor, Hideo Saito. The orchestra held greatly successful concerts in Tokyo and Osaka and went on to tour Europe in 1987, 1989, and 1990. In 1991, it performed concerts in Europe and America and was received with great accolades. These activities lead to the inception of Ozawa’s artistic dream in 1992: the Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto. Ozawa became director of this international music festival, a role that continues to this day. SKO continued to tour, with overseas concerts in 1994, 1997 and 2004. From 2015, the festival has entered a new stage as the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival.
In Ozawa’s 85th birthday year, a double Beethoven release commemorates not only the German composer’s legacy, but also that of the “lithe, balletic athlete with a shock of thick black hair” (Steven Spielberg, speaking in 1998, reflecting on their first meeting) who continues to captivate audiences well into his ninth decade.