Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa dies at 88

He conducted orchestras in Chicago and San Francisco. He also worked for 29 years as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, who led the most prestigious orchestras in the world, died on Tuesday at his home in Tokyo at the age of 88, according to local media reports this Friday.

According to public broadcaster NHK, in information collected by AFP, Ozawa died on February 6 of heart failure. The funeral was held privately and the news of his passing emerged in the last few hours.

Seiji Ozawa was born in 1935 in the Chinese province of Manchuria (a former Japanese colony) and began studying piano in elementary school. He broke two fingers playing rugby as a teenager and decided to try conducting orchestras instead. He became successful on an international level. In 1959, he moved abroad and met some of the biggest stars in the classical music world, including composer and conductor Leonard Barnstein. He worked as his assistant at the New York Philharmonic during the 1961-1962 season.

Ozawa conducted orchestras in Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto (Canada). He also worked for 29 years as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where an auditorium is named after him. The Boston Symphony Orchestra paid tribute to Ozawa in a statement and praised his work:

The Boston Symphony Orchestra remembers Maestro Ozawa not only as a legendary conductor, but also as a passionate mentor for future generations of musicians, generously offering his time to education and master classes. Even after his departure from the Boston Symphony in 2002 (he was Vienna State Opera music director from 2002–2010), he retained a connection to Tanglewood and the Tanglewood Music Center, leading the TMC Orchestra in several performances. This all complements his important work in Japan with the Saito Kinen Orchestra, which he co-founded in 1984, and the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, both leading to the establishment of the Ozawa International Chamber Music Academy Okushiga to provide opportunities to outstanding students from countries in the region. Maestro Ozawa also founded the Seiji Ozawa Music Academy Opera Project in 2000 and the Seiji Ozawa Music Academy Orchestra Project in 2009, working actively to cultivate young musicians through performance. In 2005, he established the Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland to educate European music students.