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Breaking: Seiji Ozawa announces his comeback

The Japanse conductor, 77 and out of action with cancer treatment, hernia and pneumonia since 2011, has announced that he will conduct Ravel’s Les Enfants et les Sortilèges at his Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto in August. His plan was communicated through the Tokyo media. Ozawa was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in January 2010 and underwent lower back surgery in January 2011. He has not conducted since August 2011.


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  1. richardcarlisle says:

    Welcome back!!

    Ozawa and Mazur — such bravery, great inspiration for all!!

  2. eitan bezalel says:

    Great news!

  3. Daniel Farber says:

    Although I abhor the gratuitous cruelty the gods have inflicted on him and empathize with his sufferings, it is also fair to say that Ozawa’s long tenure with the Boston Symphony brought that once-great orchestra to near ruin and that, under no circumstances, was he ever more than a somewhat-better-than-average conductor of canonic repertory. Someone once called him the world’s greatest conductor of Ibert. That about sums it up.

    • From what I remember from my (very) tender youth, Ozawa’s first few years were pretty exciting. (My other and I watched his Boston Symphony concerts on public television – those were the days …)

      The end was pretty bad, though …

      On the other hand, every performance or recording by Ozawa with Japanese forces that I’ve encountered has gotten very high praise (by Western critics). So I’ve often suspected that his problem is communicating properly with his musicians.

      • James Forrest says:

        MWnyc describes my personal experience exactly. In the mid 1970s there were some marvelous concerts at both Tanglewood and Symphony Hall. But after a few years, things went downhill. No matter how well he knew the music–the notes, and he usually did–his lack of rapport with most of the great symphonic repertory seemed to weaken performances from season to season.

        He was often outstanding in complex contemporary scores, and he also seemed to do well on frequent occasions as a guest conductor with orchestras other than his own. And he surely has done some fine things in his own country.

        Altho’ I found him disappointing during the last 20 or so years of his Boston tenure, all people of good will must wish Ozawa well as he returns to the podium after long illness. To do otherwise is a bit churlish.

        • Daniel Farber says:

          I would grant you that coming in after the sour Leinsdorf and the wonderful but ill and frail William Steinberg, Ozawa did breath some healthy new life into the orchestra—for about five years of a 29-year tenure. It was like a bad dream that you’d have every weekend. There were yearly visits from Colin Davis for a while (until, rumor had it, he wanted to record the Missa Solemnis with the orchestra, and Ozawa would not permit it) and, toward the end, some very interesting concerts under Simon Rattle, but these concerts were like oases in the desert. I admire his persistence in the face of his recent illnesses and wish him the best. Interesting coincidence that both Ozawa and his replacement at the BSO, James Levine, should have been on “injured reserve” at the same time and for so long, and that now both of them are returning to the podium at around the same time. (Levine is “scheduled” to conduct the Met Opera Orchestra in Carnegie Hall on May 19th.)

  4. I would like to see Wolfgang Sawallisch back in action too…, all these great old Maestri!!

    • That would be wonderful, but I’m afraid dear old Uncle Wolfgang says himself that he really is too frail to return to the podium.

  5. oleg sherstiucoff says:

    I am speechless….I have nothing but word of true admiration for your bravery !

  6. Best news of the day! Bravo maestro!

  7. Rosana Martins says:

    Wonderful news! I am sure it will be a great performance. Bravo!

  8. I think everyone needs to read Donald Peck’s (former principal flute with Chicago) take on a number of conductors (including Ozawa) in his book, “At the Right Place, at the Right Time.” Apparently in his early days at the Ravinia Festival, it was sadly apparent that Ozawa was learning the score in front of the players. I find that behavior unforgivable and, for me, am not applauding the “Maestro’s” return.

    • Daniel Farber says:

      And speaking of learning the score on the job and communicating effectively, it was well known to the Boston Symphony musicians that when Ozawa conducted Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex”, he had no knowledge of either Sophocles’s play or Cocteau’s libretto.

    • Martin Lee says:

      I read Donald Peck’s book and you must have mistaken Ozawa. In Peck’s words, Ozawa ‘came to rehearsals with knowledge of the scores but with no direction as to their achievement’ – probably a comment on his inexperience in the repertoire but not his preparation. The person in question that was learning the score in front of the players was Levine (‘It was obvious that he had not studied the scores at this time – too busy elsewhere?”), and not Ozawa.

  9. Christine Goerke says:

    As someone who has had the great honor of working with Maestro Ozawa on many occasions, I can *assure* you that he has absolutely no problem communicating with his musicians. He absolutely loves music, and that is utterly palpable. Hurrah and Welcome back, Maestro!

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