Conductor Seiji Ozawa, Longtime Leader of Boston Symphony Orchestra, Passes Away at 88

Jessamyn Dodd
By Jessamyn Dodd
February 10, 2024Entertainment
Conductor Seiji Ozawa, Longtime Leader of Boston Symphony Orchestra, Passes Away at 88
Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa leads the Saito Kinen Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York, on Dec. 14, 2010. (Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images)

Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, celebrated for his dynamic performances during his three-decade tenure with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, passed away at the age of 88. Mr. Ozawa, known for his energetic conducting and trademark salt-and-pepper hair, died of heart failure at his home in Tokyo on Tuesday, as confirmed by his office, Veroza Japan.

Mr. Ozawa, recognized internationally for his distinctive presence and leadership style, led the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1973 to 2002, making him the longest-serving conductor in the orchestra’s history. Following his time in Boston, he served as the music director of the Vienna State Opera from 2002 to 2010.

Despite his age, he remained active in the music scene, particularly in his native Japan, where he founded and served as the artistic director of the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, a prominent music and opera event. Additionally, his co-founding of the Saito Kinen Orchestra in 1984 led to notable achievements, including winning a Grammy for best opera recording in 2016 for Ravel’s “L’Enfant et Les Sortileges (The Child and the Spells).”

In 2016, Mr. Ozawa orchestrated a special performance of Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture for Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata aboard the International Space Station, emphasizing his belief in the unifying power of music, especially during times of global challenge such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout his tenure, Mr. Ozawa exerted significant influence over the Boston Symphony Orchestra, shaping its roster and budget, which grew substantially under his leadership. His impact extended beyond the orchestra, as he played a pivotal role in elevating the Tanglewood Music Center to international acclaim. However, his tenure was not without controversy, particularly concerning changes at Tanglewood that led to the departure of longtime figures.

Born in Manchuria, China, to Japanese parents in 1935, Mr. Ozawa’s musical journey began under the tutelage of Hideo Saito upon his family’s return to Japan in 1944. He quickly gained recognition for his talent, with Leonard Bernstein appointing him as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic in the early 1960s. Mr. Ozawa’s commitment to showcasing the talents of Japanese performers marked him as a trailblazer in the classical music world.

Mr. Ozawa’s passing has prompted an outpouring of condolences from the global music community, with tributes highlighting his lasting impact as both a conductor and mentor. His funeral was attended only by close relatives, per his family’s wishes for a private farewell.


Boston Symphony Orchestra reflected on the passing of Seiji Ozawa, highlighting his stature as one of the great conductors of his era. The tribute posted to their website celebrates Mr. Ozawa as a compassionate humanitarian and a musical genius known for his graceful conducting style, remarkable memory, and deep affection for Boston and its sports teams. An excerpt from the statement reads: “A force of nature on and off stage, Seiji Ozawa brought the BSO to new heights of international recognition and acclaim in his almost three decades as our Music Director. He inspired audiences, fellow artists, and generations of music students through his extraordinary artistry and his adventurous and generous spirit.”

The Vienna Philharmonic posted a statement on its website, mourning the loss of Mr. Ozawa, and reflecting on his legacy. Professor Daniel Froschauer, board member of the Vienna Philharmonic wrote: “We are happy to have experienced so many artistic highlights with Seiji Ozawa. It was a gift to be able to go on a long journey with this artist, who was characterized by the highest musical standards and at the same time humility towards the treasures of musical culture as well as his loving interaction with his colleagues and his charisma, which was also perceived by the audience. He left a great artistic legacy with the Vienna Philharmonic. We will sorely miss Seiji Ozawa as a friend and musical partner. Our thoughts are with his family.”

From The Epoch Times

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