Head of the Japanese School of Conducting, Seiji Ozawa has always used his talent to aid the musical development of orchestras and the training of musicians rather than for personal advancement. He is one of the foremost specialists of 20th century French music.
When Seiji Ozawa was born in Shenyang the city wads part of Manchukuo, a Manchurian province then under Japanese control. At the age of 16 the budding musician went to study Western music at the Toho School in Tokyo. His teacher, Hideo Saito, encouraged him to pursue further study in Europe. In 1959 Seiji Ozawa won 1st place at the Concours de Besançon. Charles Münch noticed him and who would later invite him to lead the Boston Orchestra, of which he was leader. Seiji Ozawa then had the privilege of training with two great practitioners – Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein. In 1964 he was appointed Director of The Ravinia Festival and the following year of the Toronto Orchestra. In 1970 he became leader of the San Francisco Orchestra, which he led until 1976. He was very attached to his homeland and in 1972 he founded the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra of Japan, followed by the Saito Kinen International Orchestra in 1984 made up of Japanese students who were part of western orchestras. In 1992 he also founded the Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto.
In 1973 Seiji Ozawa fulfilled his dream, returning to the scene of his first performances and following in the footsteps of Charles Münch to take control of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Here, he acted as a great advocate of French repertoire and proved himself to be a great conductor of opera. In 1983 he produces Olivier Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise at the Opéra de Paris. In 2002, he left Boston to become the Director of the Vienna State Opera. The next year he formed the first Japanese opera company, the Tokyo Opera Nomori. In 2004, he created an International Academy for music in Switzerland to prepare young musicians for orchestral and chamber music playing.
Seiji Ozawa has conducted the Orchestre National de France many times. From the French premiere of Olivier Messiaen's Sept Haïkaï in 1966, to the creation of Henri Dutilleux's work, Le temps l'horloge, in 2009, many events mark this collaboration, especially Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne au bûcher, with Marthe Keller and George Wilson, in June 1989, Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 3 at the Saint Denis Festival in 1993, and a concert in the honour of Mstislav Rostropovitch in 1997.
Six landmark dates in the life of Seiji Ozawa
1959: 1st Prize of Besançon Competition
1970: Musical Director of the San Francisco Orchestra
1973: Musical Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra
1983: creation of Messiaen’s Saint Francis of Assise
1984: creation of the Saito Kinen International Orchestra
2002: Musical Director of the Vienna State Opera