The Japanese conductor, Seiji Ozawa, studied music from an early age and later graduated with first prizes in composition and conducting from Tokyo's Toho School of Music. In 1959 he won first prize at the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors held in Besançon, France. Charles Munch, then music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, subsequently invited him to attend the Tanglewood Music Center, where he won the Koussevitzky Prize for outstanding student conductor in 1960.
While working with Herbert von Karajan in West Berlin, Seiji Ozawa came to the attention of Leonard Bernstein, who appointed him assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for the 1961-1962 season. He made his first professional concert appearance in North America in January 1962, with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. He was music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Ravinia Festival for five summers beginning in 1964, music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1965 to 1969, and music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra from 1970 to 1976, followed by a year as that orchestra's music adviser. He conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the first time in 1964, at Tanglewood, and made his first Symphony Hall appearance with the orchestra in January 1968. He became an artistic director of Tanglewood in 1970 and began his tenure as music director of the BSO in 1973, following a year as music adviser.
With the 2000-2001 season, Seiji Ozawa marks his twenty-seventh anniversary as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Since he became the BSO's music director in 1973, Ozawa has devoted himself to the orchestra through the longest tenure of any music director currently active with a major orchestra, approached in BSO history only by the twenty-five-year tenure of the legendary Serge Koussevitzky. In the fall of 2002, Ozawa will begin a new phase in his career when he assumes the post of music director of the Vienna State Opera, reflecting his growing interest in and affinity for opera. Ozawa has enjoyed a long association with the Vienna State Opera, as a guest conductor leading productions in its house as well as concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic in Vienna, at Salzburg, and on tour.
Throughout his career, Seiji Ozawa has made dozens of recordings, a number of them for Sony Classical. His most recent recording for the label features a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” with Japan’s Saito Kinen Orchestra, which Ozawa co-founded. In addition, to his many Boston Symphony Orchestra recordings, Ozawa has also recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre de Paris, Philharmonia Orchestrea of London, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Toronto Symphony Orchestra, among others.
In recent years, numerous honors and achievements have underscored Seiji Ozawa's standing on the international music scene. Most recently, he was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by French President Jacques Chirac, recognizing not only his work as a conductor, but also his support of French composers, his devotion to the French public, and his work at the Paris Opera. In December 1997 Ozawa was named "Musician of the Year" by Musical America. In 1994 he became the first recipient of Japan's Inouye Sho (the "Inouye Award," named after this century's preeminent Japanese novelist) recognizing lifetime achievement in the arts. The same year also saw the inauguration of the new Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, the BSO's summer home in western Massachusetts. At Tanglewood he has also played a key role as both teacher and administrator in the activities of the Tanglewood Music Center, the BSO's summer training academy for young professional musicians from all over the world.
In 1992 Seiji Ozawa co-founded the renowned Saito Kinen Festival – which he has brought to international prominence – in Matsumoto, Japan, in memory of his teacher at Tokyo's Toho School of Music, Hideo Saito, a central figure in the cultivation of Western music and musical technique in Japan. Also in 1992 he made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Besides his concerts throughout the year with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he conducts the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic on a regular basis, and appears also with the New Japan Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Orchestre National de France, La Scala in Milan and the Vienna Staatsoper.
All of this has been in addition to Seiji Ozawa's work as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Throughout his twenty seven years in that position, Ozawa has maintained the orchestra's distinguished reputation both at home and abroad, with concerts at Symphony Hall, at Tanglewood, on tours to Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, China, and South America, and across the USA. He has upheld the BSO's commitment to new music through the frequent commissioning of new works, including a series of centennial commissions marking the orchestra's hundredth birthday in 1981 and a series of works celebrating the Tanglewood Music Center's fiftieth anniversary in 1990. Two years ago, he gave the world premiere of Henri Dutilleux's The shadows of time, a BSO commission which was subsequently recorded by Erato for European release and honored at last year’s French recording awards, Les Victoires de la Musique Classique. In addition, he and the orchestra have recorded more than 140 works, representing more than fifty different composers, on ten labels.
Seiji Ozawa won his first Emmy award in 1976, for the BSO’s PBS television series Evening at Symphony. He received his second Emmy in September 1994, for Individual Achievement in Cultural Programming, for Dvorák in Prague: A Celebration, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a concert subsequently released by Sony Classical in both audio and video formats.
Seiji Ozawa holds honorary doctor of music degrees from the University of Massachusetts, the New England Conservatory of Music, and Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.