In September 1984, under the leadership of Seiji Ozawa and Kazuyoshi Akiyama, a unique group of more than 100 Japanese musicians from all over the world gathered together in Japan to perform a series of concerts in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the death of Hideo Saito - founder of the Toho Gakuen School of Music, music educator and beloved teacher who instilled in their hearts the love of music. They were all at some point in their lives either students or teachers at the Toho School, and have since become soloists, chamber musicians and players of major orchestras in Japan, Europe and the USA. The concerts, held in Tokyo and Japan, were world-class, the public response was overwhelming, and the rest of the musical world could not but take notice. Thus was the Saito Kinen Orchestra born - out of a passion for music and a collective desire to perpetuate Mr. Saito's great legacy.
In September 1987 the Orchestra made its first tour of Europe with much acclaimed appearances in Vienna, Berlin, London, Paris and Frankfurt. This was followed by European tours in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1994. It was also in 1991 when the orchestra made its USA debut, opening Carnegie Hall's 101st season. In September 1992 the Saito Kinen Orchestra became the resident ensemble of the Saito Kinen Festival. Also founded by Seiji Ozawa, who to date serves as its Director, the Festival is held annually for 10 days in August and September in the Japanese Alps of Matsumoto. In addition to orchestral concerts, the Festival also stages operas which have included such 20th-Century works as Igor Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex in 1992, Arthur Honegger's Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher ("Joan of Arc at the Stake") in 1993, I. Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress in 1995, Francis Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tirésias in 1996, which have all been recorded by Philips Classics, and F. Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites in 1998. Oedipus Rex, winner of several international awards, is also available on video on the Philips label. The Saito Kinen Orchestra and Seiji Ozawa have recorded major orchestral works for Philips Classics.