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The 63-year-old Maestro Embarks on Another Adventure

October 15, 1999

On June 23, 1999, a piece of news stunned the classical music scene: Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, who currently directs the Boston Symphony Orchestra, had signed a contract with the Vienna State Opera to serve as its music director for three years from September 1, 2002, to August 31, 2005. Four decades after sailing to France on a cargo ship in 1959 to undergo musical training, the maestro that Japan boasts to the world will now rise to the apex of the world of opera.

A Fiery Conductor
Seiji Ozawa's passionate performances, with his gray hair swaying and bouncing, hold charismatic appeal. At 63 years, the highly respected conductor is now in the prime of his career. He catapulted to fame when he won the first prize at the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors held in Besançon, France, at the age of 24. Since then Ozawa has been swinging the baton for many distinguished orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic, and giving countless memorable performances. His greatest achievement above all has been his commitment of over a quarter of a century, since 1973, as the Boston Symphony Orchestra's regular conductor and music director.

Ozawa's recent announcement of his decision came as a pleasant surprise to all but the Boston Symphony, which is naturally saddened by the knowledge that it will soon lose its leader of many years. But for Ozawa himself, who is relatively inexperienced in opera, this will be a great chance to silence critics who have called opera his Achilles' heel. Ozawa is a great fan of the genre, and by taking on the leadership of the Vienna State Opera he will at last be fulfilling his long-cherished ambition: to be an accomplished conductor of both orchestral and operatic works, as advised by Herbert von Karajan, under whom he studied in West Berlin.

Pouring Asian Essence into Classical Music
Seiji Ozawa will be the Vienna State Opera's first Asian music director. But even prior to this, a growing number of Asian musicians have newly been named to prestigious positions at European orchestras.

For a time, these institutions had turned conservative, and the ratio of European singers and instrumentalists grew high. This resulted in a stifling of the companies' artistic spirit, however, and many chose to break out of this impasse by once again bringing in non-European talent. This has allowed Asian musicians, who have received so much from Western classical music, to make fresh contributions to this rich cultural heritage and to help keep it alive in the coming century.

A New Era for Vienna
The recent news has been welcomed by the Vienna State Opera's singers and crew, the media, general music lovers, and, most of all, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which plays for the state opera. Many are also looking forward to the company's reinvigoration that they trust Ozawa will bring under his baton.

On a somber note, though, the Vienna State Opera has a reputation for having personnel-related problems. Ozawa's predecessor, Claudio Abbado, left the company in 1991 after a disagreement with Ioan Holender, who was at the time its secretary general and is now its administrative director. The Viennese opera has been without a music director ever since.

Two years remain before Seiji Ozawa moves to his new post. The world waits with both anticipation and curiosity to see how he and Holender, his long-time tennis pal, will get along on the operatic court. Ozawa's challenge--to herald a new era for the Vienna State Opera in a new century--is soon to begin.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.