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Thread: Seiji Ozawa

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Question Seiji Ozawa

    I'm kind of curious about this conductor. Personally, I love the few recordings of his that I've heard, mostly in modern works: Stravinsky, Berg, Schoenberg. But it seems he was held in less than high esteem by a good many, including musicians who worked under him, etc. It seems that people thought that he wasn't really trying toward the end of his tenure with the Boston Symphony, or that he was just not a good conductor.

    Anyway, I was just trying to reconcile what I've read against my positive experiences listening to his recordings. Is anyone familiar with what I'm talking about, who can maybe expand on this?

    Moreover, any Ozawa fans here? Good recordings worth checking out?

    I just ordered the book Absolutely on Music, which is basically a conversation between Ozawa and the author Haruki Murakami. I'm a fan of the latter, so I'm excited to read it. I've read snippets here and there and it seems fascinating.

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    Ozawa is thought to have done his best work in the sixties and early seventies. After that, he was was on autopilot for a couple of decades, and maintained his post due to subsidies from Japanese Corporations. Anyway, his recordings with the Chicago SO are pretty exciting.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Ozawa has made some excellent music amongst a fair bit of mediocrity. His Pines of Rome and Holst Planets are absolutely superb, top of the shop performances. Otherwise, I still like most of his Mahler cycle (his first is particularly fine). I wouldn't say his name is mud around classical circles but he's got far fewer fanboys and flag-bearers than many other conductors.
    Last edited by Merl; Apr-26-2019 at 07:04.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I'm kind of curious about this conductor. Personally, I love the few recordings of his that I've heard, mostly in modern works: Stravinsky, Berg, Schoenberg. But it seems he was held in less than high esteem by a good many, including musicians who worked under him, etc. It seems that people thought that he wasn't really trying toward the end of his tenure with the Boston Symphony, or that he was just not a good conductor.

    Anyway, I was just trying to reconcile what I've read against my positive experiences listening to his recordings. Is anyone familiar with what I'm talking about, who can maybe expand on this?

    Moreover, any Ozawa fans here? Good recordings worth checking out?

    I just ordered the book Absolutely on Music, which is basically a conversation between Ozawa and the author Haruki Murakami. I'm a fan of the latter, so I'm excited to read it. I've read snippets here and there and it seems fascinating.
    He stayed around in Boston for too long - there were a lot of pretty uninspired performances. But I also heard some really excellent Mahler and Britten right up to the end of his tenure.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Why anyone asked him to conduct Jessey Norman in Carmen is beyond me. The performance is a disaster.

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    Senior Member Score reader's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I just ordered the book Absolutely on Music, which is basically a conversation between Ozawa and the author Haruki Murakami. I'm a fan of the latter, so I'm excited to read it. I've read snippets here and there and it seems fascinating.
    I liked the book, I was listening to the recordings they were discussing at the same time too, good read. As far as his recordings go I like his Planets but I haven't dug too deep into his material yet.
    "You should only listen to yourself. That’s your only job, really, as an artist. Even if you’re completely wrong, that’s what an artist does, listen to one’s self."

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    The book you mention in the OP is great. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves classical music and wants to read about it.

    Some recordings I like from Ozawa:

    Beethoven Symphony No. 1, Mito Chamber Orchestra
    Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1, Martha Argerich, Mito Chamber Orchestra
    Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1, Krystian Zimerman, Boston Symphony Orchestra
    Liszt Totentanz, Krystian Zimerman, Boston Symphony Orchestra
    Dvorak Cello Concerto, Rostropovich, Boston Symphony Orchestra
    Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Mullova, Boston Symphony Orchestra
    Mahler Symphony No. 1, Boston Symphony Orchestra

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    Ozawa made some terrific recordings with Chicago in the 60s...Janacek Sinfonietta, Borodin Polovtsian Dances, Pix @ Exhibition, Britten "Kiddie Guide" etc...when he got out on his own he kind of fizzled...Toronto, San Francisco were not major successes...he did improve the BSO somewhat after the Leinsdorf disaster, but morale was not good, and he overstayed his welcome....a constant problem for Ozawa was his reluctance/inability to make appointments to orchestra vacancies...his constant waffling, dithering, failing to make decisions re personnel were really negative effects of his tenures..big problems in SFSO, and BSO. to me, his later readings are too often fussy, mannered, prissy, even...

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    I appreciate everyone's clarification. I will resume enjoying the recordings I have of his greatly His Gurre-Lieder is phenomenal.

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    Senior Member Open Book's Avatar
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    While he was music director of the Boston Symphony, Ozawa earned constant sniping from the music critic of the Boston Globe, Michael Steinberg. Ozawa in his view was weak in what he called the standard German repertoire - Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, maybe he even included Bruckner and Mahler. This is of course the very repertoire that the public wants most to hear, at least it did then.

    Steinberg respected Ozawa's musical abilities and liked him in French music and modern music but felt that his cultural background prevented him from being convincing in German/Austrian music. Whether or not a Japanese person was at a cultural disadvantage then in this kind of music (probably no one would say that today), Steinberg was right about the kind of music Ozawa did and did not excel in.

    Ozawa was a hit with the Boston public for his charisma, though.
    Last edited by Open Book; Aug-22-2019 at 00:40.
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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Whilst Ozawa's Brahms in Boston wasn't stellar his Brahms cycle with the Saito Kinen is really good. The orchestra play beautifully for him. Just been playing the 4th today and it's a lovely performance.
    Last edited by Merl; Aug-22-2019 at 21:22.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Open Book View Post
    While he was music director of the Boston Symphony, Ozawa earned constant sniping from the music critic of the Boston Globe, Michael Steinberg. Ozawa in his view was weak in what he called the standard German repertoire - Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, maybe he even included Bruckner and Mahler. This is of course the very repertoire that the public wants most to hear, at least it did then.
    I didn't hear all of Ozawa's repertoire when he was here (and I'm not sure that he ever conducted Bruckner in Boston), but I did attend a few of his performances of Mahler, and they were fine, if not revelatory.

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    Senior Member philoctetes's Avatar
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    Ozawa's Mahler 1st was my introduction to the composer in the 70s... it made a strong impression, literally, as I recall no other with such weight in the finale. I like his Mendelssohn and Faure for DG, and the Sony / Chicago box made a nice surprise gift from a friend last Xmas.

    I was not so crazy about the Murakami book, but that's a problem I've always had with the author's style, not Seiji.
    Last edited by philoctetes; Aug-23-2019 at 03:08.

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    I bought my wife the 50 CD Philips box. It includes the complete BSO Mahler cycle which I find enjoyable. I also like the Bartok disc, and the Stravinsky opera. Several other discs I plan on exploring over the winter months. Holst, Orff, Takemitsu, Schoenberg, Bruckner 7, Britten/Ravel/Debussy. The only throwaway is a full disc of National Anthems. I won't bother with that one.
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    In Boston there was conflict between Ozawa and concertmaster Joseph Silverstein over the French vs. German repertoire issue for one thing, and Silverstein left the orchestra in protest. What I hadn't learned till recently was how thoroughly German Ozawa's training was, as was that of his teacher Hideo Saito. He is also an innovator who conducted and recorded Steve Reich's music already in the early 1970's.

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