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Famed conductor Seiji Ozawa dead at 88

World renowned symphony conductor Seiji Ozawa died of heart failure at the age of 88, NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, announced Friday.

Ozawa is best known for his long tenure leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1973 to 2002. He also worked with the San Francisco Symphony, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Vienna State Opera, according to Wikipedia.

NPR reports Ozawa lead the way for other Asians to follow in his footsteps in a world dominated by White men.

“Since I’m kind of a pioneer I must do my best before I die, so people younger than me think, ‘Oh, that is possible. I think it’s possible, I hope it’s possible.‘” Ozawa said to NPR in 2002.

He conducted his orchestra from memory and sometimes sported a tunic rather than a tux while on stage. When he first joined the Boston Symphony, he would set himself apart with his mop top head and love beads.

He was born to Japanese parents in Northern China which was at the time in 1935 occupied by Japan.

Reuters reports he loved the Boston Red Sox and was not bashful about sharing that passion. He would at times be seen in public wearing a Red Sox jacket and hat and once appeared for an interview in a Boston Red Sox tie.

He also preferred to be called by his first name and not “maestro.”

In 2020, the city of Boston proclaimed his birthday on September 1 “Seiji Ozawa Day.” Despite his genius, he remained modest throughout his career.

“I’m the complete opposite of a genius, I have always had to make an effort,” he said in 2014. “I don’t really like studying, but I had to do it if I wanted to make music. Anybody with genius can easily do better than me.”

Ozawa also showed a love for promoting cultural exchange naturally building bridges through music. The Chinese government invited him to work with the China Central Symphony Orchestra in 1978, reported the Japan Times.

The following year he led the Boston Symphony on a goodwill trip to China. In 1973, he traveled with the San Francisco Symphony to Moscow to work with Mstislav Rostropovich, a Russian cellist and conductor.

Ozawa began studying music at a young age in China before moving to Tokyo for high school to pursue conducting at the Toho Gakuen School of Music.

In 1959, he became the first Japanese conductor to win The International Besancon Competition for Young Conductors. 

A private funeral attended by family only has already been held. A public memorial is being planned.

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