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Remembering Seiji Ozawa

Posted February 26, 2024

Remembering Seiji Ozawa (1935 - 2024)

Black and white photo of two men standing and smiling
Photo: Seiji Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, 1975, Photo by Heinz Weissenstein (Whitestone Photo). Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

As kids, our first exposure to Seiji Ozawa came, appropriately enough, through a Young People’s Concert. It was 1962; our dad had engaged Seiji to be one of his Assistant Conductors at the New York Philharmonic, and now he was introducing him to the TV viewing public by including him on a concert entitled “Young Performers.” We loved Seiji from the minute we saw him. His face was so full of joy; what kid wouldn’t want to see what Seiji Ozawa would say and do?

The year before, our dad had taken the Philharmonic on their first tour to Japan. Seiji’s presence on the tour helped our dad connect all the deeper to the country. Lenny loved Japan! He brought back so many amazing presents for us; now we were loving Japan too – from a distance.

A year or two later, Seiji’s mother came to visit him in New York. Our mother, Felicia, arranged for Seiji to bring Mrs. Ozawa to our house for tea. Her first name was Sakura – cherry blossom! And she’d brought along kimonos for all three of us! Mine was made of a gorgeous vermillion and white patterned silk; vermillion was my favorite colored-pencil shade, so I was enchanted. But it was too long; the beautiful fabric dragged on the carpet. To my astonishment, Mrs. Ozawa reached into her purse and pulled out her needle and thread -- and as I stood with my arms stretched out, the voluminous sleeves hanging like flags, she altered the kimono for me, right there in the library, between sips of tea

Years later, in the summers, we had countless happy opportunities to see Seiji conducting at Tanglewood; by then he was the esteemed Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. And, most memorably, we were at Tanglewood in the summer of 1994 to celebrate the inauguration of their magnificent new Seiji Ozawa Hall. Seiji ceremoniously served everyone from a giant cask of sake that had been specially flown over by Sony’s president, Norio Oga – after the first cask had broken open at Pittsfield Airport, spilling its precious contents onto the tarmac.

We grew up with Seiji; he was a fixture in our world. It’s hard, and sad, to live a world without him. But our memories of Seiji are drenched in music and joy.

- Jamie, Alexander, and Nina Bernstein

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