Japan’s trailblazing conductor Seiji Ozawa dies from heart failure at 88
Seiji Ozawa, the iconic Japanese conductor known for his work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other world-famous ensembles, died on Tuesday due to heart failure at his home in Tokyo, his management office said on Friday. He was 88.
A trailblazer of Japanese conductors active on the world stage, Ozawa in recent years had suffered a series of health problems that forced him to cancel some of his concert and music festival appearances.
In his teens, the future maestro seemed destined for a career as a pianist. But he also had another passion – rugby – which his piano teacher mother banned him from playing.
Naturally, he defied her, and one day he broke his two index fingers in a ruck during a game, abruptly ending all hope of ever becoming a concert pianist.
It was only then that the idea of conducting was floated.
Barack Obama would years later gently chide the diminutive conductor for his costly act of rebellion.
“Now I have to say, looking at you Seiji, I’m not sure that was a good idea” taking part in that rugby match, said the US President at the time. “But fortunately, for the rest of us, it opened up the door to a career as a conductor.”
Broken fingers were not the only obstacle Ozawa had to a musical career.
He would later sum up his childhood as: “No money, my house.”
Born to Japanese parents in northern China, which was then occupied by Imperial Japan, his family fled back to Tokyo as defeat during World War II loomed in 1944.
Although his father was a dentist, there was little cash to spare, and Ozawa paid for his lessons by mowing his teacher’s lawn.
After the life-changing rugby accident in 1950, it was his piano teacher who suggested the 15-year-old try conducting, an unknown world to Ozawa at the time.