Orchestral Switch for Conductor Seiji Ozawa in Midtour
PARIS (AP) _ Seiji Ozawa conducts orthodox music in unorthodox ways.
After winding up the Boston Symphony’s European tour Saturday, the 56-year- old music director picked up the baton this week for one of his consuming passions: the Saito Kinen Orchestra.
″We perform Brahms’ Second Symphony, and then right on stage, all the first and second violins trade places for the Third Symphony. This is unheard of with other professional orchestras,″ Ozawa said.
″We’ll have five concert masters on this tour. When I’m with the Boston Symphony, this would never happen.″
Named after his late mentor Hideo Saito, the orchestra brings together about 90 Japanese musicians active around the world, all graduates of Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo.
For Ozawa, forging a symphony orchestra for only 11 days with members from throughout the world is easy when all come from the same school.
Ozawa says, ″It’s strange, but it’s not hard at all. We rehearse for 20 or 30 minutes, and already everything flows. It’s like the Japanese proverb, ‘We ate rice from the same bowl.’ ″
The Saito Kinen begins rehearsals this week and opens at London’s Royal Festival Hall on Monday with Brahms’ Second and Third symphonies and Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings.
Saito Kinen, meaning Saito Memorial, is a tribute to the man who co-founded Toho Gakuen, started Ozawa off as a conductor and shaped a generation of Japanese classical musicians emerging after World War II.
Ozawa was in the school’s first graduating class in 1959, and founded the orchestra in 1984 to mark the 10th anniversary of Saito’s death. This is the orchestra’s fourth tour abroad.
″The members have the same basic foundation that Saito taught, based on learning through hearing, that he brought back from the Paris Conservatory,″ says Ozawa, gesturing vigorously, his mane of graying hair flying.
″When you put these players together, you feel that music is not just playing notes, but drawing on the common nature of the ensemble.″
Half the Saito Kinen performers are active in Japan, the rest primarily in Europe and the United States. They include noted violist Nobuko Imai, a soloist in Amsterdam; Tomotada Soh, a violin soloist in London, and flutist Shigenori Kudo of Paris’ Ecole Normale.
The affable Ozawa is far less the disciplinarian than was the strict Saito.
″He’s demanding, but understanding,″ says Sachiko Segawa, a violinist in Saarbrucken, Germany who took a quick lesson from Ozawa at his Paris hotel.
″Playing with him is like playing with a big family, with our music in common.″
Ozawa has high hopes for the orchestra to bring Japanese musicians prominence in Japan, which idolizes foreign performers while often ignoring local talent.
His musical intensity doesn’t dominate his family, with whom he spends about half the year in Tokyo. His daughter, Seira, plans to study literature in college, and his son, Yukiyoshi, is good at high school basketball, the proud father explains.
After leaving Saito, Ozawa came to France and immediately took first place in the International Concours of Orchestra Conductors in Besancon. He followed one of the judges, then-Boston Symphony conductor Charles Munch, back to the United States.
That led to appointments with Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan, and eventual directorships of the Toronto and San Francisco symphonies.
From London the Saito Kinen goes to Dusseldorf and Amsterdam. On Sept. 24 the Saito Kinen opens Carnegie Hall’s concert season with Isaac Stern as soloist in Bartok’s violin concerto No. 1.
The Boston Symphony - with two Japanese members - opens its 111th season back home little more than a week later, with Ozawa in his 19th year at its helm.
He spends 22 weeks a year with the symphony, ″really a lot for director of a major orchestra,″ he says. ″But we do it the old-fashioned way - not with a lot of guest conductors.″