Beloved Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Seiji Ozawa dies at 88

By Nina Campanello

Seiji Ozawa was a captivating and transformative conductor who led the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1973 to 2002. After his time with the BSO, he was the music director of the Vienna State Opera from 2002 to 2010. He died of heart failure on Tuesday morning at his home in Tokyo.

The BSO released a statement following his passing.

“A force of nature on and off stage, Seiji Ozawa brought the BSO to new heights of international recognition and acclaim in his almost three decades as our Music Director. He inspired audiences, fellow artists, and generations of music students through his extraordinary artistry and his adventurous and generous spirit,” read the statement.

Ozawa earned the title of the BSO’s longest-serving conductor after 29 years with the company.

“A kind and thoughtful humanitarian; a musical genius who combined a balletic grace at the podium with a prodigious memory; and an inveterate lover of all things Boston and its sports teams,” the statement said.

Andris Nelson, the music director of the BSO and the head of conducting at Tanglewood, also released a statement on Ozawa’s passing.

“Without question, Seiji Ozawa was one of the world’s greatest conductors, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra was privileged to have had such a long and productive relationship with him,” Nelson said.

In his later years, Ozawa continued to remain active in the music industry in Japan. He was the founder and artistic director of the Seiji Ozawa Music Festival, a music and opera festival that took place in Japan. In 2016, Ozawa and the orchestra he co-founded, Saito Kinen Orchestra, won the Grammy for best opera recording for Ravel’s “L’Enfant et Les Sortileges” (“The Child and the Spells”).

Ozawa’s last public performance was conducting the Seiji Ozawa Music Festival in 2022, to mark the 30th anniversary of the festival.

During Ozawa’s rise to success, there were few other nonwhite musicians on the international scene. He did not shrink at the challenge, and he made his lifelong passion to help Japanese performers prove they could become first-class musicians.