75-year-old symphony conductor Seiji Ozawa has completed his successful return to Carnegie Hall after many months of cancellations due to one health problem after another — you name it, he’s had it — with the performance of Benjamin Britten’s 1961-62 War Requiem, an 85-minute extensive and demanding piece, with the Japanese Saito Kinen Orchestra that Ozawa founded. Britten was a pacifist and had used some of English WW I soldier Wilfred Owen‘s poems for the Requiem.
Earlier in the week, Ozawa, the former Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for nearly 30 years, conducted two other concerts at Carnegie Hall. I probably had seen Ozawa conduct BSO concerts quite a few times at Boston’s Symphony Hall during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. There were several times in which he had to take extended leaves because of health problems, which continue to this day. Only recently, he’s admitted to being a workaholic, although I doubt he would use that word. His BSO successor James Levine is also a workaholic, being music director of both the BSO and New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and also with one health problem after another. Levine’s future with the BSO is shaky at best.
One of the controversies with the Boston Symphony during Ozawa’s time with them was when the BSO cancelled appearances by actress Vanessa Redgrave because of her outspoken support for the Palestine Liberation Organization. I clearly remember Ozawa’s response to reporters’ questions on the matter, that he just doesn’t get involved in politics and had nothing to say about it. In fact, he admitted on the stand at the trial of Redgrave’s lawsuit against the BSO that he had never heard of Redgrave before that controversy.
And, as far as not getting involved in politics, Ozawa wrote in the program notes for the recent War Requiem performance, “I personally do not care for political pieces” (I don’t blame him.), but he loves the music.