Boston bids goodbye to music director

Conductor ends 29 years at symphony orchestra with Tanglewood concert

— In an emotional coda to his career directing the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa ended 29 years as music director Sunday by turning his back to the orchestra and conducting his audience in the first musical piece he encountered in Massachusetts as a young student.

The short choral piece by Randall Thompson, "Alleluia," brought the two-hour concert to a tearful end for Ozawa, who came to Tanglewood Music Center as a cash-strapped, 25-year-old student from Japan in 1960.


AP Photo

Seiji Ozawa conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his final appearance as music director. Ozawa is leaving Boston to take over as music director of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. His last performance was Sunday at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass.

"He wanted to close his entire tenure with a prayer, so he brought everyone together as only Seiji could do, and they sent him off into his new life," said Mark Volpe, managing director of the BSO.

Tanglewood, the BSO's summer home in the Berkshires and training ground for some of the world's most promising young musicians, was packed with 14,303 patrons who waited to bid farewell to the iconic conductor, who is leaving to direct the Vienna State Opera.

James Levine, music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, was appointed as his successor last October.

Ozawa's tenure was the longest in BSO history, surpassing that of Serge Koussevitzky, who led the orchestra for 25 years, and is the longest of any music director now active with a major U.S. orchestra, according to the BSO.

Ozawa, with his characteristic shaggy hair and flapping hands, has left an indelible mark on the music world, but his celebrity status is also credited with leading Tanglewood into prosperity by selling out concerts and filling lawns on the sprawling 560-acre campus. A 1,200-seat, $12 million music hall bears his name.

Ozawa made a name for himself shortly after arriving at Tanglewood by winning the Koussevitzky Prize for outstanding student conductors. He caught the eye and ear of Leonard Bernstein, who taught at Tanglewood, and became his assistant at the New York Philharmonic in 1961.

His tenure was not without controversy. In 1996, Ozawa outraged some Tanglewood staff when he ousted a popular, longtime director. Several prominent teachers quit in protest.

Ozawa's farewell over the weekend was marked by musical appearances by big names such as conductor John Williams, soprano Jessye Norman, jazz pianist Marcus Roberts and the Boys Choir of Harlem.

On Saturday, the BSO named him music director laureate.


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