World mourns loss of “magician” Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa

Japan and the world on Friday reacted with an outpouring of grief and tributes after the death of famed Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, with some recalling his passionate and beloved character and others hailing him as a “magician of classical music.”

The Boston Symphony Orchestra said in a statement that it remembers Ozawa, who served as music director for 29 years until 2002, “not only as a legendary conductor but also as a passionate mentor for future generations of musicians.”

Under its longest-serving conductor, the symphony “entered a global era, through a renewed commitment to commissions and contemporary music, a prolific number of recordings, radio and television appearances, and history-making tours,” it said.

Yo-yo Ma, a renowned cellist, said in a video message posted on the symphony’s website, “He paved the way in many ways for Asian musicians, being one of the first ones to arrive on the scene and do what he has done.”

The Vienna Philharmonic said, “It was a gift to be able to go on a long journey with this artist, who was characterized by the highest musical standards and at the same time humility towards the treasures of musical culture as well as his loving interaction with his colleagues and his charisma.”

Ozawa became the first Japanese conductor to direct the philharmonic’s New Year’s concert in 2002.

The New York Times described Ozawa as a “captivating” and “transformative” conductor and reported he “helped dispel prejudices about East Asian classical musicians.”

Ozawa was “the most prominent harbinger of a movement that has transformed the classical music world over the last half-century: a tremendous influx of East Asian musicians into the West,” the obituary said.

In Europe, the Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland he founded to educate music students released a statement lauding his work cultivating new talent.

“He just had to raise his hand and the sound he elicited was miraculous. These moments will remain engraved in students’ memories, opening up new horizons for them and nourishing their imagination,” it read.

The academy said it will hold a tribute concert for the late Ozawa on July 9 in Geneva.

French newspaper Le Figaro praised him as “a magician of classical music” and described him as a “Japanese conductor inspired by French music who gave his passion to French music.” Le Monde mourned the “charismatic master” and said he looked as if he was “a pop star” in his turtlenecks.

Renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando described Ozawa as “big-hearted” and recalled a conversation with the charismatic conductor on how they felt “blessed with energy and freedom” and vowed to leave behind “work that would remain in people’s hearts.”

Veteran Japanese TV personality Tetsuko Kuroyanagi said Ozawa’s “passion lit up music in Japan,” while describing him as a loving father.

Yoshinao Gaun, the mayor of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, where Ozawa had long overseen an annual music festival, lamented the loss of the conductor as “immeasurable for local citizens” and said, “I feel deeply the pain of his passing.”

Matsumoto resident Hidenori Takayanagi, 69, expressed shock. “I knew he wasn’t well because he came to the festival in a wheelchair, but it’s a surprise he passed away so soon,” he said.

The conductor died on Tuesday at his home in Tokyo, his management office M. Hirasa Ltd. said Friday.