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© Carnegie Hall

Part I :
December 2010
Part II :
March-April 2011

For its upcoming concert season Carnegie Hall will host JapanNYC, a citywide Japanese music festival in two parts that kicks off in December 2010 and returns in March and April, 2011. On opening day, December 14th, JapanNYC’s artistic director, the legendary Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, will take the baton for his first full concert since his recovery from a recent surgery.

Seiji Ozawa’s storied career has seen him headline concert halls around the world and made him one of the most recognized faces in classical music. His start was more modest, however. In his twenties Mr. Ozawa travelled by cargo boat to Europe, touring the continent on a scooter emblazoned with a Japanese flag. A staff member at the US Embassy in Paris was so impressed by the unknown yet enthusiastic Ozawa that she helped him enter the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors in Besançon, France (despite having missed the application deadline). Ozawa won first prize.

The young conductor later flew to the US, attended the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood and won the prestigious Koussevitzuky Prize. Ozawa was soon under the tutelage of major figures like Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, and only two and a half years after his fateful trip to Europe, he was named assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

Ozawa later went on to become music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where he conducted for more than twenty years, and later principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera. He has also conducted both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic many times, and was the first Japanese person to lead the Vienna Philharmonic famous New Year’s concert. In November of this year, Ozawa was named an honorary member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

There is great excitement that Ozawa is back in New York at Carnegie Hall as the artistic director of JapanNYC, a festival that celebrates the rich cultural ties shared by Japan and New York City. After all, Ozawa’s success owes much to his first prize at Besançon and the help of an American supporter, and his early career bloomed at Carnegie Hall as assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic.

JapanNYC will feature performances by world renowned Japanese musicians: Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Mirodi Goto (violin), the Bach Collegium Japan (conducted by Masaaki Suzuki), the NHK Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Andre Previn), Toshiko Akiyoshi (piano), Oyama & Nitta Duet (shamisen), Aimi Kobayashi (piano), a Tribute to Toru Takemitsu Concert, and much more.

There will also be various festival-related events taking place outside Carnegie Hall: Kodo at Lincoln Center; Hakuin, Kashu-Juku Noh Theater and Bye Bye Kitty at the Japan Society; a Yoshitomo Nara Exhibition at the Asia Society; Peter and the Wolf (with art by Takashi Murakami) at the Guggenheim Museum, and other events.

When the great conductor Leonard Bernstein visited Japan he was moved by the scenery at a beach along the Tokaido road. He asked Ozawa why he had left such a beautiful place to live in New York City. Ozawa’s reply was simple, “It is not that I don’t think Japan is beautiful. I was just eager to know more about western music. In the end, I found the beauty of western music and the beauty of Japan.” Embracing that same spirit of discovery, Carnegie Hall’s JapanNYC festival is a unique celebration of music performed by Japanese artists and the riches of traditional and contemporary art and culture from Japan.

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(Reference: Seiji Ozawa [Samurai Music Trip], Tokyo, Sincho Bunko, 1980)