Early in 2010, conductor Seiji Ozawa was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He said he’d take six months off for treatment and then return to conducting.
As it turned out, that objective was a bit optimistic.
Ozawa’s cancer treatment was a success, but when he tried to return to the podium that summer, severe back pain laid him low. Ozawa had to give up his post as music director of the Vienna State Opera (Franz Welser-Möst succeeded him), and cancelled a December 2010 European Tour.
Ozawa underwent surgery for herniated discs in January of 2011; that knocked him out of Carnegie Hall appearances in the spring of 2011. In August of that year, he was able to conduct a performance of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, but fatigue kept him from the tour of China that was to follow. Then in February of 2012, pneumonia struck.
The following month, Ozawa admitted that "I had too much faith in my own physical strength … Even if I didn’t feel anything during performances, once they ended I was always terribly exhausted." His physicians recommended more rest. However, he promised that from spring of this year (2013), he’d resume work "little by little."
As of today (19 February) the prognosis is good: Ozawa has just announced that he’ll conduct at this summer’s Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto, Japan. (Ozawa is the festival’s founder and director.) In August, he’ll lead a performance of Ravel’s Les Enfants et les Sortilèges.
Ozawa, who’s 77 this year, is probably best known to American music lovers for his 29 years with the Boston Symphony. Although the later years of that record-breaking tenure were marked by complaints from critics that he’d allowed the orchestra to decline, Ozawa was a well-liked figure in Boston. His fans were often delighted to spot him out and about in his off hours, something Boston music lovers didn’t get much of with his BSO MD successor, James Levine. Ozawa was a Red Sox fan, for example. Levine, not so much.
Here’s hoping that Maestro Ozawa’s physical trials are finally behind him, and that he’ll soon be back to a full conducting schedule.