Ailing conductor Ozawa returns to podium in Europe

Kyodo

Conductor Seiji Ozawa took the baton Thursday before an ensemble of 25 or so young string players from the academy he founded in Rolle, Switzerland.

The performance for local residents at the courtyard of an ancient castle on Lake Geneva was the first outside Japan in around three years for Ozawa, who has suffered poor health. He last gave concerts in Europe in July 2011, also with musicians from the Seiji Ozawa International Academy.

Appearing weak during rehearsals, Ozawa retired to a room every 20 minutes to rest. But he seemed more vigorous than three years ago, occasionally stepping forward and putting his body into the music.

Admission was free for the concert at the castle with a view of the snow-capped French Alps across the lake.

Ozawa conducted pieces by Bach and Bartok. The event also featured a local boys’ Alpine folk music choir and a children’s brass band. Toward the end, Ozawa, standing by a singer in folk costume, urged the audience to sing along. The gesture drew loud applause.

The return of the Japanese maestro brought excitement to residents and to the students, who hail from 10 countries. They are in their teens and 20s.

The academy is scheduled to play a concert in Geneva on Saturday and in Paris on Tuesday.

Ozawa set up the academy 10 years ago. The teaching staff comprises a range of Japanese musicians who perform around the world, and former student have gone on to become leaders in their field, including one principal cellist for Berlin Philharmonic.

Ozawa underwent a surgery for esophageal cancer in 2010. This ailment, coupled with back pain, forced him to suspend activity until last summer — when he made a comeback in conducting an opera at a music festival in Japan.