Japan festival renamed after the now-healthier maestro Seiji Ozawa

AFP-JIJI

Acclaimed Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, who overcame a battle with cancer, brushed aside the idea of his death Monday as a premier classical music festival was renamed after him.

The Saito Kinen music festival, held every summer since 1992 in the central city of Matsumoto, will be named the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival from next year to honor the maestro’s contribution to the event.

“I will work hard and that’s all I will do,” the bushy-haired 78-year-old told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan as the name change was announced.

“People may say I am close to death, but I will do my best to stop that from happening,” he added jokingly.

Ozawa, who previously said he was spooked at having an institution named after him, had surgery for esophageal cancer in 2010 and was treated for a hernia the following year.

The conductor has directed the Matsumoto festival since its inception, part of a globe-trotting career spanning three decades that saw him direct the Boston Symphony Orchestra before moving to Austria in 2002 to conduct the Vienna State Opera.

Twenty years ago, the Boston orchestra built a 1,200-seat concert hall which it planned to name Seiji Ozawa Hall.

“I told them I didn’t like the idea because it would sound like a tombstone for me,” the maestro said, although the orchestra went ahead with the plan.

Ozawa added that he eventually became more comfortable with the idea and his name has since been attached to music academies at home and abroad, including the Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland.

“I’ve become old and had severe health problems over the last 20 years. Since I haven’t died yet, I wonder what it means for me to approve (the festival’s name change),” he said.

“But the fact that someone like me, who went under the knife for cancer, can talk freely about death means that I must have recovered.”