Tanglewood 75 - From the Audio Archives: Day 75
Bizet: Symphony in C & Thompson:
Bizet: Symphony in C
Koussevitzky Music Shed, August 16, 1964
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Seiji Ozawa, conductor
Randall Thompson: Alleluia
Koussevitzky Music Shed, July 14, 2002
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Seiji Ozawa, conductor
with orchestra and audience participation
Available for purchase starting September 3, 2012 8:30 AM
Background on the Music
Many internationally prominent conductors have passed through the conducting program at the Tanglewood Music Center, including Leonard Bernstein, Claudio Abbado, Christoph von Dohnányi, Zubin Mehta, Michael Tilson Thomas, and, more recently, Marin Alsop and Daniel Harding. But Seiji Ozawa was the first and so far the only alumnus of the TMC to become music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Tanglewood has been a significant thread in Ozawa's life. The Tanglewood Music Center played an important role in his musical development. Later, for three years, he was part of a troika in charge of all the activities at Tanglewood, along with Leonard Bernstein and Gunther Schuller; and after that, of course, he was the BSO's music director for 29 years. His actual presence at Tanglewood fluctuated because of commitments in Europe and in Japan, but his love for the place and the ideal it represents never wavered. In his last seasons as music director he began to be concerned about his legacy; he renewed his commitment to Tanglewood and, amid considerable controversy and publicity, sought to restore dimensions of the Tanglewood Music Center's programming that had fallen into disuse.
Music director Charles Munch recommended Ozawa to Tanglewood after Ozawa won an international conducting competition in Besançon, France. Ozawa had travelled to France by tramp steamer from Japan to Italy. He had a commercial sponsor, a motor scooter company, so he rode to the competition on his scooter.
When Ozawa arrived at Tanglewood by bus in 1960, he was 23 years old. He spoke no English, and he was virtually penniless. But he was a hard worker and by the end of the summer had won the Koussevitzky Prize, which is awarded to the most promising of the Conducting Fellows. He used the money to buy his first car. And he earned his first review in the New York Times. At the last concert of the season by the TMC Orchestra, the Conducting Fellows shared Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony; Ozawa's assignment was the finale. Harold Schonberg wrote: "Here is a name to remember: Seiji Ozawa . . [who] left no doubt that he is a major talent. He has a good deal of temperament, a propulsive rhythm, and a thorough command over his forces. He also has - and this will do him no harm at all - showmanship. His gestures are a la Bernstein, and that includes the most swivel-hipped action since that great man himself. What with his talent, exotic good looks, flair, and choreographic ability, Mr. Ozawa is a young man who will go far."
And indeed he did. He was the only conductor to be mentored by both of the two most prominent senior conductors of the time, Herbert von Karajan and Bernstein. Before he won the Boston position, he was an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic before accepting permanent posts at the Ravinia Festival, the Toronto Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony.
This is not the place or the occasion to evaluate Ozawa's tenure, except to say that it was at different times and in different ways always controversial, and that a lot of the controversy came from or was fueled by the press. In this, as in other things, he was parallel to Bernstein, who in his now legendary years with the New York Philharmonic was constantly pilloried by the press. And despite whatever the press had to say, Ozawa, like Bernstein, never lost his hold over the general public. He became a much-loved figure; to this day, when his picture appears on a screen at Tanglewood, the audience bursts into applause. And no matter what anyone says about Ozawa, no one thing is universally true. Whatever judgment one makes about him, whether positive or negative, the opposite is also true of him in another piece or on another occasion. No sweeping cliché is a fair description of anyone's activities over a period of 30 years and, in this case, thousands of performances. No human being, let alone a newspaper critic, has a perfect record. Ozawa's achievements were as real, substantial, and lasting as any of his failures.
This download forms a pair of bookends. From 1964, we hear the 28-year-old Ozawa lead the Symphony in C by the 17-year-old Bizet. This comes from Ozawa's very first appearance with the Boston Symphony as a guest conductor, on which occasion he replaced the recently deceased Pierre Monteux. From Ozawa's farewell concert as music director in 2002, 38 eventful years after his debut, we hear Randall Thompson's Alleluia, which Ozawa chose to be the last music he would conduct as music director. In his speech to the audience, his voice choked with emotion, Ozawa explained he chose it because it was the first piece he ever heard, and participated in, at Tanglewood. The annual Opening Exercises of the Tanglewood Music Center took place the day after his arrival; when he heard the word "orientation" he thought it applied to him because he came from the Orient!
Bizet composed his only symphony in 1855 when he was a student at the Conservatoire in Paris. Apparently he never sought a public performance of the work and certainly he never published it. The manuscript was discovered in 1933 and the first performance took place in 1935, eighty years after Bizet composed it, which may be some kind of record for a delayed premiere. The delightful work entered the international repertory immediately and soon made up for lost time.
There are two reasons why Bizet suppressed his symphony. First, it is modeled, a little too closely, on the Symphony No. 1 by his teacher, Charles Gounod, which was composed earlier in 1855. (Four years later Gounod would produce his most famous work, the opera Faust.) Second, in later years, Bizet found his symphony a useful source for other works including the opera Don Procopio and the incidental music he produced for Daudet's play L'Arlésienne, music he afterwards organized into two orchestral suites that proved extremely popular.
The reasons why the symphony became, and remains, popular on its own - these days it is played far more often than L'Arlésienne - include the charm of its melodies, the elegance of its craftsmanship, and the airborne transparency of its scoring. The sinuous, quasi-Oriental melody spun out by the oboe in the slow movement is an early example of the "exoticism" that is an aspect of Bizet's musical personality. Ozawa's youthful performance is nimble, limber, energetic, and charming; and BSO principal oboe Ralph Gomberg certainly earned his solo bow.
Ozawa's final weekend at Tanglewood in 2002 brought together some of his favorite colleagues - cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, pianist Peter Serkin, composer and conductor John Williams (who led his short piece for Seiji!), the Marcus Roberts Trio (for Rhapsody in Blue), soprano Jessye Norman, BSO assistant conductor Federico Cortese, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. The Boy's Choir of Harlem appeared in a group of spirituals; the first Western music Ozawa ever learned was a number of spirituals, and as a child he and his brothers formed a gospel quartet.
Many strands in Ozawa's music life came together here. Peter Serkin was one of Ozawa's favorite soloists, as was his father, Rudolf Serkin. Peter Serkin played Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, a piece long associated with his father, and which his father had recorded with Ozawa, the BSO, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Rostropovich may have been Ozawa's closest musical friend. For many years Ozawa and Rostropovich would tour rural regions of Japan, Russia, and Korea with students from Ozawa's alma mater, the Toho School in Tokyo. A flatback truck would serve as a stage in the fields or a village square. There was absolutely no publicity, ever - this project was not for themselves but for people who might not otherwise ever hear live music. More than once it was suggested by this writer that this project should be extended to the fields and malls of America.
The other repertory for the weekend was chosen for similar reasons - the overture to Candide by Tanglewood icon and Ozawa mentor Leonard Bernstein; a pair of fanfares by Ozawa's countryman Tōru Takemitsu, Signals from Heaven. In addition to the Choral Fantasy the last program included a work Ozawa had often conducted in Symphony Hall, at Tanglewood, and on tour - Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, which was on the first program he conducted at Tanglewood as a member of the troika administration. And, at the end, the Alleluia.
Randall Thompson (1899-1994)is still a composer to be contended with in the choral world, where the Alleluia, The Last Words of David, Frostiana, and The Testament of Freedom are still repertory pieces, although one seldom encounters his symphonies and string quartets in the concert hall, despite their considerable qualities and impressive early histories. Koussevitzky himself led the world premiere of The Last Words of David at Tanglewood, and also conducted The Testament of Freedom there. Leonard Bernstein was a student of Thompson's at the Curtis Institute of Music; and in his first summer at Tanglewood, his first assignment, from Koussevitzky, was to conduct Thompson's Second Symphony, a work he later recorded with the New York Philharmonic. Thompson also taught for many years at Harvard.
The story of the Alleluia has often been told; Peggy Daniel's book, Tanglewood: A Group Memoir, quotes some primary sources. As planning for the first season began, Koussevitzky had a meeting with G. Wallace Woodworth, the director of choral music at Harvard. Koussevitzky was concerned about what music should be played at the initial Opening Exercises; he decided that there should be a new work, by an American, and it should be something that everyone at the Music Center could participate in, whether singer or instrumentalist. So three weeks before the Opening Exercises, Koussevitzky approached Thompson, who produced the Alleluia for unaccompanied chorus, which became his most famous work, in four days. The score was printed, but did not arrive at Tanglewood until just before 2 p.m. on the day of the Opening Exercises, which were scheduled to begin at 3. Woodworth, who had some Bach chorales in his briefcase in case of emergency, tried the new piece over at the piano and led a short rehearsal, remarking, "Well, text at least is one thing we don't have to worry about." Until the final "Amen," the text is just that one word, "Alleluia"; but the mood is quite different from the jubilant Alleluias in earlier music.
This was a conscious decision on Thompson's part. As he later wrote, "[My Alleluia] is a very sad piece. The word 'Alleluia' has so many possible interpretations. The music in my particular Alleluia cannot be made to sound joyous. It is a slow, sad piece, and. . .here it is comparable to the Book of Job, where it is written, 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.' "
Thompson was only partially correct about his own music, which can in fact be performed in many different ways and moods, as this download series proves. In the 1963 Opening Exercises recording (download of August 28), the supple performance led by Lorna Cooke deVaron is full of hope and expectation. The performance Ozawa leads is grave and majestic, but the full-throated singing on this special occasion makes it a profoundly affirmative expression of gratitude, not just to Ozawa, but to the art of music and all it represents. The recording focuses on the disciplined and resonant singing of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, so splendidly trained by John Oliver. But one also hears from a distance the sound of the orchestra singing, and the sound of the thousands of voices in the audience - creating something that surrounds the chorus with an acoustical aura that is like a halo.
"If Mr. Ozawa's conducting was typical, New York Philharmonic audiences may have a treat in store for them. The 28-year-old Japanese conductor will be the Philharmonic's assistant this year. Only four years ago he was a student here [at the Tanglewood Music Center] and besides his Philharmonic post, he is music director of the Ravinia Festival in Chicago. He is a choreographic conductor, similar in style to Leonard Bernstein, and, like Mr. Bernstein, he is extremely musical, sensitive and has a vibrant personality. He has a complete command of the orchestra. . . .He drew long applause and bravos for each reading for the vigor and precision that characterized his work. If there is a criticism, it is that Mr. Ozawa, like many young conductors, tends to be too tight in lyrical music. But in time the relaxation that will let the music truly sing may come."
-Howard Klein, New York Times
"Ozawa, small in stature and unequivocal
in his artistic demands, gave an audience of 7264 ecstatic
pleasure. . . .He is but 28. His training was acquired partially by
a year at the Berkshire Music Center four years ago, where he was
awarded the Koussevitzky Memorial Scholarship, and with many major
orchestras scattered over a wide area. There is no indecision or
immaturity at his command, nor are there any of the foibles the
young conductor at times seems to feel are necessary to prove
himself the consummate leader. . .The performance [of the Bizet]
was crystal clear."
-Jay C. Rosenfeld, Berkshire Eagle
"Seiji Ozawa is a little man with a
giant's idea about music. And he drew a giant's worth of applause
from 7264 listeners at Tanglewood Sunday afternoon. . .Ozawa is
only 28, short, slight, has a head that seems too big for his body,
gleaming black hair, an infectious grin, and an authoritative
manner with the orchestra and self-effacing manner with the
audience. [The performance of the Bizet symphony] was clipped,
clean and buoyant. Ozawa led it with a bouncy and frisky manner,
like the music, and seemed to be responding to the mood as well as
-R. C. Hammerich, Springfield Union
"Seiji Ozawa (rhymes with tower), a
28-year-old product of the Toho School of Music in Tokyo is today a
world-famous Japanese conductor. Tomorrow he might well become the
most famous . . . Belying the appearance of a wraith-like teenager
yeah-yeahing the Beatles, this vital tiger evoked more bazazz from
the BSO than has been heard in far too long a time. The
not-so-original Bizet Symphony in C is never a bonfire, but in
Ozawa's hands it was not only crisp and clean, it was warm and
witty as well."
-Frank N. Patterson, North Adams Transcript
"Mr. Ozawa's slim figure and his extreme
youth (he looks considerably younger than his 28 years) did not
prepare the audience for the authoritative manner of his leadership
and the precision of his conducting. Although the Boston Symphony,
I'm sure, could function effectively without such detailed and
accurate cues as he afforded the players, it was gratifying to see
that he had complete control of the situation. Inasmuch as he did
not use a score, his skills were particularly impressive. In
Bizet's ingratiating Symphony in C the Boston players were a
paragon of dulcet sound and cohesive musicianship. The tempi were
brisk but the texture was always clear. Ralph Gomberg's oboe solos
in the second movement were set forth with ravishing finesse, even
through Mr. Ozawa was not one to sentimentalize over the music's
-George W. Stowe, Hartford Times