Wishing a very happy eighty-fifth birthday to the remarkable Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa!

As a last-minute replacement for Georges Prêtre in July 1963, Ozawa was called upon to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in two concerts at the Ravinia Festival. The twenty-seven-year-old conductor made his debut on July 16 in Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune reported that Ozawa was “instantly in command when in possession of a baton and a musical idea. His conducting technique reminds you of his teacher, Herbert von Karajan, in that it lays the score in the lap of the Orchestra with transparency of gesture and human communication, then commands acceptance.”

Only a month later it was announced that Ozawa would become the Ravinia Festival’s first music director and resident conductor beginning with the 1964 season, replacing Walter Hendl, who had served as artistic director since 1959. He served as music director of the Ravinia Festival through the 1968 season and as principal conductor for the 1969 season, returning regularly as a guest conductor.

Click here for a complete list of Ozawa’s performances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Happy birthday, Seiji Ozawa!

TOP: Seiji Ozawa in the 1960s