ROLLE, Switzerland — For the first time in about three years, Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa picked up his baton to lead a group of young string players from the Seiji Ozawa International Academy in Rolle, Switzerland. Ozawa’s June 26 performance for local residents at an ancient castle on Lake Geneva was his first outside of Japan in about three years. The noted conductor has had numerous health challenges in recent years. He last led concerts in Europe with musicians from the academy he founded in July 2011.
During the practice session with about 25 performers, Ozawa rested in a separate room every 20 minutes. Still, he appeared more vigorous than he had three years ago, occasionally stepping forward and moving his entire body as if dancing while conducting.
Admission was free for the castle concert, which was set against the snow-capped French Alps across the lake.
Ozawa conducted pieces by Bach and Bartok. The event also featured a local Alpine boys folk music choir and a children’s brass band. Toward the end of the event, Ozawa, standing alongside a singer in folk costume, urged the audience to sing along, drawing loud applause.
The return performance of the Japanese maestro after a two-year absence excited both the young musicians and their audience. The academy was scheduled to also perform in Geneva and in Paris.
Ozawa started the academy for young musicians 10 years ago. He and Japanese musicians who perform around the world make up the core faculty. Their training has produced several quality musicians, including the principal cellist for the Berlin Philharmonic.
Ozawa underwent esophagus cancer surgery in 2010. That, coupled with back pain, forced him to suspend activity until last summer when he made a comeback, conducting an opera for a music festival in Japan.