LENOX -- Seiji Ozawa, the Boston Symphony's longest-serving music director and a high-profile presence at Tanglewood for 32 summers, will receive a first-ever special honor when the orchestra celebrates the 75th anniversary of its summer festival at an all-star concert Saturday, July 14.
Ozawa's close colleague and confidante, film composer and former Boston Pops conductor John Williams, will do the honors, presenting the Tanglewood Medal to Ozawa, who remains the BSO's Music Director Laureate, but Ozawa won't be present as he continues convalescing from health setbacks in Japan.
Ozawa, 76, will be represented through a video greeting recorded at his home, the BSO announced Thursday. The July 14 event is being recorded for a national PBS "Great Performances" telecast Friday, Aug. 10, at 9 p.m. International broadcasters, including the BBC, will also be showing the gala.
BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe described the award as the beginning of a brand-new tradition to honor "Seiji's extraordinary 29-year tenure as BSO music director and his incredible commitment to the life and vitality of Tanglewood."
Calling his selection as the first recipient of the new medal "not a difficult one," Volpe said, "Seiji's years of devoted service, for which we owe him a great debt of gratitude, reflect a passion and dedication reminiscent of past BSO leaders and other influential musicians, such as Serge Koussevitzky, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Charles Munch.
Anticipating Williams's presentation July 14, Volpe said "there's no doubt that all who are present will show enormous appreciation for the man who has had such an impact on the BSO and Tanglewood."
"We assumed Seiji would not be well enough to travel, but he'll be there in spirit and on a disc," Volpe told The Eagle. "Health permitting, he certainly wants to return but he has to finish his convalescence."
Asked to describe the reasons for Ozawa's popularity with audiences here and in Boston, Volpe said "Seiji had and has an energy and a youthful, contagious dimension to his enthusiasm for music. It's so hard to imagine Seiji sick. ... It's hard to imagine him anything but young in terms of loving to play tennis, softball and music first and foremost.
"The audience sensed he was very much organically connected to the Berkshires and Tanglewood," Volpe added. "That's what made him successful, in addition to being a great conductor."
In a prepared statement, Ozawa said: "From my time at Tanglewood as a Fellow in 1960 to my 29 years as BSO music director, the orchestra and its fantastic summer home have always held a deep and special place in my heart."
He served as artistic director for Tanglewood for three summers, starting in 1971, before his 29-year tenure as the orchestra's year-round music director.
"I thank the BSO for this great honor of the first Tanglewood Medal. It will forever bring back my most cherished memories of a place that has been so central to my musical life," Ozawa continued. "Though I am disappointed that I can't be at Tanglewood this summer to celebrate the 75th anniversary season, it makes me happy to imagine returning in future years to work again with my dear colleagues of the BSO and the Tanglewood Music Center.
"I wish Tanglewood and the many wonderful people who support it continued prosperity, as the world will always need such places that feed the soul and spirit, and there's no other place that does this quite like Tanglewood."
Ozawa still owns the house on a mountaintop overlooking West Stockbridge, where he spent many happy summers with his wife, Vera, and their children, playing tennis, visiting local dining spots and throwing himself enthusiastically into the summertime pleasures of the Berkshires.
For the July 14 concert, which begins at 8:30 p.m., the Shed is sold out but lawn tickets remain available. The gala concert features the BSO, Boston Pops, Tangle wood Music Center Or chestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus led by John Williams, Keith Lockart, Andris Nelsons, David Zinman and Stefan Asbury.
Guest soloists include pianist Emanuel Ax, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Peter Serkin, as well as James Taylor.
Music will be by Bernstein, Copland, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Sarasate, Ravel and Beethoven.
Taylor will collaborate with Williams and the Boston Pops for selections from the Great American Songbook, including "Over the Rainbow," "Shall We Dance?" and "Ol' Man River."
For more information, visit www.tanglewood.org.
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