Tanglewood's Swiss connection comes to Ozawa Hall


LENOX >> Seiji Ozawa can't be here but the Tanglewood concert with his students from Switzerland will go on anyway.

While the Boston Symphony Orchestra's music director laureate convalesces at home in Tokyo, two dozen string players from the Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland will join with Tanglewood Music Center counterparts in the Tuesday program. It climaxes 10 days of study, exchanges and collaboration.

"Teaching is like a drug, once you start you just can't stop!" Ozawa says on the Swiss academy's website. "Working with such top-class young musicians gives me such enormous pleasure."

The Swiss academy, which opened in 2005, is one of two chamber music schools that Ozawa founded after leaving the BSO in 2002. Its Asian counterpart is the International Chamber Music Academy Okushiga, founded in 2011, in Japan. Ozawa normally is on hand to direct both, bringing in noted chamber players as faculty. Since 2000, he also has headed the Seiji Ozawa Music Academy in Japan for studies in operatic and orchestral performance.

Suffering from exhaustion from a European guest-conducting tour this spring, Ozawa, 80, canceled what would have been a celebratory Tanglewood return — his first since 2006. He was also to have opened the BSO's season with a brief appearance on opening night, July 8.

With a couple of program changes, the TMC-Swiss concert goes on at 8 in — of course — Seiji Ozawa Hall. TMC students will play the first half, which will include TMC alumnus Osvaldo Golijov's "Ausencia."

After intermission, the Swiss ensemble will triple up in a 24-player rendition of the first movement of the Mendelssohn Octet. For the finale, the two groups will combine in Grieg's "Holberg" Suite for string orchestra. TMC conducting fellow Christian Reif will replace Ozawa on the podium.

The TMC and Swiss academy provide advanced training for pre-professional musicians but there are major differences.

The Tanglewood school hosts about 150 fellows each summer for eight weeks of study in orchestral and chamber music performance, plus such related fields as composition and administration. The two-week Swiss counterpart, which takes place in June, is for 24 violinists, violists and cellists and one double bassist. It focuses on the string quartet.

The Swiss academy is modeled on a series of string quartet seminars that Ozawa and Robert Mann, the founding first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet, introduced at the TMC during Ozawa's BSO reign. Under different leadership, the TMC program goes on, culminating in quartet marathon performances, this year today and Saturday.

The Tanglewood goal, modified for Switzerland, is to immerse an orchestral string section in string quartets before the orchestral season, according to TMC director Ellen Highstein. "And then when they come together as an orchestral section, the way they relate to each other, the kind of sound they make," is more cohesive, she says.

The Swiss academy convenes each year in a castle in the town of Rolle, about 20 miles from Geneva. The season culminates in public concerts — last year, a three-day residency at the newly opened Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris's Bois de Boulogne. Students, chosen at conservatories and competitions, come from around the world and are matched in six string quartets for the season. They participate without charge.

"I benefited from the help of teachers in my youth," Ozawa told the Swiss website Pictet Perspectives earlier this year, "so it is important that talented young people from poor families should be able to attend. I try my best to raise money so that anybody can come – we had 17 different nationalities in 2014."

Ozawa's 29 years as director set a BSO record. After leaving in 2002, he served as music director of the Vienna State Opera until 2010, when health troubles forced him aside. His inspiration for the chamber music projects was his own teacher back in Japan, Hideo Saito, who taught that the string quartet is the basis of all ensemble playing.

It was in Saito's honor that Ozawa founded the Saito Kinen Orchestra in 1984 and Saito Kinen Festival — now the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival — in 1992. The orchestra, which is central to the festival, is made up of Japanese professional musicians. The festival, in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, features international artists as soloists in opera and symphony. Ozawa conducts some performances. He also has a Tokyo chamber orchestra.

"Most young instrumentalists think like soloists," he told Pictet Perspectives. "We must snap them out of this: It is only once they have grasped the miracle of sharing chamber music that they will be able to understand great composers such as Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner.


Who: Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland and TMC Fellows

What: Music by Golijov, Grieg, Mendelssohn

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Tanglewood, Ozawa Hall, West Street (Route 183), Lenox

Tickets: $40-$12 (lawn)

How: 888-266-1200; tanglewood.org; at main gate box office — West Street (Route 183)


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