The edited texts of six engaging conversations about music between the celebrated Japanese writer and the noted conductor who led the Boston Symphony Orchestra for nearly 30 years.
Although Murakami (The Strange Library, 2014, etc.) identifies himself as an “amateur,” we learn throughout these discussions that he has been a longtime collector of classical recordings, a longtime listener, and a habitual member of audiences at classical concerts and operas. His knowledge of music is beyond impressive, as anyone who has read his novels already knows. He loves jazz, and one of the most interesting passages involves exchanges about blues in Chicago in the 1960s. Ozawa also declares a deep admiration for Louis Armstrong. Each conversation focuses on a certain aspect of Ozawa’s career, and the flow is generally chronological. We learn about his early experiences with Leonard Bernstein, and throughout, the conductor praises his early mentor, Hideo Saito; a later exchange deals comprehensively with the group Ozawa helped establish in his honor, the Saito Kinen Orchestra. Ozawa is quick to praise—individual musicians, older conductors, composers, orchestras (Cleveland gets a couple of nice nods)—and hardly says a discouraging word about anyone or anything, save his early experience conducting Tosca in Milan when he was startled to hear booing. (It disappeared as his engagement went along, however.) Although Murakami occasionally notes similarities and/or differences between the lives of a conductor and a writer—he mentions that both he and Ozawa begin working before dawn—the focus is almost entirely on music and on Ozawa’s career. We learn a lot about his work habits—for example, his fierce study of scores in preparation for performances—and his techniques for handling the immense demands on his time. He also states a deep conviction that the conductor’s task is to “convert the music exactly as it’s written into actual sound.”
A work that general readers will enjoy and the musical cognoscenti will devour.