Following Stéphane’s summer concerts on the East Coast of the USA, he flew half way around the world, to Japan, to take part in the Saito Kinen Festival in Japan. Although this will be his debut as conductor at this important music festival, it will not be Stéphane’s first time at Saito Kinen – 15 years ago he was there to assist the founder-conductor of the Festival, Seiji Ozawa


Matsumoto, Japan: with the Saito Kinen Orchestra

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

Surrounded by the beautiful Japanese Alps, the city of Matsumoto has hosted an annual festival of orchestral concerts and opera performances, in honour of Japanese music teacher and co-founder of the Toho Gakuen School of Music, Professor Hideo Saito, since 1992. The Saito Kinen Festival itself was created around the Saito Kinen Orchestra, which was formed in 1984 by his former students from around the globe. (‘Kinen’ means ‘memorial’ or ‘commemoration’). You can read more about Hideo Saito here.

Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa is director of the festival and describes the dream that the Saito Kinen Orchestra fulfills when it tours – ‘Japanese people one day transmitting western music back to its European homeland’. In the first festival programme, Ozawa describes the Festival as ‘my invaluable treasure, entrusted to me by the late Mr Saito. It is no exaggeration to say that Mr Saito made me what I am by sowing the seeds of western music in the Japanese soil and nurturing their growth. I am quite sure that all the members of the orchestra feel the same way and this concerted thought of each member makes up the Saito Kinen Orchestra.’

saito kinen festivalFor the 2013 festival, Stéphane Denève will conduct Ravel’s opera L’heure espagnole, as part of a rare opera double-bill (Seiji Ozawa will conduct Ravel’s only other surviving opera, L’enfant et les sortilèges), in the acclaimed staging of Laurent Pelly. These are sure to be vibrant and unusual productions of two fantastical works! The performances are on 23, 25, 28 and 31 August in the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre.


Seiji Ozawa

Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa has been a great influence on the life of Stéphane Denève.

Denève, OzawaBorn in 1935, Ozawa studied conducting under Hideo Saito at Tohu School of Music. After winning an international conducting prize in France, the French Music Director of the Boston Symphony, Charles Münch, invited Ozawa to Tanglewood, where he won more awards. After having conducted the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood over four summers in the late 1960s, he became the Tanglewood Festival’s Artistic Director in 1970.  In 1973 Seiji Ozawa became the Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for 29 years.

In 1998 Seiji Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Orchestra joined forces with l’Opéra National de Paris to produce Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Saito Kinen Festival (before taking the same production back to Paris later that same year). It was at this moment that Stéphane Denève and Seiji Ozawa’s paths crossed for the first time, when the 27-year old Stéphane arrived in Matsumoto to assist the legendary conductor. Stéphane also assisted him in Paris, even conducting one performance of Dialogues – his official debut with the Opéra National de Paris in Garnier! (The following year, Stéphane made his conducting debut in the USA conducting the same opera, with Santa Fe Opera).

Stéphane describes Seiji Ozawa as a ‘very inspiring man’, who had a major effect on his conducting style. ‘He has been a strong influence on me, especially in his way of expressing music in such a ‘non-angular’ way, with his whole body. He has a wonderful ‘body-legato’ – a way not to ‘mirror’ or ‘illustrate’ the music, but instead to let it flow as a resonance of his gesture. Seiji creates a very special orchestral sound, deep and rich, quite similar to the sound that Herbert Von Karajan had. It fascinated me’.

Stéphane reveals the hilarious story behind a special photograph…

Denève, Ozawa - signed photograph‘The photograph opposite (which you can also see in the ‘Influences’ album, along with other photographs with Ozawa) was taken by Karl Leister  (who was, incidentally, the legendary principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan!), just seconds before I fell on Seiji! I was pointing to something in his score and, with Seiji being so short compared to me, I had to bend over even more than in the photo. The floor, being so polished and clean – my feet lost their grip and I fell on him, literally!’

‘I still remember his scared face, as I fell head-first into the pit! Luckily I didn’t break Seiji (or any instruments, as it was the pause in a rehearsal)! Phew! I won’t try that this time!’