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Absolutely on Music: Conversations with…

Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa

by Haruki Murakami, Seiji Ozawa

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 5 of 5
If you enjoy classical music, or reading Murakami, or the conducting of Seiji Ozawa, or some combination, you'll want to pick up this book. After Ozawa was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, he cut way back on his conducting, and that gave him time to have these six conversations with his friend Murakami. Ozawa was the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for nearly 30 years, and led many other orchestras. I thought of Murakami as a jazz aficionado (he does say that is his favorite type of music), but he started listening to classical music in high school, and never stopped. He has what sounds like an awesome classical record collection (much of it picked up in used music stores in the USA), and surprised me over and over again with the depth of his knowledge and the sophistication of his ear. And he knows his conductors!

Murakami: Maestro Karajan was very fond of the Sibelius Fifth, wasn't he? I think he must have recorded it four times.

Ozawa studied with Leonard Bernstein, so we learn a lot about him (very positive, I must say). I've always wondered about the role of conductors, and you really get to look behind the curtain. Ozawa emphasizes the importance of "how you wave your baton during rehearsals", and the two discuss the effect of different famous conductor approaches on what the audience ends up hearing.

So many of the pieces they discuss sound like fine dining, and I ended up starting a wishlist. I had no idea that Mahler had not been popular before Bernstein championed his music. Now we hear Mahler everywhere, but that wasn't the case before. Brahms, Beethoven, Debussy, Stravinsky, and on and on; they discuss them all.

Murakami uses his writing skills, comparing, for example, two Mahler pieces conducted by Ozawa. One is “like making a leisurely tour in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz”, while the other is “like zipping around in a sports car with a nice stick shift”. Murakami also talks about his own writing at times, emphasizing the importance of rhythm to any good piece of writing.

I'm a jazz lover, so that's how I set down a rhythm first. Then I add chords to it and start improvising, making it up freely as I go along. I write as if I'm making music.

There's no mistaking Ozawa's enjoyment of Murakami's enthusiasm and insight when it comes to music. Ozawa ends up agreeing with him the vast majority of the time. “I’m enjoying talking to you about music like this because your perspective is so different from mine,” he says to Murakami. “It’s that difference that has been making it a learning experience for me, something fresh and unexpected.”

Like Murakami with music, Ozawa looks outside of music for inspiration. He's an art museum fan and, for example, feels that Klimt's and Schiele's paintings helped him understand Mahler's music. Ozawa's experience as a rising star in the music industry is fascinating. At Milan's La Scala he gets roundly booed, but it turns out every conductor does when starting out there. Tough crowd! By the end of the week the booing is gone.

There is a lot of technical detail about tempo, breathing, the use of silence, and so on, which may bog down some readers. But the enthusiasm and knowledge and experience shines through. I really enjoyed this one. ( )
2 vote jnwelch | Feb 21, 2018 |
This was an enjoyable overview of conductor Seiji Ozawa's career through several recorded & transcribed conversations with novelist Haruki Murakami. They listen together to Ozawa's recordings of composers such as Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler and compare with recordings by other conductors and orchestras. There isn't a specific listening guide in the book but you can refer to the Murakami's website for links or search through YouTube yourself where many of them are now freely available.

There was some neat trivia about Ozawa's working as assistant conductor to legendary conductors Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan. Nothing gossipy or trashy, just respectful and/or humorous anecdotes and observations. Teasingly, Ozawa starts talking about a visit to pianist Glenn Gould's apartment in Toronto while he worked there conducting the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. There are likely few surprises to be told about the eccentric bohemian Gould, but Murakami still refrains from providing details of the evening, presumably on Ozawa's request to preserve Gould's privacy even all these years after the fact. ( )
  alanteder | Jan 23, 2018 |
It's baby's first Murakami, but I'm not sure it fully counts as it's nonfiction! Murakami & Ozawa are both very thoughtful individuals who care deeply about the understanding of art. You don't need to be a musician to follow along, though a cursory understanding of musical periods may help in the Mahler discussion.

Will need to reread with the recordings at hand- I read the bulk of this at work, where we had a sudden crackdown on using work computers to stream media :( ( )
  Daumari | Dec 30, 2017 |
I really enjoyed this dialogue between Ozawa and Murakami. The discussions ranged from close listening to different versions of music conducted by Ozawa and other musicians ( there were prompts for the readers to follow along with their own recordings and a reference to finding the music on Murakami's website) to memoirs of Ozawa's time as an assistant conductor to Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan. There was an examination of the work and influences of the composer Mahler. The discussions covered Ozawa's opinions of the various orchestras that he conducted. I was looking at his comments on the Toronto Symphony ( my hometown) as he was the principal conductor for three years in the 1960's. ( not that complimentary although he was very popular during his tenure in Toronto). Murakami also visited and observed the Seiji Ozawa International Academy in Switzerland for young musicians. This book was very satisfying to read- part memoir and part discussion on a number of composers and musicians. ( )
  torontoc | Jul 26, 2017 |
Reading this book was quite a different experience than reading other music books that I've encountered. The material itself was hard to understand (it's still hard), but the words Murakami and Ozawa used to speak about the material was welcoming and intimate and warm. It felt like I was part of the conversation, and with the works the authors were talking about playing in the background (the playlist is on Murakami's website), it was as if I was seeing the music for the first time. ( )
  catnips13 | Dec 12, 2016 |
Showing 5 of 5
A fan, knowledgeable about an art form in the way that only obsessive fans are, in conversation with a master practitioner of the art in question — that’s what Haruki Murakami and conductor Seiji Ozawa have given us in “Absolutely on Music,” a series of transcribed conversations between the two artists.
added by dcozy | editThe Japan Times, David Cozy (Dec 17, 2016)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Haruki Murakamiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ozawa, Seijimain authorall editionsconfirmed
Rubin, JayTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385354347, Hardcover)

A deeply personal, intimate conversation about music and writing between the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author and his close friend, the former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Haruki Murakami's passion for music runs deep. Before turning his hand to writing, he ran a jazz club in Tokyo, and from The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" to Franz Liszt's "Years of Pilgrimage," the aesthetic and emotional power of music permeates every one of his much-loved books. Now, in Absolutely on Music, Murakami fulfills a personal dream, sitting down with his friend, acclaimed conductor Seiji Ozawa, to talk, over a period of two years, about their shared interest. Transcribed from lengthy conversations about the nature of music and writing, here they discuss everything from Brahms to Beethoven, from Leonard Bernstein to Glenn Gould, from record collecting to pop-up orchestras, and much more. Ultimately this book gives readers an unprecedented glimpse into the minds of the two maestros.

It is essential reading for book and music lovers everywhere.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 13 Jul 2016 07:58:39 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

An intimate conversation about music and writing illuminates the perspectives and shared interests of the internationally acclaimed author of "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" and his close friend, the former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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