Absolutely on Music


Cover credit: Haruki Murakami

Recently, I'm reading a book called Absolutely on Music, written by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami.

Here's the about from its author's official website:

A deeply personal, intimate conversation about music and writing between the internationally acclaimed, bestselling author and the former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In Absolutely on Music, internationally Haruki Murakami sits down with his friend Seiji Ozawa, the revered former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, for a series of conversations on their shared passion: music. Over the course of two years, Murakami and Ozawa discuss everything from Brahms to Beethoven, from Leonard Bernstein to Glenn Gould, from Bartók to Mahler, and from pop-up orchestras to opera. They listen to and dissect recordings of some of their favorite performances, and Murakami questions Ozawa about his career conducting orchestras around the world. Culminating in Murakami’s ten-day visit to the banks of Lake Geneva to observe Ozawa’s retreat for young musicians, the book is interspersed with ruminations on record collecting, jazz clubs, orchestra halls, film scores, and much more. A deep reflection on the essential nature of both music and writing, Absolutely on Music is an unprecedented glimpse into the minds of two maestros.

Seiji Ozawa has a very big name in China. He's friendly to China. In one of Vienna's New Year concerts, he greeted everyone "Happy New Year" in Chinese, and this is noted in a dedicated content to him in our secondary school Chinese textbook.

So, I've grown up knowing the name of Seiji Ozawa, but never heard his music. This phenomena continued when I went to college in Massachusetts, when a physics professor left an extra credit homework problem asking us to find out where a photo was taken. It wasn't any public photo by any press or media, rather it was simply a personal photo. It had lots of greens in it and a plate in front with some information relevant to Seiji Ozawa. I couldn't remember whether it was a quote or an intro or anything, all I remember is that that was the critical cue about where the photo was taken. We Googled the conductor's name, and learned that he had conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra for many years, suspecting it was some garden of the symphony orchestra, we actually drove up to Boston just to match the photo.

The situation finally gets remedied since I started reading this book, which is essentially a list of conversations between Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa. They talked about different versions of recordings of certain pieces of music, to fine details such as how the winds and brass players exchange breaths. They talked about different conductors' styles and performances, including Ozawa's. They reveal many aspects of conducting that I didn't know about, giving a new perspective to think of conductor not as a functional role but also as a virtuosic musician whose instrument is the orchestra. Those conversations made me so very curious, especially with the personality descriptions and anecdotes told by Ozawa, making the world of symphonic music much more interesting to me.

Above all, I am the most touched by this recent performance of Beethoven's No.9 with Seiji Ozawa. He looks handsome and spiritual. It's a very humbling experience to watch the whole concert.

Seiji Ozawa conducting Beethoven Symphony No.9 with the Mito Chamber Orchestra