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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Music Notes from Seiji Ozawa

Sep. 18, 2015

One of the world's most acclaimed conductors, Seiji Ozawa, is fostering a new generation of talent, as well as fans. At the age of 80, the maestro is inspiring people to follow in his legendary footsteps.

Ozawa organizes a music festival every summer in the picturesque castle town of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture. He launched the event more than 20 years ago and it has become a staple of the summer music calendar.

The festival's organizers have renamed the event "The Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival." Ozawa conducts two orchestras at the festival, one welcoming renowned musicians from around the world, the other featuring 60 young people from East Asia. They have to pass a rigorous audition to be able to perform, and for the privilege of studying with Ozawa.

One of the lucky few this year is 24-year-old violinist Yu-kun Hsiang, who is joining the festival for the third time. Originally from Taiwan, he is studying music at a university in the US. "Every time I come back, I always feel fresh and new things from maestro Ozawa," he says. "It is why I like to come back every year."

Ozawa rose to international prominence as the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra before going on to serve as the music director of the Vienna State Opera. He founded the Music Academy 15 years ago in order to find gifted young musicians and give them a chance to play with an orchestra.

For this year's concert, Ozawa chose a piece he's long been associated with: the fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony. He tells the musicians what kind of sound he wants, saying "more crescendo" or using metaphoric instructions, such as "this section is like a fire escape. You have to get out."

Yu-kung says that compared to other conductors, Ozawa expresses himself more in non-verbal ways. "He uses language less," the young musicians explains. "He uses his body and breath. It is the biggest difference between the maestro and other conductors."

Ozawa has recently battled illnesses and injuries, but was able to make it through the grueling two-day rehearsal. The young musicians kept on working even after they were dismissed. "After the rehearsal, I got together with Japanese friends and Chinese friends to play," Yu-kung says. "We formed friendships here. It is a very interesting way to make an ensemble. Then the conductor comes with some points and we clearly understand what he wants us to do."

On the big day, 1,500 children turn up for the concert. Ozawa says giving children the chance to enjoy live music is one of his missions in life. Before the main performance, each member of the orchestra plays a few bars and Ozawa says a bit about each of the instruments, so the children in the audience can learn as well as enjoy.

Yu-kung says he's inspired by Ozawa's passion, and though he's used to playing solo, being part of the Academy has given him a new perspective. Yu-kung is just one member of the new generation of musicians being nurtured by Ozawa.