That troubling Seiji Ozawa video has just gone viral

That troubling Seiji Ozawa video has just gone viral


norman lebrecht

June 08, 2021

Four and a half years ago, at a Suntory Hall anniversary concert, Zubin Mehta led a clearly bewildered Seiji Ozawa onto his podium to ‘assist’ in conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in a Strauss waltz.

The incident was not reported at the time, perhaps out of respect for Ozawa’s frailty, although the video has remained on the Suntory Hall Facebook page for all to see.

We made a conscientious decision at the time not to share it further.

However, the video has now been tweeted by an Indian businessman and picked up by Mehta-friendly Indian media. It is also on Youtube.

Issues of privacy, delicacy and decency are involved. Seiji Ozawa was clearly in no position to have given consent.

Should Suntory Hall take it down?



  • Sylvain says:

    I’m glad that this concert excerpt was mentioned, what I see here is rather a charming moment : two friends sharing music-making with a highly-enjoying orchestra, most presumably during a concert encore to the audience’s delight.
    Seiji Ozawa is one of the last “giants” and I feel honoured to have had the luck to perform concerts under his baton at Tanglewood…

  • Novagerio says:

    No, why? Ozawa is approaching his 9th decade and so is Zubin (1936), and we see and enjoy two senior maestros having a good time. Besides, they have known the Vienna Phil since more than half a century, and they hardly need to conduct them in particularly THIS repertoire (!)

    Wishing both strong health!

  • Larry1 says:

    So Norman, why are you posting this if you say they should take it down? One could say shame on you.

  • Gustavo says:

    What’s wrong with it?

  • Edoardo says:

    “Issues of privacy, delicacy and decency are involved. Seiji Ozawa was clearly in no position to have given consent.

    Should Suntory Hall take it down?”

    Indeed a blatant case of abuse of power and harassment of a frail old conductor.

    Let’s call the vestals of the political correctness and humorless zealots to the arms!

    Zubin Mehta should be banned from conducting and his recordings withdrawn from sales and erased and his name forgotten.

    • The View from America says:

      Ah, Edoardo — thy name is Sarcasm.

    • John Cooledge says:

      A vigorous thumbs up for the video, as well as for Edoardo’s right-on sarcastic putdown. The audience, orchestra and both conductors were obviously having lots of fun.

    • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

      Couldn’t have not done it better myself. A disgrace. The world needs cleaning. Jean Calvin for President.

    • John Rees says:

      Good old Italian sarcasmo,Edoardo.
      Good for you!
      They both had a whale of a time and there is nothing wrong with showing it at all. Cut the old lady nonsense, Norman.

  • Having been an Alzheimer’s caregiver for a parent who also retained her musical memory far after most else was gone, some of what this fellow who put the video back into circulation is very true. But these kinds of moments are not for public consumption, especially for those who have no direct experience of the devastation of the disease, which is deeply personal, emotional, and is so often caricatured or misunderstood in the media. What we have here is exploitation of the highest degree and is a juvenile “sorry not sorry” move by someone who clearly wants to boost Mehta. I am not a particular fan of either conductor but this is horrid and having been in very similarly situations, truly made me want to look away. It looks like Suntory has removed it but nothing will stop the social media fiends, that is well established.

    • Gustavo says:

      I find it rather refreshing.

      What is the alternative?

      Scenes of stressed underpaid nurses who turn away in disgust from a corona-ridden aging society?

      • V.Lind says:

        Agreed. I see two old men having an absolute blast.

        My father, who never lost his wits before his death at nearly 90 of cancer, was in tow visiting me shortly after I had arrived back from Cuba. I popped out to get something, leaving him with the friend I had travelled with. When I got back, she had completed teaching him to dance the son, a Cuban dance, and the two of them were well away into it, in perfect form, when I returned about 10 minutes later.

        I come from two parents who were both the youngest of large families, so I have known older people all my life. My best friend in my 30s was a woman who was 40 years older (and a very adventurous world traveller). I NEVER underestimate the elderly.

        This is a treat — to see a hero of my youth still vibrant, and good-humoured, in his old age.

    • Patrick says:

      Baloney, JR.

    • Marfisa says:

      You have all my sympathy for your parent’s condition. But you are surely wrong to accept an amateur diagnosis of Alzheimer’s on the basis of this single out-of-context clip (which is still on the Suntory site). Ozawa has several serious health problems (cancer, heart), which are enough to explain his physical condition. But who really has a problem with watching frail old people enjoying themselves? Nobody was exploiting anybody in this gala concert, in which both Ozawa and Mehta (separately!) conducted major works.

    • Mary Radnofsky says:

      You have an outdated view of dementia – that it should be kept secreted away in a dark place, and that the person living a new normal should not be allowed to participate in your society under your values. It’s wrong. That way of thinking has set back the human rights of people with dementia, and kept us from living full, satisfying lives in the communities of our choice, with those who have been our family, friends, and colleagues for decades. Maestro Seiji Ozawa is still a man of music, a whole, complete human being, and he has the right to joy, camaraderie, and to being involved in the lives of those who love and honor him. Furthermore, his conducting an orchestra stimulates the neural connections that do remain in his brain, creates new connections with each new experience, and yes, provides him new memories – however fragmented they may be. These events, supported by his fellow musicians, are splendid examples of treating people with dementia as equals, as human beings with well-deserved, lifelong friendships.

  • SlippedChat says:

    Without knowing the story behind this appearance by Ozawa, or what came after it, what I see in the video itself is two friendly professionals on a podium, both thoroughly enjoying a spirited piece of music, and Mehta and the orchestra being gracious and collegial to the host country’s best-known conductor.

    Whether it was a really good idea for Ozawa to appear in this setting may be a separate question, but I actually found the video clip alone to be charming.

  • Rafael Enrique Irizarry says:

    Unless the video seen here is not the one alluded to, Maestro Ozawa is not bewildered or confused. He must have consented to be on stage. He was cueing the music enthusiastically, perfectly aware of the what the orchestra was doing and playing. I doubt that Maestro Mehta would have taken advantage -for show-biz purposes- of Maestro Ozawa’s (allegedly) distressed neurological health. The music heard, by the way, is not a waltz but the “Unter Donner und Blitz schnell polka” (Op. 234) by Johann Strauss II.

    • B says:

      Exactly. There was nothing in this video that would lead anyone to believe Ozawa was bewildered or didn’t have his faculties. He knew exactly what was going on. Frail, yes. Bewildered and confused? In this video, certainly not.

  • David Derrick says:

    If it is troubling, why are you linking to it? I find him fragile, but that needn’t mean bewildered.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    I find Mehta’s behavior very gracious and see quite a few humane aspects in the moment. But some moments are better left unrecorded.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Are we talking about the same thing here? The film is of a Polka not a Waltz

  • justin says:

    What are you TALKING about?

    You seem more befuddled than the two maestros, who were clearly hamming it up, for the audience, for the orchestra, for each other, and obviously, for the camera.

    The Vienna Philharmonic can play Strauss in their sleep, they need a conductor like a bicycle needs a third wheel.

    (That being said, Mehta did come across as like a bossy older brother pushing Ozawa around. Lighten up Zubin, your conducting always distracted more than it helped.)

    • norman lebrecht says:

      If I were known and loved by audiences the world over, I would not want to be seen helpless and childlike in my dotage.

      • Fliszt says:

        You’re missing the point – proper love is unconditional. We don’t stop loving our loved ones, nor are we ashamed of them – once they “check-out” mentally. I find this video touching and hopeful – the fact that we can still reach him through music, and that he still recognizes it – is miraculous, and a cause for celebration.

      • V.Lind says:

        If he was that incapacitated, he would have a caregiver who would have put the kibosh on it. The implication is that Mehta wanted to make a fool of him. I am no fan of Mehta the conductor — he has led some of the most boring concerts I have ever heard, including one featuring Perlman and Zukerman! — but I doubt he is a malicious devil.

      • Bill says:

        No worries for you.

      • Nelson says:

        “Helpless and childlike in my dotage” might describe someone who describes a polka as a waltz. I really don’t see this video the way you do in any case… He seems fully aware of what’s going on and is having a bit of fun at it.

      • Fred Franz says:

        Anyone following your blog sees you helpless and childlike in your dotage, no?

      • John Rees says:

        Norman,in old age we become a bit like children, and that is never a problem. It is part of a cycle which is not painful or silly or sad. May you be blessed with a happy,carefree old age. You can’t be the old curmudgeon forever. Cheer up!

  • Gustavo says:

    Bernstein’s alcohol problem, Karajan’s lack of humour, Levine’s sexual habits, Barenboim’s violence, Gergiev’s absence, Rattle’s treason, Muti’s shit-storm resilience, etc.

    There is really nothing “troubling” about this video clip.

  • Maria says:

    More disconcerting that there are two women – or are we allowed to call them women in 2021 – in that huge orchestra. Disgraceful.

  • jansumi says:

    I find it heartbreaking. Not sure it’s exploitative – the musicians are smiling unreservedly – but his need to be coached is unnerving. Perhaps the family could put out a statement from him if he’s still able to give one. Life is so unfair. I’ve loved this wonderful man since the first time I saw him bouncing right inside the orchestra to conduct. I pray he will not suffer.

    • V.Lind says:

      Didn’t look to me like he needed to be coached.

    • Nelson says:

      If you think he’s in need to be coached here, I don’t think you understand the dynamic of a conductor in front of an orchestra. There is deference and humility of his undoubtedly wondering what the two of them are going to do up there at the same time. It’s obviously not a stunt you would pull in a performance of Beethoven’s ninth Symphony…

  • Dominic Fyfe says:

    If only this contemporaneous account of Schubert’s 8th with Ozawa and the Vienna Philharmonic would go viral. The rapt expression on his face at the end of the symphony says it all:

    • V.Lind says:

      Nice choice. But there are many good videos of Seiji on YT. None, alas, of his time with TSO — that was before he age of videoing everything — though the CBC still filmed arts in those days and they may have something in their archives.

      That was when I knew him — he came to dinner while he was at the TSO, and I can tell you, he was the toast of Toronto. He was utterly charming then, so it does not surprise me that he is still. And of course young and good-looking, and a fairly daring choice for a Toronto emerging vibrantly from its long history as “Toronto the Good.” He probably conducted the first concert by a major orchestra that I had ever been to, though I do not remember if when I had seen the Glasgow Orpheus under Roberton as a small child there was also an orchestra.

      In later years, two young women who had been girls when he arrived in Toronto and had lived on the same street as he and got to know him as a neighbour each, separately (but almost simultaneously) published novels recounting their childhood/early teen crushes on him. One was called Almost Japanese, by Sarah Sheard. I forget what the other was called, though I also read it when it came out.

      That’s the Seiji I remember, and I am delighted by this little vignette with Mehta, toward the close of his life. I suspect a a life well-lived. God bless him.

    • Marfisa says:

      Thank you. This is what Slippedisc should have reported.

    • Marfisa says:

      Here is a review of that 2016 concert.

      “the two maestros were both on the podium to finish the concert with Strauss’ Thunder and Lightning Polka, with comical gestures and interactions with the orchestra and audience. “

    • Gustavo says:

      Thanks for combatting fake news!

  • Margaret Bailey says:

    After reading Norman’s question I went and watched Ozawa’s 2016 concert with the Berlin Phil. It was a few months earlier than Vienna, and it did make me uncomfortable, but that is on me, I think. It’s hard to witness such frailty, but he certainly did seem to know exactly what he was doing. Then I watched the Vienna clip, which I hadn’t seen, and having seen the Berlin concert, I’d say he was just very, very old but trying to still have some fun. Perhaps the difficulty we have watching him at that age says much more about us than about how Ozawa was really doing at the time.

    • MacroV says:

      I was just wondering how this concert related to his April 2016 appearance in Berlin, where he was frail (only really had strength to conduct half a program) but was otherwise with it (and a wonderful interview with CM Daishin Kashimoto, who shows such reverence for the Great Man).

  • Marfisa says:

    This video has been circulating for some time, with accompanying text claiming that Seiji Ozawa suffers from Alzheimer’s. Fake news.

    It is disgraceful that Slippeddisc should join in with the same insinuation (“no position to have given consent”). This is a new low.

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    Oh dear, the Wokeists are at it again, I see. This video just seems to show two veteran maestros – maestri?? – enjoying a special moment together. Sad to hear that Seiji – that is his name, not Ozawa – has this illness/condition, but I cannot see what harm this may have done. Great to see. As for only two women in the orchestra; well, it’s more than there used to be. It was the tradition of the Vienna Philharmonic to have a male dominated orchestra for many years and what a sight it presented on stage. We need to see more videos like this of aged conductors showing that they can have fun making music, instead of the stuffed shirt brigade doing their stuff. As for Rattle’s so-called ‘betrayal’ in another comment, can we please have an in-depth article on the present government’s betrayal of the classical music, and arts, world in denying London of a superb state-of-the-art concert hall as well as the BBC’s continued dumbing down of things artistic on the old tellywelly? I dare you!! This article has reminded me, I must buy Seiji Ozawa’s Mahler symphonies cycle.

    • Marge O. says:

      It”s more of the laughing stock US UK (USUK) countries nonsense with woke joke censorship of reality. Two older gentlemen having fun. Oh boy, we need to censor reality and maintain those PC”delicacies” and “sensitivities”…

  • Brian from Washington says:

    It’s pretty obvious Mr Ozawa was having fun hamming up the “old-man” act for the audience and orchestra during that concert in October 2016. How else could he still be recording Beethoven in 2017? He could not have done that if he were helpless and childlike in the video as Mr Lebrecht wants us to believe. Ozawa’s 85th Birthday live recording album was released by Decca last year. I’m surprised Mr Lebrecht missed it.

  • Andrew says:

    I think this is a beautiful video. I don’t see why an Alzheimer sufferer should be hidden away from the world, especially if it is a beloved figure like Ozawa. This is who he is, and the audience and orchestra were clearly expressing their love for him.

  • Julien says:

    This is utterly silly. This concert was conducted by Ozawa and Mehta, who shared the podium (see the VPO’s site :
    The link to the video given by Dominic Fyfe shows that Ozawa conducted Schubert’s 8th (and probably the Mozart overture and the Takemitsu piece). He was very much capable of doing so. There’s nothing problematic with the video where Mehta and Ozawa “conduct” the last piece of the concert, it was a good humoured show. If Ozawa could conduct Schubert in the fist half of the concert, he was obviously capable of giving his consent to appear again on the podium at the end of the same concert !

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Oh god, it’s awful. Time to give up, gentlemen, in the interests of dignity.

  • Kröner says:

    Let’s see…

    Ozawa seems too frail to conduct for real, but he does remember his moves, and knows when to give the cues.

    Norman, on the other hand, thinks a waltz has two beats to the bar.

    Who’s in worse shape?

  • I’ve discovered a number of videos on YouTube showing Seiji Ozawa to be functioning well mentally in 2019 – 3 years after this performance with Zubin Mehta. He can be seen here conducting Beethoven with Marta Argerich, but more tellingly, there’s this interview from Aug. 17 of that year. My Japanese wife tells me that he appears totally coherent as he (half) jokes about being angry that his favourite soba noodle place has closed down. As someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, to me he looks sharp. While I remain concerned about Maestro Ozawa’s health, I also remain hopeful that we are misinterpreting certain moments in his 2016 performance.

  • Jack says:

    How sad. I still remember the night in Milwaukee in 1963 — at an open air concert of the NY Phil — Lenny introduced his young assistant, Seiji Ozawa to lead a brilliant encore performance of the Roman Carnival Overture.

  • Fred Franz says:

    “There is an awful video of an esteemed conductor, now enfeebled, on the internet that nobody should see. So I’m going to provide a link.”

    I’m always surprised when people tell me that, at one time, Norman was a respected journalist.

  • Eusebius says:

    Having just watched the video for the first time, I think the only thing embarrassing about it is the ill-humored suggestion to take it down.

  • Chris Reich says:

    I thought Ozawa looked rather spry. He is clowning with the orchestra.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Exactly right. This was a carefully worked up comedy act with Ozawa clearly aping portions of the “bewildered conductor” acts that Danny Kaye and Victor Borge had perfected, complete with looking out at the audience and being “startled” when the orchestra does something. If things were as pathetic here as described I do not think the orchestra would be reacting as they do. Mehta’s role was to be Harvey Korman to Ozawa’s Tim Conway.

  • Viennese says:

    Ozawa made his last recording in 2019 with Argerich. So he clearly is still with it enough to conduct. That video is actually quite endearing. Two friends together on the podium.

  • fflambeau says:

    Ozawa looks better than Mehta.

    Asians are not as age conscious as westerners so keep it up!

  • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

    How the hell do you know that Seini Ozawa was in no position to know what was going on. It is irrelevant but I wish this ever strengthening tsunami of DO-GOODERS would realize that THEIR VISION IS VERY VERY narrow. I personally have suffered as a pain patient from the paranoia such people have engendered in dovctirs.
    Music is a separate world. I have made my living as a professional musicologist. When you are in music, both in the literal and figurative sense, you are competent in a way that anon-midi Ian has no way of understanding. Mehta and theVienna Philharmonic were well intentioned. Ozawa had a wonderful time. The only problem is it affects your Puritan grayness get off it for Christ sake. Who appoo is inted you people regulators of human behavior. What I duggest is a year‘s sabbatical on ancient Sparta.

  • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

    My comment shows signs of hair-pulling frustration with these peripatetic purveyors of scented toilet paper. But I leave it as it is. By a weird irony, this is the mentality that has put us in such a disconnected position from the inevitabilities of the human body—a disjunction from nature and its demands—that has created the Climate-Change mess we’re in. It is not a stretch. Were the American Indian (not Native American; another bit of scented paper) still in charge, I doubt we would be in the “woke” antechamber to self-annihilation we find ourselves in.

  • Marfisa says:

    From the Indian twitter link provided by SD: “Maestro Seiji Ozawa now an Alzheimer’s sufferer is taken to a concert by fellow maestro Zubin Mehta. Apparently you don’t forget music in Alzheimer’s.”

    Is there any suggestion that Ozawa has Alzheimer’s, apart from the misinterpretation of this taken-out-of-context clip (now being given further support by SD)?

    Why do so many of the commenters fall for this nonsense?

    • Luca says:

      If you Google ‘Ozawa Alzheimer’s’ there would seem to be definite proof that sadly he’s suffering from this disease.

      • Marfisa says:

        No, Luca, all those reports of supposed Alzheimer’s simply link back to this video clip. It’s circular fake news.

  • Nate Beversluis says:

    Troubling, Norman. So troubling.
    Now “moderate” this so no one sees it.

  • MW says:

    If he’s bewildered, most of the rest of us are dead.

  • Mike Hedders says:

    He’s a legend and the occasion got a rapturous reception from the audience. What’s the problem again?

  • Insider says:

    So why are you doing this, the ?

    Actually, nothing wrong with the video. Nothing sensational. Ozawa is having fund with his friend and the orchestra.

    Nether is it a “waltz”.

    Rather embarrassing, Norman

  • Yoshi says:

    Please correct this article. I see a footage of Seiji doing a masterclass in 2019. The source of him suffering from Alzheimer seems to originate from this Indian mans Tweet. I don’t want people to see this clip thinking that he’s in decline.

  • Chris Wilford says:

    I have known Seiji my entire life. He has a wonderful sense of humor and that is all I see represented in this clip. I am not aware of any Alzheimers diagnosis.

  • CASIAN says:

    I suppose one can always suspect ulterior motives in everything.
    I choose to believe it was done out of the great appreciation the musicians (and those that organized it) had for Ozawa. Keep the video on.

  • Guest says:

    The clip is real. The narrative is false. It’s just two 80-year olds clowning for the audience.

  • Nicki Knox says:

    I have just seen this video for the first time and am, I must admit, somewhat surprised by the more negative responses from people who are clearly music lovers. I spent 15 years as a professional classical musician and have worked with a number of conductors of this calibre, and have never encountered a conductor who wasn’t a true educator and advocate of music for ALL. For the past 10 years I’ve worked as a therapeutic musician in special needs care and regularly work with clients with dementia in combination with other disabilities, and have seen first hand the dramatic effect that music can have, even in the final days and weeks of life. Seiji Ozawa was a generous mentor and teacher to young conductors, singers and instrumentalists, and lived and breathed music, and that is clearly evident in this video – he’s not anxious, phased or distressed, he feels at HOME, and that is the greatest gift you can give to someone with dementia. And I am sure that he would want as many people as possible to know the true power of music. I also suspect that his family willingly gave permission to share this video as part of his legacy.

  • Marge O. says:

    More anglosaxon PC nonsense. They’re both having fun, enjoying themselves. Enough with the PC, sensitivities, overly sensitive- woke joke US empire Brit nonsense.