Absolutely on music : conversations

by Seiji Ozawa

Other authorsHaruki Murakami, Jay Rubin (Translator.)
Paper Book, 2016




New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.


A deeply personal, intimate conversation about music and writing between the internationally acclaimed, best-selling 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.… (more)

Media reviews

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
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.
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LibraryThing member alanteder
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.
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LibraryThing member catnips13
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member RBeffa
There were a few times in this non fiction book that I felt like I was reading a Murakami novel - this is because Murakami sounds a LOT like many of his characters in conversation. I think I expected a lot more from this book than what I got ... although I did get some interesting stuff. The book improves from the beginning which felt awkward, where I got a strange vibe, almost like Murakami was either fawning, or trying to impress Ozawa. Or maybe its just me. Murakami repeatedly tells the reader in the introduction how much he and Ozawa are alike. My internal voice says to me: How about show don't tell. I was somewhat unconvinced. What is true is that they both love music. I like and listen to a lot of classical music but many of the fine points under discussion were lost on me especially since I could not listen to the exact parts of specific performances they were discussing in detail - visits to my music collection and youtube helped with some of that, but they were discussing fine points in particular performances that most of us have no knowledge of and no way to compare. At those points I found it best to just read along and realize you are overhearing a detailed conversation by two friends that is out of your realm. Youtube will be your friend if you want to hear and see performances by Ozawa with his Saito Kinen Orchestra project and Mitsuko Uchida for example (pg 20), and other pieces discussed in the book. For those unfamiliar with Ozawa's style I think it would help the reader to get a sense of him early on in the book.

If you use Spotify, Murakami's website has some very specific links to some of the pieces of music discussed in the book. Otherwise youtube is probably your best friend

Read and listen and take away from this what you can. I got a sense that I never had before of how a conductor perceives music. The music under discussion in the book is primarily German music ... Beethoven, Brahms, and especially Mahler, and I much prefer French, Scandinavian (Grieg, Sibelius) and other classical music. That point alone made this a little less interesting to me, although they do have a discussion on the fourth movement of Symphonie fantastique by French romantic composer Berlioz. I perked up a bit for that. However, most of the music discussions become rather tedious and a little repetitive. As I said, I thought I would enjoy this much more than I did.
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LibraryThing member Daumari
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 :(
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LibraryThing member rongeigle
This is a gem. Two masters in conversation. Murakami draws out insights from Ozawa, ranging from the drama behind otherwise invisible moments in classical scores to sharing a box with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton when Ozawa was an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. And Murakami’s mastery of the classical music canon makes me want to go back to my teenage years and substitute a little Brahms for Beach Boys. This caution though: if you are not a committed fan of either of these guys, you will go to sleep reading it. But then that would make you an unfortunate soul.… (more)


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