MATSUMOTO, Japan (Reuters) - Japan’s most famous orchestral conductor, Seiji Ozawa, returned briefly to the stage Sunday following a nine month battle with throat cancer. Ozawa arrived to open the Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto city, central Japan, to deafening applause, explaining that he was back as he took up the conductor’s baton for Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings” but with a bad back.
“Allow me to apologize to you today. I was taken care of by superb doctors so I can say I have graduated from being a cancer patient but there’s one small snag — my back, which had in the past given me trouble is bad again,” Ozawa told concert-goers.
Ozawa, who turned 75 last week, was unable to stand unaided while conducting so used a chair to support him through the seven minute performance of the serenade’s first movement. He then let fellow conductor Tatsuya Shimono take over.
His fans were delighted regardless.
“I am so happy to have seen him look well. He is Japan’s national treasure,” one Japanese woman told media after the performance.
In January this year the mop-haired Ozawa announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. He canceled all his performances for the next six month.
Japanese media said Ozawa will be now concentrating on a full recovery on his back in order to be ready for a December concert in New York.
Ozawa, who was born in Shenyang, China, but educated in music in Tokyo, has gained international recognition for his interpretations of large-scale late Romantic works.
One of the first Asian classical musicians to be widely recognized abroad, Ozawa has made efforts to revitalize the music scene in his home country, founding the annual festival in the castle town of Matsumoto.
Ozawa is due to step down as musical director of the Vienna State Opera later this year, a post he took up in 2002 after serving almost three decades as director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Reporting by Reuters Television, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith