WASHINGTON — The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on July 15 announced the selection of six honorees who will receive the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, including conductor Seiji Ozawa.
The 38th annual national celebration of the arts will also recognize American rock band the Eagles, singer-songwriter Carole King, filmmaker George Lucas, actress and singer Rita Moreno, and actress and Broadway star Cicely Tyson.
Ozawa is an internationally recognized celebrity and one of the great figures of the classical music world today. He served as music director of the Boston Symphony for 29 seasons (1973-2002), making history as that orchestra’s longest-serving music director; his commitment to the BSO included appearances at the world-renowned Tanglewood festival, where Seiji Ozawa Hall was named in his honor. There he also worked closely with the fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center, the BSO’s acclaimed summer music academy, where Ozawa himself was a fellow in 1959.
Now BSO music director laureate, Ozawa is also artistic director and founder of the Saito Kinen Orchestra and the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, Japan’s pre-eminent music and opera festival. He has established many programs for young musicians, including the Ozawa International Chamber Music Academy in Okushiga and the Seiji Ozawa International Music Academy Switzerland.
He served as music director of the Vienna State Opera from 2002 to 2010. Tremendously popular in Europe, Ozawa has conducted many of the continent’s orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic, where he holds an honorary membership.
Born in 1935 in Shenyang, China, Ozawa graduated with first prizes in both composition and conducting from Tokyo’s Toho School of Music. In 1959, he won first prize at the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors in Besançon, France, drawing the attention of then BSO Music Director Charles Munch, who invited him to Tanglewood, where he won the Koussevitzky Prize as outstanding student conductor in 1960.
While working with Herbert von Karajan in West Berlin, Ozawa came to the attention of Leonard Bernstein, who appointed him assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic (1961-1962). He was music director at the Ravinia Festival, Toronto Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony, before being named BSO music director in 1973, leaving a legacy of touring, award-winning recordings (more than 140 works of more than 50 composers), television productions (winning two Emmy Awards), and commissioned works.
“The Kennedy Center Honors recognizes the extraordinary and unparalleled talents of individuals whose impact and genius have left an indelible mark on civilization,” stated Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. “Quite simply, our honorees represent the voices, soundtracks, and stories of our personal lives and memories.
“The music of the Eagles has endured as the quintessential American rock and roll sound for generations; Carole King’s heartfelt lyrics and tunes are woven throughout the tapestry of American music; George Lucas’ films have enriched our world with stories of epic adventure; Rita Moreno’s iconic spitfire roles are embedded in the heart of American culture; Seiji Ozawa’s artistic leadership as a conductor has set a new standard for orchestras around the world; and Cicely Tyson’s range of strong female roles on stage and screen have broken boundaries for women of color.”
“When I look at this year’s outstanding slate of honorees, I am struck by a powerful common theme— artists as history-makers, artists who defy both convention and category,” commented Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter. “Each honoree and their career-spanning achievements exemplify a rare quality of artistic bravery. They have pushed the limits of their gifts as musicians, actors, and storytellers to inspire generations of Americans and those around the world. Their individual paths to excellence are inspirational and their contributions to the fabric of American culture are equally permanent and timeless.”
On Sunday, Dec. 6, in a star-studded celebration on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage, the 2015 honorees will be saluted by today’s leading performers from New York, Hollywood, and the arts capitals of the world. Seated with President and Mrs. Obama, the honorees will accept the thanks of their peers through performances and tributes.
The Kennedy Center Honors medallions will be presented on Saturday, Dec. 5, the night before the gala, at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Honors Gala will be recorded for broadcast on CBS for the 38th consecutive year as a two-hour prime-time special on Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 9 p.m. (ET/PT).
The recipients recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts are selected by the Executive Committee of the center’s Board of Trustees. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. The honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement; the selection process, over the years, has produced balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines.
The selection process includes solicitation of recommendations from the Board of Trustees, the artistic community, and the general public. This year’s honorees were chosen based on the recommendation of the center’s Special Honors Advisory Committee, chaired by trustee Cappy McGarr, and composed of trustee member Elaine Wynn along with past recipients and distinguished artists Yo-Yo Ma, Chita Rivera, Julie Andrews, and Herbie Hancock; and Harolyn Blackwell and Damian Woetzel.