Absolutely on Music


This was a book by Haruki Murakami in conversation with Seiji Ozawa, the former director and conductor at the Boston Conservatory of Music. The original book is in Japanese and the version I read was translated in English by Jay Rubin. Personally, I liked the conversational style of the book and helps one visualize the dialogues between the two as they deeply connect with their deep love for music. Admittedly, I’m not all that too familiar with Western Classical Music barring a few famous pieces and reading through the book was very informative as well as inspiring. This book not just talks about the various musical pieces and the performers and conductors of the 20th century, it also delves into the work ethic of the two - about how passionate they’re to their crafts and how disciplined has brought them to where they are today.

Personally, there were a lot of nuggets of wisdom strewn over the book for me to cherish. For instance, Ozawa talks about the time he read a score thinking that he understood it and when he performed it with the orchestra, he realized that he didn’t as he had hoped. The translator beautifully pens this as - “I understood that I didn’t really understand what I thought I understood.”. Powerful, indeed. Haruki talks about musicians of today who are technically sound but aren’t equipped to present the world of music as they see it. That’s so true to be honest. :pensive: Ozawa also mentions in jest that he though Haruki to like one of those rich folks who just hoard on records but never listen to them to which Haruki quips - rich people often don’t have the time. :smile:

Haruki and Seiji talk about Mahler’s brilliance and how he wanted to deviate from what was the norm for German composers at that time. Seiji explains how Mahler’s pieces were once hard but all it required was a different way of thinking. I liked this amazing observation by Professor Saito (Seiji’s teacher) - any culture has both good and bad traditions and as young people, whose slates are fresh to imbibe new traditions, one must be careful to let the good traditions imbue them. And it’s quite inspiring to see Seiji assert the importance of constantly learning and his passion for music is so humbling. They also discuss about Seiji’s love for blues and jazz and this form of Japanese music called enka.

They also discuss about the Seiji Ozawa Academy of Music that caters to string quartet training in Switzerland. It’s quite admirable to listen to Seiji speak about teaching. The way he mentions the subtle differences between Japanese and European students’ attitude to being part of an ensemble and learning is quite intriguing. Asians are usually more mellow and are prone to go with the groove than Europeans who tend to assert themselves more.

As I read through the book, there were many places where I wished I had learnt Western music when I was young but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book. Having that knowledge would’ve made me appreciate the nuances and the differences between the different pieces that were discussed.