My Thoughts About Absolutely on Music by Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa (Book Review #120)

“Haruki Murakami….doesn’t just love music, he knows it.”
– Seiji Ozawa, Absolutely on Music

To be honest, the primary reason why I wanted to read to this book is because it’s co-written by Murakami. I am a fan of anything Murakami so after knowing that he has a new book coming out, I took the chance and requested an advance reader’s copy from the publisher. Upon learning that my request was approved, I got excited for two things; first, this will be my first nonfiction book that I’ll read from Murakami and second, I will be one of the first few people who will be able to read his newest work. I still can remember how I felt when the book finally arrived at my doorsteps, I was all over the moon. I was at that time very excited to read this book without even thinking what the scope of the book will be. Yeah, I read the synopsis and all that and I know that the book is basically a transcript of conversations between Murakami and Ozawa who are considered as masters in their own fields but that’s just basically it. I read quite a few nonfiction books in my life but never did I have once read a book about music. I also don’t know how Murakami writes nonfiction or how he structures it so when I started it I was a little thrown off my seat. I did expect that, for sure, it will be different from all the other Murakami books that I read and I always have to think about that while reading this book. I did expect that considering that the two are virtuoso in their own fields, being intimidated will just be normal. I expected that since it will be about music, a subject that I despise since my elementary days, I should keep an open mind. (Don’t get me wrong here, I like listening to music, what I am not a fan of are its technicalities which for me is overwhelming.) What I did not expect was how the book will totally immerse me in a world that I have little to no knowledge about. It brought me to a literary adventure far different from what I’ve experienced from previous books not just by Murakami but also by other authors. It’s unconventional but it’s magical.

“…because music itself is a thing of such breadth and generosity.”
– Haruki Murakami, Absolutely on Music

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If you’re an avid reader of Murakami’s works, you are probably aware on how he incorporate music in his books. I have always been puzzled about his knowledge in music because of the way he infuses it in his books. A couple of the titles of his books like Norwegian Wood, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and South of the Border, West of the Sun were derived from song titles with Norwegian Wood from The Beatles, Years of Pilgrimage of Franz Liszt and South of the Border by Nat King Cole. And also the numerous mentions of song titles in his books that ranges from classical, jazz to pop that, based on the books that I read, I can remember having Rolling Stones, Schubert, Prince and Haydn mentioned. There are actually a lot of Murakami playlists available in the web if you like to indulge in Murakami’s musical references. There were a lot of times, wile reading this book, I felt like, Murakami is in his comfort zone. He really knows what he’s talking about and it seems like he put a part of his soul in this one.

It’s funny though that he always consider himself in the book as an amateur but the depth of his knowledge about music is really not what I can consider as an amateur. In this book, his fans will have a glimpse of how music runs deep in his veins. He has this huge collection of rare vinyls that he got in his travels which even Ozawa is amaze about. He’s also this passionate lover of classical orchestras and operas, having attended a lot in different parts of the world and each share their experiences.

I don’t know who Seiji Ozawa is before reading this book. This book introduced me to him and his contribution to the world of music. With his experiences, posts that he served, organizations and awards he received, without a doubt he’s a legend. Now 81, he’s best known for being the lead conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 30 years. Recuperating from an operation for esophageal cancer in 2010 created time for him to sit down with Murakami in different locations and time between 2010 and 2011 allowing this book to come into fruition.

“The two things needed for “good music” to come into being were, first of all, a spark, and secondly, magic. If either was missing, “good music” wouldn’t happen.”
– Haruki Murakami, Absolutely on Music

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Each discussion in this book starts with Murakami playing a piece with the two talking what they think about it, the interpretations that they heard from different venues interpreted by different conductors then comparing each. Take this as an example:

“In the simplest terms, the first Boston performance has a very fresh feel to it overall. It’s a young man’s music tht goes straight for the heart. The second Boston performance is terrific, with an added density that only the Boston Symphony could produce. But the newest one, with the Saito Kinen Orchestra, feels absolutely transparent to me – as though you can see every little detail. All the inner voices come clearly to the surface. I really enjoyed comparing the recordings and hearing these references.”

The conversation will then move to a more personal level as they talk about their experiences as each try to develop their crafts and their struggles and challenges along the way. They started sharing their work habits which I find insightful. Murakami connects the similarities with music and writing to eventually talking about what music meant to them. There’s that feeling of being excited in every page that you turn because you’re getting this new personal facts about the author that you adore.

I like how immersing their discussions went. Murakami has this conviction in his words showing that he really knows what he’s talking about. He controls the flow of the discussion and he knows the questions to ask. I like how Murakami glued my attention to the book by the way he asks the questions and he always follows it up with his observations with Ozawa sharing his own thoughts about it too. They talked about a lot different personalities from musicians, conductors, composers, orchestras, soloists to icons like Beethoven, Brahm, Haydn, Mahler Bernstein, Gould, Armstrong, Stravinsky, Bartok and Shostakovich among others. The diversity and range of topics discussed are really impressive. The topics range from the development and differences of orchestras and operas then and now in a couple of parts of the world (like Tokyo, Berlin, Vienna and San Francisco among others) to the shift to digital recording.

There are really parts that are really intimidating, specially those parts where the two talks about technicalities when they compare works like for instance the dynamics and beat of each piece. They talk about details in depth in some parts and for someone who doesn’t have any idea as to what they’re talking about like me, it can be a little bit dragging. This line in the book by Seiji Ozawa best describe how intricate it is to create a music: “All it takes is one teaspoon too much or too little, and you can change the whole flavor of the music.” The book also has this tendency to also repeat numerous references and I was lost in some parts. It’s good that there’s humor thrown here and there to balance the prose.

“I believe that music exists to make people happy.”
– Haruki Murakami, Absolutely on Music

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But nonetheless, this book is full of optimism and I like how relax the book’s flow went which can be attributed to Jay Rubin in a way. I like how despite being a nonfiction, this book carried some style of Murakami’s fiction books. It may sound weird but this book has that light and absorbing style that I always enjoy when I read a book by Murakami. He mentioned in this book that a good writing follows a rhythm and that I believe is what he always do in his books. With this book, I saw the connection of his love of music to him being a writer. This book encouraged me to search the musical pieces mentioned in the book and listen to each. This book encouraged me to appreciate classical music or even just to give it a try. As how Seiji Oza puts it, “….the important thing is not so much to learn it, as to immerse yourself in it. The challenging thing is whether or not you can get inside a work once you’ve learned it.”

Aside from talking about the power and nature of music, this book also offered a background as to how the Murakami and Ozawa met and how the two developed their friendship and their shared passion for music. The two are bonded by their love for music and this book is a testament to that. This book served as like my resource book about orchestras and operas. Murakami and Ozawa became like my navigators in a world that is foreign to me. Though I am not a person who listens to classical music or have an idea about musical theories and technicalities, I still did find this book enjoyable.

Murakami continues to amaze me with what he can write and what he can offer. I have yet to read a book from him that I won’t enjoy. This book will be officially released on November 15 so be sure to check it out.

4 stars out of 5.

PS. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for this book’s audio book. I hope it would be accompanied by music as both discuss each musical piece.

Note: My gratitude to Harvill Secker/Vintage Books for providing me a review copy in exchange for a honest and unbiased review. In no way was my opinion about the book influenced.

BOOK SPECIFICATIONS:

Author: Haruki Murakami, Seiji Ozawa
Translator: Jay Rubin
Format: Paperback
Part of a Series: No
Release Year: November 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
No. of Pages: 329 pages

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About the Authors

Seiji Ozawa (left) and Haruki Murakami (right)
Seiji Ozawa (left) and Haruki Murakami (right)

Haruki Murakami is the author of many novels as well as short stories and non-fiction. His books include Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and The Strange Library. His work has been translated into more than 50 languages, and the most recent of his many international honours is the Jerusalem Prize.

Seiji Ozawa served as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for twenty-nine years, and was music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Ravinia Festival, and Wiener Staatsoper. With Kazuyoshi Akiyama, he formed the Saito Kinen Orchestra and is the director of the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival. Ozawa has been deeply involved in musical education through his work with Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, the Ozawa International Chamber Music Academy Okushiga, Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland and as founder of the Seiji Ozawa Music Academy Opera Project, organizations which provide opportunities to outstanding students in Asia and Europe. Among his many honours, Ozawa has been awarded the Officier de la Legion d’Honneur in France, the Japanese Order of Culture, the Kennedy Center Honors, and a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.

Other books by Haruki Murakami that I reviewed:
My Thoughts About The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (Book Review #106)
My Thoughts About Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Book Review #11)
My Thoughts About Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (Book Review #23)
My Thoughts About Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Book Review #44)

Blog Feature for the best quotes from Haruki Murakami’s books:
Blog Feature: Book Quotes (My Top 10 Best Quotes from Haruki Murakami)

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6 thoughts on “My Thoughts About Absolutely on Music by Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa (Book Review #120)

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