If Morihiko Nakahara finds himself in the throes of an inaugural season with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra later this year, it won’t be an unfamiliar experience.
The eighth candidate to succeed George Zack as music director of the Philharmonic is celebrating an inaugural season in Columbia, S.C., where he is the new music director of the South Carolina Philharmonic.
“It’s been so great to meet a lot of people in the community,” Nakahara, 33, says. “There are more people interested in what we do at the Philharmonic and how we can be a better part of the community. That’s a great starting point.
“Musically, it’s been great. It’s just the start of the journey for us. Things don’t change overnight in terms of ensemble building and how do we grow as an orchestra.” This week, Nakahara has gotten to know the Lexington community as he prepares for Friday night’s concert with the Philharmonic, featuring violinist Daniel Mason and violist Deborah Lander.
Other candidates for the Philharmonic’s top job have other orchestras under their direction. But the size of the Columbia orchestra and the freshness of the commitment bring up the question: Is Nakahara still interested in the Lexington job?
“I thought about the possibility of getting the South Carolina gig and how that might impact other searches I was in,” Nakahara says. “With Lexington, I decided not to withdraw. At that point, I had already been to South Carolina and decided they’re comparable groups.
“I thought, that might work to my advantage if I did both.”
And he doesn’t just mean he’d be drawing two music-director paychecks. Nakahara, who also is resident conductor of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra in Washington, can see possibilities including co-commissioning works by the orchestras, possibly in concert with other groups, and projects with soloists.
“I could see having both orchestras and using them to network with other orchestras around the country,” Nakahara said over breakfast earlier this week. “When I started thinking about that, I got very interested in the idea of having both orchestras.”
On paper, the orchestras could be twins.
“Lexington and South Carolina philharmonics are very similar in terms of the budget size, the pay-per-service nature of it, the setting, the relationship with the university,” Nakahara says, noting that the South Carolina Philharmonic plays in the University of South Carolina’s concert hall, just as the Lexington Philharmonic’s home is the University of Kentucky Singletary Center for the Arts.
Both orchestras also draw a significant number of their players from the universities’ music faculties.
Possibly the biggest challenge in directing both philharmonics would be scheduling, because each orchestra presents one MasterClassics concert a month, and certain weekends often are the most desirable dates, particularly in September and December.
As has been said numerous times during the Philharmonic’s search, there are plenty of music directors around the world with more than one orchestra under their direction. Nakahara says that when he interviewed in South Carolina, the orchestra board seemed interested in having a maestro with other commitments.
“They wanted someone who would spend a good amount of time there, but they also wanted somebody who had other things to do,” Nakahara says. “They thought that would get their name out there. When you’re representing Lexington when you go to other cities, that’s sort of like PR.”
It wasn’t even until college that Nakahara seemed headed for an conducting career. Growing up in Kagoshima, Japan, he says, he was drawn to the sound of the clarinet and started playing in his school band. In ninth grade, an ill-timed accident suffered by his band director put him and a few other students on the podium for a concert, and
Nakahara was told he had a knack for conducting. As he moved to the United States and pursued music in high school, he thought he might be heading toward a career as a high school band director.
College at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich., and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music geared him toward the orchestral world. His first music-director post was with the Holland Symphony in Michigan, which he says prepared him for the demands and challenges of directing a larger orchestra.
The other jobs also gave him perspective on the process that he’s a part of in Lexington.
“What’s fun about guest conducting is you do stuff for a week and you leave, and they go on with their lives, you go on,” he says. “When you’re the music director, there are a lot more challenges.”