Genial, at ease, buoyant, charming — all are characteristics of conductor Morihiko Nakahara, Friday night's candidate to succeed George Zack as conductor of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra.
Such a pleasant starting point would augur well for a sprightly relationship of conductor and orchestra. Some of the results represented quite a turnabout from expectations, however. It was the lesser-quality music that delivered the better thrills.
The concert began with Ballata Sinfonica, a 1943 work by Akira Ifukube, a Japanese composer known for his film scores (King Kong among them). Sure enough, the music was by turns cinematically ebullient and sentimental.
It's unpretentious stuff, and the orchestra sounded quite good. There were some nice solo turns in the slow music, notably the pretty vibrato in flute, paired with English horn.
The best music of the night was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola. It was genially played from the conductor's perspective, but what sets this work apart is its dramatic, even operatic, context. And that was glossed over. The soloists in the Mozart were local players Daniel Mason, violin, and Deborah Lander, viola.
Mason was operatic, all right, channeling Meryl Streep's excitement in Mamma Mia, while Lander was the sensible daughter, Amanda Seyfried. Technically, what matters is how the player accents the melodic line.
The finale of the concert was Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 6, not a tremendously important work. It sounds more like he is writing an essay than telling a story. But the best of it was brought out by the bounce in Nakahara's beat, which seemed to loosen up the orchestra, sometimes making it too loose. As in the slow movement of the Mozart, Nakahara's beat pattern sometimes pulled like a rubber band. The orchestra had no problem interpreting the beat, but transitions became an adventure as he worked back to his usual precision.
The question remains whether Nakahara is the best fit with this orchestra. He is appealing but not really powerful. He is not flamboyant. His body language is cute but not too cute.
In the music, he builds drama in full orchestra, but is less effective in pull-back sections, especially in the strings. He is open and engaging, a very collaborative presence.
Is that enough? Time will tell.