Morihiko Nakahara, Music Director of the South Carolina Philharmonic
What is your vision for SC Philharmonic?
I am charged with raising the artist level of the orchestra. As the fifth Music Director in the 45 year history of the SC Philharmonic, I have to build on our strengths and ensure that the orchestra is capable of producing the highest standard of music making, in the widest possible variety of styles. My goal is to introduce Columbia to new music and composers, to do Pops concerts, children's concerts and to collaborate with the opera and dance organizations in town on some joint venture concerts.
Our vision is to have more people in the community participate in the Philharmonic, to see more people contributing financially to the orchestra, and to build more subscribers – both individuals and businesses.
Comment on this quote: "The best way for a city to establish a vibrant downtown core is to first establish a vibrant arts community."
In my opinion, people who appreciate the arts tend to be creative problem solvers, a skill that is well suited to the business community. There is great synergy there.
Local companies are increasingly looking at a vibrant local arts scene as a recruitment tool for attracting and retaining talented employees. Families moving in to an area look for a great quality of life, great outdoor resources, great theater, a great orchestra, great museums, and great school districts. It's all important. They want their quality of life to extend beyond the hours that they put in work.
I encourage people to make it a night out when they come to see the SC Philharmonic. Come downtown for a nice meal, go to a concert, and go out after for dessert or a drink. The SC Philharmonic needs to be tied into all the nightlife that Columbia has to offer. It's great for the local economy and certainly adds to the vibrancy of the downtown.
What is your leadership style?
It is sometimes easy for a musician playing in a large group of 75 to become passive participants in the music, particularly in the strings where 6 people may be playing the same part. You have to encourage spontaneity and a sense of ownership with each musician.
A Music Director is like the manager of a professional baseball team. Musicians are similar to athletes in that they are highly trained through countless hours of practice, and as a result, they come to the professional ranks with a healthy level of confidence. A manager's job is to unite them by instilling pride and excitement in the team, and also to pull out their best performance as individuals.
I demand a lot in the rehearsal, but hopefully not in a demeaning way. Some conductors in the past had absolute power and musicians lived in fear of being fired on the spot. I try to encourage a healthy discourse of ideas. That communication may happen verbally, or through the interpretation of the music. I may come to a piece of music with a set idea of what it is supposed to sound like, but if I keep an open mind, it can really open the doors to whole other level of musical interpretation. That's the amazing part of working with a group of 75 very talented musicians.
What leaders have influenced you?
The biggest influence on my life was my band teacher in Junior High, Mr. Sasaki. He imparted not only a love of the music, but also a care and a concern for us as students. He was very demanding, but he was my first music idol.
I also admire Seiji Ozawa, one of the first Asian musicians to make a name for himself in Europe and North America. He was so good with his hands and his body that you could tell the piece of music with the sound turned off. He is truly one of the very best conductors of all time.
What challenges does classical music face in 2008?
Europeans and the Japanese probably grow up listening to more classical music than a typical person in America. In Japan, where I was born and went to elementary school, music was very much entrenched into the curriculum. We had to learn not just one instrument, but three: the recorder, pianica for keyboarding skills (this is a small keyboard type instrument that North Americans may not be familiar with), and a percussion instrument for rhythm.
In this country, people think of classical music as a foreign thing; they don't think they will enjoy it. We need to educate the audiences in a non-threatening way about the performers and the composers, and to break down the walls and preconceived notions about classical music. We have to follow the Olympic model, where it's really when you learn about the athletes that you start caring about what is going on. People may not be in to swimming, but they can relate to Michael Phelps. That is what has been lacking in classical music.
Everything is so fast paced in society these days that people may not want to come downtown to listen to a 3 hour concert in a tuxedo. We are looking to break it up a little bit by putting on shorter programs with more varied pieces and with engaging commentary from the stage. We recently had a smaller units of the orchestra perform at lunch on Main St. across from the First Citizens building.
How will you measure your success as Music Director here in Columbia?
People might not be able to pinpoint exactly why the orchestra sounds better, but that precisely our main goal. Musical excellence will spur increased funding through more ticket sales, through more donors, both individual and corporate and through more grants. Grants may be tough to obtain given the current economic climate, but as we all know, these things go in cycles
I will measure our success by the diversity of musical pieces that we play and by being recognized as the "go to" arts organization in town for collaborative offerings such as festivals and joint concerts.
What challenges does the SC Philharmonic face here in Columbia?
We are very fortunate to be playing in the beautiful Koger Center, but because we don't own the building, we have to be flexible with our scheduling. Scheduling is also complicated sometimes because we try not to go head-to head with other events in town such as a home football game. But when we book a guest artist, we have to offer them a date a couple of years in advance; football does not release their schedule until much later, and with college football, times and even dates can change.
What are some must haves in anyone's collection of symphonies?
Beethoven, really any symphony, but start with the 9th or 7th.
Brahms, an acquired taste for some, but highly recommended.
Dvorak, Symphony from the New World.
Tchaikovsky, any of the last 3 – 4th, 5th, 6th
Mozart, the wit of his last symphonies is amazing, numbers 40, 41.
Mahler, these are like epic novels, but after a while they become addictive.
But we don't just play symphonies at the Philharmonic. People will hear concertos, overtures, operas, pops, and ballets. Most programs that we present will involve a bit of the obscure and the popular; you have to balance both.
Here are a few other must haves:
Beethoven piano concertos
Mozart piano concertos, which have such an incredible sense of freedom that they almost sound like jazz.
To visit the SC Philharmonic website click here.