Keitaro Harada, 31, learned to program music from his grandmother — well, sort of, he says. She taught him how to cook.
“I grew up in a culinary family,” Harada says. “Grandmother was a chef, and I’ve had a knife in my hand since I was 3. My grandmother would have an ingredient ready for me when I got home from school, and I would create a meal for her based on that ingredient.”
Putting a musical program together is no different, he says.
“A meal must make sense from beginning to end,” Harada says. “You don’t just throw food together. A musical program is the same. If you just throw pieces together, you’re missing a great opportunity to make something special.”
Though he was expected to go into the family business, instead he traded his chef knives for a saxophone as a young boy growing up in Tokyo. He came to the U.S. to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan when he was 17. That set him on his path to becoming one of today’s top young American conductors.
An associate at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a popular guest conductor internationally, Harada will lead the Boise Philharmonic on Saturday, Nov. 12, and Sunday, Nov. 13. (Note: The Nampa concert is at 3 p.m. Sunday for this performance.)
Harada is the third of seven candidates for the Boise music director position. (Robert Franz left last season after eight years with the Boise Phil.) Harada is spending the week in Boise meeting the community and rehearsing with the orchestra before performing a program based around an assigned concerto.
Harada started with Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with pianist Kevin Cole. This will be Cole’s third time performing in Boise.
“Most of my programming is done by key and tonal structure for a harmonic flow,” Harada says. “With ‘Rhapsody,’ you go through so many keys that it’s crazy, so I used the relationships among the composers.”
George Gershwin originally wrote “Rhapsody” for Paul Whiteman’s jazz orchestra. Ferde Grofé (pronounced Gro-fay) did the original 1924 orchestration for Whiteman, and the 1942 orchestration for symphony orchestra that Cole and the Phil will perform.
That connection led him to think of Grofé’s body of work that, like Gershwin, touched on popular music, Broadway and film. Harada chose Grofé’s epic “Grand Canyon Suite,” inspired by a trip the composer took in the late 1920s in a jeep across Arizona to see the sunrise at the Grand Canyon.
Its movements follow the compelling journey the sun takes over the epic canyon from sunrise to sunset, and into the redemptive “Cloudburst.”
“It’s so gorgeous,” Harada says. “Everyone knows the ‘On the Trail,’ but the rest is so inspiring. It’s a breathtaking piece.”
The next connection led to Bernstein, another prolific American composer who, like Gershwin and Grofé, wrote for Broadway, film, popular music and symphony orchestra.
“Bernstein had a great love and affinity for Gershwin,” Harada says. “He wrote his graduate thesis on him. And when Gershwin died suddenly in 1937, Bernstein felt that Gershwin passed a torch to him.”
Harada will open his program with Bernstein’s only film score, “On the Waterfront.”
‘Rhapsody in Blue’
Guest conductor Keitaro Harada and pianist Kevin Cole: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, Brandt Center, Northwest Nazarene University, 707 Fern St., Nampa. Preconcert talks are one hour prior to concert. $22.50-$70.50 at 344-7849, BoisePhil.org.