Morihiko Nakahara currently serves as Resident Conductor of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the South Carolina Philharmonic. He has also served as Director of Orchestral Studies at Andrews University and Director of Orchestras at Eastern Washington University. Acclaimed as "a splendid conductor," "a consummate professional and an artist of a very high caliber," and one who is "thorough in his preparation, imaginative in his musicianship and crystal clear in his ability to communicate with the orchestra," he has been at Spokane since 2003 and at the SCP since 2008.
Nakahara also conducted the Symphony Orchestra in Holland, Michigan, for six years, from 2001 to 2007. His "charisma on and off the podium, innovative and audience-friendly programming skills, and thoughtful interpretations of both standard and new repertoire" led to his first year’s being regarded as a notable success, one "marked by dramatic artistic achievements, increased audience size and donations, and a heightened visibility of the orchestra in the community." It was an assessment that continued unabated throughout his tenure with that orchestra.
A reviewer wrote of one Holland performance, "The music soared and every note was delivered in perfect precision. The level of concentration among performers was intense and it was obvious the conductor insisted on their full attention. Nakahara's hands spoke to the musicians, demanding not only that they focus, but that they give their full attention to balance, clarity, and emotion." Nakahara’s leadership in Spokane and South Carolina has created similar results and reactions from critics.
A native of Kagoshima, Japan, Morihiko started piano lessons with his mother when he was three. He subsequently benefited from a sophisticated music education program in that nation’s school system, where he learned recorder and other instruments, including the clarinet. Because of a teacher’s illness, he and other students in his ninth grade band were asked to each conduct a number at their final band concert of the year. It was a pivotal moment for him, one that inspired him to eventually pursue conducting as a career.
Nakahara received a B.Mus. in music education with distinction at Andrews University in1998, where his major performance area was clarinet and he studied conducting under Alan Mitchel. He subsequently completed an M.Mus. in instrumental conducting at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, studying with Rodney Winther. He has done additional conducting studies with Timothy Muffitt, Lawrence Leighton Smith, Larry Rachleff, Mark Gibson, Jerry Junkin, and others.
He was the sole recipient of the David Effron Conducting Fellowship at the Chautaugua Music Festival in New York State in 1999, where he studied with Muffitt. In July 2002, Nakahara was among four outstanding young conductors invited to participate in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra's Composition and Conducting Institute under the guidance of Lawrence Leighton Smith. In a review of his debut with this Grammy-Award winning orchestra, The Star-Ledger of Newark noted that Nakahara "conducted a fluid and elegant version of Smetana's Die Moldau with a firm sense of the flow of both tempo and texture."
Nakahara was featured at the League of American Orchestras’ Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview hosted by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra in March 2005. In the 2006, the Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation honored him and the Spokane Symphony Orchestra with the title of Bruno Walter Associate Conductor Chair and Career Development Grant for following season. He was one of two chosen for the award that year.
His work at the Conductor Preview hosted by the JSO in 2005 and the BWMF award a year later led to an annual appearance by Nakahara as guest conductor with the JSO and to his serving as its associate conductor for a year from 2007-2008. He has since made numerous appearances as guest conductor with several orchestras in the U.S. He is a passionate music educator and has been a popular guest conductor and clinician with university orchestras and high school honor orchestras and bands, one of these being the Boston University Tanglewood Institute’s Young Artist Orchestra.
An advocate of new music, Nakahara has collaborated with and earned praise from noted contemporary composers Steve Reich, Michael Torke, Augusta Read Thomas, Azio Corghi, Menachem Zur, and Yasuhide Ito. Through his association with Music99, Music2000, Music2001, and Music02, contemporary music festivals in Cincinnati, Ohio, he collaborated with several emerging young composers and has since conducted numerous world and U.S. premiere performances.
Sources: Spokane Symphony website biography, 2012, and press release, July 18, 2006; Amy Chovan, Seven Conductors, One Baton,” (Early training and experience), Peoria Magazines.com, Nov/Dec 2009; South Carolina Philharmonic website biography, 21012; CHL Artists website biography, 2012; Wikipedia, 24 December 2011; personal knowledge.