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S.C. Philharmonic Remained Impressive as Its Conductor Kicked Off His 10th Season

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Morihiko Nakahara

Morihiko Nakahara conducts the South Carolina Philharmonic.

South Carolina Philharmonic; Koger Center, Columbia; Oct. 14, 2017

The South Carolina Philharmonic opened its 2017-18 Masterworks season with Morihiko Nakahara celebrating his 10th season as conductor.

The first work on the program was Banitza Groove by Dai Fujikura, a native Japanese composer who has spent the last 25 years mainly in the United Kingdom. The work often makes the orchestra play unconventional sounds in ranges and methods somewhat foreign to listeners’ ears. The title suggests a Bulgarian pastry, often a breakfast food prepared with unusual ingredients. The orchestra did not seem uncomfortable with the unorthodox techniques. Musically, it was a clever hors d’oeuvres to a major musical meal.

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 was next on the program with the University South Carolina’s prized pianist Marina Lomazov as guest artist. We often read that Johannes Brahms worshiped the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, regarding him a deity among composers. Surely Brahms found much inspiration in this concerto. Its musical attributes make bold statements about where the 19th century was to go — frequent departures from classical form, rapid changes in key (it’s in G Major sometimes!). The second movement elevates the piano as a nearly religious instrument with passionate melody and subtle nuances that only a consummate artist can create. The outside movements require no less than a major virtuoso to perform its demanding dynamics and rapid flourishes. Marina Lomazov is indeed a major international virtuoso who clearly understands the power of the piano and of Beethoven’s monumental offering. Also equal to that task was Nakahara’s conducting and the orchestra’s superb ensemble. It was a glorious performance.

Unknown to the audience at this concert was the fact that Lomazov would announce just 36 hours later that she has been made professor of piano at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, beginning next fall. Those of us in the profession know very well that the Eastman School is in the top echelon of music schools in the world. How proud we can be that we’ve benefitted from her artistry and wisdom this last decade. The good news is that the USC School of Music will retain her as a visiting artist, and that she and Joseph Rackers will continue as co-directors of the Southeastern Piano Festival.

Jean Sibelius composed Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43 in 1902, just five years after the Finnish government awarded him a life pension to support him as a composer. This coincided with a trip to Italy. The curiosity of this is whether Italian music and Finnish nationalism influenced this symphony, but Sibelius declined to define this as program music. The result is a work that contains many individual ideas that don’t seem to be molded into a whole — rather like looking at a page in a stamp collector’s album.

Sibelius' orchestration is commanding and very colorful. The rich sounds of the last movement provoke a nationalistic pride, despite the country in which it is heard. The Philharmonic played the entire work brilliantly. Alas, the horn section was once again up over the heads of all, playing directly into the room’s acoustic shell. Their frequent chordal rhythmic accompaniment often overshadowed the work of strings and woodwinds. While it might not have proven offensive on stage, the balance for the Grand Tier and the balcony was not good.

Over the last decade, the S. C. Philharmonic has achieved a standard many had not dreamed possible. Under Nakahara’s direction, the orchestra rapidly achieved excellence in ensemble, tonal balance, and excellent management, booking some of the finest instrumentalists in the South Carolina area.

Entering this second decade, a significant boost to the pride and success of the orchestra might well be gained by occasionally booking a guest conductor of international stature. There are significant conductors, several who are female, that have attained international recognition. Such ventures might very well compliment the excellence Nakahara has attained.

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