Guest conductor Keitaro Harada joins the TSO for three performances this weekend.

Courtesy Keitaro Harada

In early December, Keitaro Harada made his long-awaited conducting debut in his native Tokyo, Japan.

This weekend, he debuts behind the podium in the Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s MasterWorks series, the first time the 29-year-old will lead the orchestra in a concert of serious classical works.

For Keitaro, both feel like homecomings. He was born and grew up in Tokyo, but his music career was largely raised in Tucson.

“If I could live anywhere, I’d live in Tucson,” Keitaro said. “If Tucson had a better airport I would live there.”

Harada has been a regular TSO guest conductor since he was a graduate student at the University of Arizona five years ago. He led the orchestra’s TSO Rocks the Fox series and has conducted pops concerts including “Disney Fantasia Live” in November.

“But this is really something I’ve been looking forward to for months because most of my concerts with TSO have been pops,” said Harada, who splits his time between Phoenix, where he is associate conductor of Arizona Opera, and Richmond, Virginia, where he is associate conductor of that city’s symphony. “This is the first time I take part in the MasterWorks series. … I have the opportunity to present who I am as a musician and that I can collaborate with the musicians on this repertoire.”

Harada’s program starts out with Mozart’s Symphony No. 32 “Overture,” which the orchestra has never performed.

“It’s probably one of the shortest symphonies he’s ever written. It’s eight minutes long,” said Harada, who then joked, “It could be a little bit longer if I eat too much for dinner. It could be much shorter if I have an extra shot of espresso before the concert.”

The concert also includes Manuel de Falla’s “El amor brujo” ballet suite arranged by William Ryden.

“No matter who orchestrates, the music is always de Falla,” said Harada, who also is the principal guest conductor for the Sierra Vista Symphony. “There’s something powerful about it. … This is a different version of it, a different color, a different way to present the same composition. It’s a familiar tune but done differently and it’s got something really special and exciting with these new colors.”

Harada will conduct five performances this weekend, including one in Green Valley Thursday and one Friday night in Oro Valley through the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance. The next time we see him will be in April, when he will conduct Arizona Opera’s production of Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment.”

Keitaro said there is talk of bringing him back to Japan with the New Japanese Symphony, which was sold out for his performances. The audience brought him back for six bows and the musicians gave him an ovation.

“(The orchestra) took such a risk to hire and engage this unknown Japanese conductor from Tokyo who’s never done any concerts in Japan,” said Harada, an alum of the inaugural University of Arizona Rogers Institute for Orchestral and Opera Conducting Fellowship. “And the concerts sold out in two weeks. I have friends and relatives and family and neighbors, but I was surprised at all the fans that were looking forward to me making my Japanese debut.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642.

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.