Keitaro Harada

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

Courtesy Keitaro Harada

Conductor Keitaro Harada and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra delivered eight minutes of wonderful to kick off two hours of terrific Saturday night.

The eight minutes came from Mozart’s Symphony No. 32 in G major, a sublime little piece that Harada presented with all the fabulous Mozartean flourishes that reminded us of why we love Mozart so much — and why we hate that this piece was only eight minutes long.

Harada paired the Mozart with Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” Ballet Suite, a piece that contradicts its emotions, going from remarkable beauty and triumph to dark sadness. Harada drew those lines subtly, racing the tempo at times to create a palpable tension then settling into lush string passages that created a cinematic soundscape.

And just when the sold-out audience at Catalina-Foothills High School Auditorium thought it had caught our breath, Harada and the orchestra took Brahms Serenade No. 1 for a full-throttled ride. This was one of Brahms earliest attempts at orchestral writing and with a little more confidence it easily could’ve been the 19th century composer’s first symphony. History has it that Brahms was intimidated by Beethoven, trying to live up to the German master's greatness.

Harada and the orchestra performed it with the breadth and conviction of a symphony, digging deep into his symphonic ambitions to reveal dynamic colors and textures from all sides of the ensemble. Harada brought out soaring strings swelling against triumphant horns and trumpets that pierced the calm. Deep voiced bass lines contrasted the calm of twin flutes and clarinets. Brahms might not have called this a symphony, but Harada presented it as one, drawing a rich, colorful performance from the orchestra.

This weekend’s MasterWorks concerts at Catalina-Foothills High School — today’s 2 p.m. concert is sold out — marks the 29-year-old Harada’s debut behind the podium of a TSO classical concert. An alum of the University of Arizona Rogers Institute for Orchestral and Opera Conducting Fellowship, he has led the orchestra in a number of pops concerts over the past five years, including "Disney's Fantasia Live" in November and “The Magic of Christmas” in 2013.

During Saturday night's intermission, Harada mingled among the audience in the hall and the lobby. When he returned to the stage he told the audience he was thrilled that several people said they were at the MasterWorks concert because they had seen him conduct the pops shows.

Harada, associate conductor of Arizona Opera and the Richmond Symphony in Virginia, will make his next Arizona appearance in April, when he conducts the opera’s production of Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment.”