Thanks to “E.T.,” Keitaro Harada loves Reese’s Pieces, the peanut butter candies born out of the popular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
“I watched ‘E.T.’ when I was in Japan and you could not buy Reese’s Pieces in Japan,” said the conductor, who returns to Tucson this weekend to conduct two “E.T.” cine-concerts with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. “So when I first came to the U.S., when I saw Reese’s Pieces, I thought that’s the snack that brings aliens. That’s ET’s favorite snack.”
Don’t be surprised if you see a bag of Reese’s Pieces on the podium at Tucson Music Hall as Harada leads the orchestra through the glorious John Williams’ score while the movie plays on a big screen.
“One of the great things about John Williams is that he really uses the themes of characters and themes of the moment and place,” Harada, a University of Arizona alumnus, said during a phone call from Tokyo. “I think it’s just genius.”
Harada, who has been a regular guest conductor with the TSO over the past decade, lives in Tokyo with his wife, fashion designer and professional tennis player Yuri Kurashima. Harada, 34, splits his time between his native Tokyo and Savannah, Georgia, where he is music and artistic director of the Savannah Philharmonic orchestra — a position he landed last summer after serving as an assistant conductor for several American orchestras including with Arizona Opera. The Savannah job is his first music director position.
Harada has been conducting cine-concerts — where the orchestra performs the score live while the movie plays — since he did “Fantasia”with the TSO in 2014.
“It’s so fun. I love, love, love conducting film with live orchestras. There’s something really exciting about it,” he said. “I think at the heart of why I enjoy this one is that it’s John Williams. His score is such genius.”
That score got Williams an Academy Award for “E.T.”
“When you think about the 1970s and the trend back then was, especially with sci-fi movies, to use electronic sounds, sounds coming out of keyboards and crazy electronic things. Then here comes Mr. John Williams ... and a story about something that is unimaginable, an extraterrestrial, and the music that we hear is symphonic, something that we can relate to. It’s a great mix of all kinds of worlds.”
Harada has done a number of cine-concerts since his first in Tucson and is on a go-to conductor list put out by Disney studios for orchestras mounting the concerts, he said. The concerts can be tricky when it comes to performing the score live in sync with the film.
“For me what’s really fun is syncing the sound of the live performance with the video and that’s a real skill that’s super necessary for the contemporary conductor,” he said, and something that is particularly challenging when the music is integral to the action on the screen.
Harada points to the scene in “E.T.” where Elliott, the little boy who finds the lovable alien in the tool shed, is racing on his bike with E.T. in the basket, heading to the area in the forest where E.T.’s people will pick him up. Williams’ score builds the drama of the moment and one note out of sync will rob the tension.
“This is a movie that has been seen by millions of people. And the audience, even though they may not have been familiar with the score, they are familiar with the music,” Harada said.
“Williams really is such a great opera composer, even though he’s never written an opera,” he added.
Catch the “E.T.” cine-concert Saturday, Nov. 30, at 4 p.m. or Sunday, Dec. 1, at 2 p.m. at the Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.
Tickets are $31 to $87, half-price for children under 18, through ticketmaster.com.