For the better part of the last year, Keitaro Harada has been ping-ponging across the Pacific, guest-conducting with orchestras in Tokyo and back to his home orchestra in Cincinnati, Ohio.

This was supposed to be his off week, seven full days with nowhere to be and no plans beyond celebrating — albeit nearly two months late — his one-year wedding anniversary with wife Yuri Kurashima, a Japanese fashion designer and retired professional tennis player.

Then Tucson called.

The orchestra needed a fill-in to conduct its “Copland and Goodman” Masterworks concert.

“I said I love Tucson; of course I will do it,” said Harada, 33.

He will be at the podium on Saturday, Nov. 17, and Sunday, Nov. 18, for two performances of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra concert, which features Copland’s Clarinet Concerto composed for Benny Goodman and works by Astor Piazzolla, Arturo Márquez and Heitor Villa-Lobos.

He arrived in Tucson on Monday, 24 hours after he conducted the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra in Japan on Sunday in a concert of works that included Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8.

This will be Harada’s first podium turn in Tucson since he conducted a Masterwork series concert in November 2016.

“Even though it’s only been literally two years on the dot, it just feels like eternity because I was conducting Tucson Symphony every year basically from 2008 to 2016,” he said from Tokyo last week. “This two-year blank really feels like forever. I am happy to be back and make music.”

In the two years since we last saw him, Harada, an associate conductor with the Cincinnati Symphony for the past four years, has become an in-demand guest conductor in his native Japan. In addition to the Tokyo Symphony, he has debuted with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, New Japan Philharmonic, the Osaka Symphony Orchestra and Osaka Philharmonic and the Gunma Symphony Orchestra. He also has been on the faculty and appeared as a guest conductor at the invitation of Valery Gergiev for the Pacific Music Festival in Japan, including appearing with Leonard Bernstein’s daughter Jamie early this year in a concert celebrating Bernstein’s centennial.

In the United States, he has conducted the Indianapolis Symphony in Indiana, Fort Worth Symphony in Texas, West Virginia Symphony, California’s Berkeley Symphony, Boise Philharmonic in Idaho, the Memphis Symphony in Tennessee and Kentucky’s Louisville Orchestra.

But the most exciting thing to happen to him in those two years was meeting and marrying Kurashima.

The pair were introduced via social media by their mothers. The two women met in February 2016 and discovered that their children had a lot in common:

  • Both were born and raised in Tokyo, literally a couple subway stops from one another, but their paths never crossed.
  • Both went on to study in the United States. Harada earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Mercer University in Georgia before landing a spot in the inaugural James E. Rogers Institute for Orchestral and Opera Conducting at the University of Arizona. Kurashima, 33, played tennis at Temple University and, after earning a degree in sport and recreation management, played tennis professionally for six years before launching her women’s fashion line Lady Nishida based in Tokyo. She also was an assistant tennis coach at Harvard for the 2009-10 season.
  • Neither had ever dated a Japanese person nor thought they ever would, Harada said.

But once they connected through Instagram on Feb. 14, a day after their mothers met, they began a whirlwind two-week romance of messaging back and forth, video-chatting for hours and finally an invitation from Harada: Come meet me in person in Ohio. He bought two plane tickets to Tampa, Florida, where Kurashima had a house. If they didn’t click in person , she could escape. If they liked each other, they would fly to Florida together.

They both boarded that Florida plane, and “I literally think it was less than 24 hours since we physically met that we decided that we should get married,” Harada said.

The pair married on Sept. 19, 2017, in an lavish Japanese wedding .

“Yuri is the reason why I strive to do better. She is the reason why I want to be a better human being,” Harada said. “I feel more grounded.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch