Keitaro Harada: Impulsive Japanese Musician Earns Fame

Sept. 7, 2011

At age 25, Keitaro Harada has already studied with master maestros of the world and conducted their orchestras. This summer it was Von Dohnanyi at Tanglewood Music Festival. Last summer it was Lorin Maazel at the inaugural Castleton Festival. His website lists 11 other “main mentors.”

He has won or placed in conducting competitions in Russia, the United States and Mexico and regularly studies at esteemed music festivals. Now he’s a fellow in conducting at the James E. Rogers Institute for Orchestral and Opera Conducting at the University of Arizona, which includes the opportunities to conduct the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and the Arizona Opera.

His music career began suddenly. He was in the seventh grade at an all-boys school in his native Japan. The bold graphics on a CD caught his eye. He chose the album for its cover. Then he listened to the recording of Japan’s best-known classical saxophonist Nobuya Sugawa. From the first track, Harada had goose bumps. He knew right then he had to play the sax. He taught himself by listening to CDs, including those with play-along tracks.

As a high school junior, he moved to America to study at Interlochen, the formidable arts academy in Michigan. He passed the audition by buying recordings of the required repertoire and learning to play it by ear. He didn’t even know how to read music.

He learned. And he spent countless hours morphing his homespun technique into the high standards of classically trained musicians. As a senior, Harada was invited to perform on NPR’s classical music program “From the Top” with piano virtuoso Christopher O’Riley. Harada played the sax wearing a traditional Japanese kimono.

A second musical epiphany changed the course of his career. When Harada’ stepped onto the podium, after winning a competition to conduct the Interlochen orchestra, he once again knew what he wanted to do with his life.

“It was a life-changing moment. I can’t describe the sensation I felt,” he told O’Riley this May when he was again a guest on NPR’s “From the Top.”

Now Harada had two passions. He continued his saxophone studies in college but spent school breaks studying conducting – at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, where he’s conducted the Moscow Symphony Orchestra several times.

In Russia, he met Adrian Gnam, music director of the Macon Symphony Orchestra in Georgia. He invited Harada to study with him and serve as assistant conductor, his first professional appointment. While in Macon, Harada founded and conducted the Mercer/Macon Symphony Youth Orchestra.

After three years, he had the opportunity to study at the UA. He was one of the first two fellows selected for the Rogers Institute, which includes the opportunity to conduct UA music and theatre presentations as well as Tucson’s professional symphony and opera. He’s in his final year of a three-year fellowship that provides tuition, health-insurance expenses and a modest school-year salary. The institute is funded with a generous pledge from Rogers, who also endowed the UA law school.

This young musical phenomenon is featured in the textbook “Music! It’s Role and Importance in Our Lives,” which includes a recording of him on the sax. He’s traveled extensively to develop his conducting skills – a blend of Russian and American techniques. His career path racks up frequent flier miles –from Japan to the United States, back and forth to Russia, around the U.S. and into Canada and Mexico.

He’s learning and conducting increasing complex works – most recently the uber-challenging opera “Ariadne auf Naxos” at Tanglewood under Dohnanyi’s tutelage.

To learn more about the UA Rogers Institute visit:

To learn more about Keitara Harada, visit his website at: