Symphony picks new conductor

Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Shizuo Kuwahara said the talent in the Augusta Symphony brought him here.

The Augusta Symphony has a new conductor. His friends call him Z.

Shizuo Kuwahara is set to be named today as the third conductor in the organization's history. He succeeds Donald Portnoy, who is retiring at the end of the performance season. The symphony was founded in 1954 by the late Harry Jacobs.

Mr. Kuwahara was one of four finalists brought to Augusta to program and conduct a concert. Sandra Self, the executive director of the symphony, said he had already forwarded a season proposal for next year.

"I met with the orchestra, and I just felt like I knew exactly the sounds that this group could make," he said.

Born in Tokyo, Mr. Kuwahara studied conducting at Yale University and was artistic director and principal conductor with the IPPO Philharmoniker in Tokyo.

He is a frequent competitor in international conducting contests and won first place at the Solti Competition in November. He also received honorable mentions at the Tokyo International Music Competition for Conducting, the Prokofiev International Conducting Competition and the Fitelberg International Competition.

Ms. Self said Mr. Kuwahara's approach to programming and relationships with both musicians and the community made him an attractive prospect. Mr. Kuwahara said the opportunity to work with an ensemble of the symphony's caliber motivated him to accept.

"The talent is what attracted me," he said. "The talent in this orchestra is incredible. I felt what it was looking for was some direction and that was something I could do."

Mr. Kuwahara said he sees Augusta as being poised to make great strides.

"That's one of the things I'm looking forward to, being a part of what Augusta will become," he said. "I love the idea of looking toward the future, looking toward what this community can be. I truly believe Augusta can be one of the best places to live culturally and I want to be a part of that."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.