The debut of Z

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Shizuo Z Kuwahara, the new conductor and music director for Symphony Orchestra Augusta, is ready to do what he was brought to Augusta to do: conduct a symphony orchestra.

Mr. Kuwahara -- known as Z -- will make his debut Saturday at First Baptist Church of Augusta.

He was selected from more than 150 applicants, four of whom were brought to Augusta to program and conduct an audition concert with the symphony last season. Mr. Kuwahara's concert took place in January.

"A lot has happened since January," the maestro said. "There have been a lot of changes, and that's a message we are ready to send out. There's a real sense of momentum and morale."

In addition to rebranding the former Augusta Symphony as Symphony Orchestra Augusta, Mr. Kuwahara has focused on putting together a season that expands the repertoire and raises audience expectations.

"We need to show the variety of music this orchestra can produce," Mr. Kuwahara said. "So we are doing a lot of things, a lot of very different things, this season. We are doing a baroque program. We are doing Mahler. We are doing Beethoven."

He was concerned about the statement he would make with the first selection at the first concert.

He chose Sound the Bells, written by American composer John Williams as a tribute to Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito on the occasion of his marriage to Masako Owada.

It was inspired by Japanese temple bells, but not in an overt way.

Mr. Kuwahara said he loved the idea of a piece that addressed both sides of his culture, the Japanese and the American.

"I thought this was perfect," he said. "It is inspired by Japan, but is very much American music. When John Williams wrote this, he felt it was important to make this an American tribute."

Mr. Kuwahara said programming for the orchestra should mirror the relationship between it and the community. The relationship is built on cooperation, interaction and, most of all, trust.

"It's a balance," he said. "You have to earn that trust. So I must promise to present only pieces I believe in, to be honest.

"I believe that if you are sincere, people will always respond."

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

CLASSIC EVENING

WHAT: Sound the Bells: A New Era!

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: First Baptist Church of Augusta, 3500 Walton Way Extension

COST: $25-$45; www.augustasymphony.org

LIVE BLOG: The Augusta Chronicle's arts and entertainment writer, Steven Uhles, will blog live from the Sound the Bells concert on Saturday night. See Pop Rocks at blogs.augusta.com.

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