Playing a Pivotal Role

By Greta Beigel, Image by Chris Rohrer

Since his debut with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, cellist Joshua Nakazawa has fostered a unique musical life in the islands.

Joshua Nakazawa leads a double life. Some nights, the 32-year-old wears tux and tails and sits in the cello section of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, performing works by Beethoven and Brahms, even Bruckner. Other times, clad in jeans and T-shirt, the cellist heads to the home of ‘ukulele great, Jake Shimabukuro, to experiment with the musician on snippets of jazz or blues or chamber music, all the while fine-tuning phrasing and timing and textures and sounds. Nakazawa and Shimabukuro play together periodically at Blue Note Hawaii, a jazz club in Waikīkī. On stage, Shimabukuro uses an acoustic ‘ukulele amplified by a built-in mike. Cohort Nakazawa, on the other hand, plies a colorful, electric cello.“Going down the electric realm is an endless rabbit hole, and playing with Jake is giving me an opportunity to learn everything about that realm,” the cellist says. “With every cello, acoustic or electric, you create different nuances. The main goal with the electric cello is to generate emotion.”

Four years ago, Nakazawa auditioned for the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra and won a slot. Born in Boston, he graduated in 2008 from the Manhattan School of Music, and two years later received an Artist Diploma from Southern Methodist University in Texas. Enjoying the collegiality of summer music fests, Nakazawa has participated as soloist in master classes and performed chamber music at Canada’s Banff Music Festival as well as the Pacific Music Fest in Japan, and the Spoleto Music Festival in South Carolina. Nakazawa appreciates that the orchestra commissions and plays works by local artists. “This is what brings the community together,” he says. He points to “Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds,” a collaborative project between composers, educators, artists and scientists that the orchestra first presented for students in May 2018. Another career standout for Nakazawa was performing as soloist on the soundtrack of the WW II feature film, Go for Broke: An Origin Story. The 2017 drama about Japanese American soldiers was scored by Shimabukuro.