“Columbia is like a cello,” muses Morihiko Nakahara with a smile. “The cello is like the heart of the orchestra. It provides an important rhythmic and harmonic foundation, but when it needs to take the spotlight, it can do that too.” If anyone knows how to compare Columbia to an instrument, it would be Morihiko.
When Morihiko was interviewing for the music director and conductor position at the South Carolina Philharmonic in 2007, a few things about Columbia captured his attention immediately: deep Southern accents, unforgettable cuisine, and unmatched hospitality.
“I didn’t know anything about South Carolina,” admits Morihiko. But when he reflects on his first visit, he recalls the chemistry and connection that occurred between him and the orchestra. “Everything felt natural,” says Morihiko. “There was this incredible sense of openness — such a welcoming quality from the orchestra. I had no idea what Southern hospitality meant until that visit.” And if the warm welcome wasn’t enough, the fried green tomatoes from Blue Marlin really sealed the deal.
Morihiko, who has served with the
South Carolina Philharmonic for the
past 15 years, is deeply saturated in Southern culture. His contributions to the music and arts community, along with his extensive experience in Columbia, have led to an ambassadorship with Experience Columbia. He is a trusted authority on the best ways to explore this vibrant Southern city. “I’ve seen the growth, evolution, and metamorphosis of Columbia,” says Morihiko. “Over the past several years, this city has really embraced its unique quality.”
Naturally, Morihiko’s first recom-mendation is to experience a concert by the South Carolina Philharmonic. Take in the full orchestra at the Koger Center for the Arts or enjoy a Concert in the Gardens with a chamber ensemble. You may even find Morihiko and a small band of musicians at a local bar or brewery on occasion. Performing at outdoor venues was born out of necessity in 2020 and has since become a favorite affair for many locals.
Morihiko even lauds Columbia’s growing jazz scene. He recommends settling into an intimate venue like Lula Drake Wine Parlour on Main Street to enjoy the syncopated rhythms and improvised entertainment. Jazz events are also held at the Koger Center, Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College, the Columbia Museum of Art, and the S.C. State Museum. Downtown Columbia offers jazz regularly at Hall’s Chophouse in addition to music spots like The Joint and The Aristocrat.
After hours, Morihiko recommends enjoying a craft cocktail at Hendrix or Bourbon on Main Street. But when he entertains guests from out of town, visiting Inakaya Japanese Restaurant in Oneil Court is always in order. Inakaya has earned high praise from this native of Japan because of its extensive sushi and sashimi selection. “I take guests from all around the world, and they always enjoy that experience so much,” says Morihiko.
A walk down Main Street brings a symphony of memories to Morihiko’s mind. From his first apartment in The Barringer Building to evenings spent at the late and beloved bar, The Whig, Morihiko’s fondness for Columbia has only grown over time. “It gives me such joy to look back on all my wonderful memories here. It’s so exciting to see what’s happening and what’s going to come in the future.”
Discover more ways to experience Columbia at ExperienceColumbiaSC.com, @columbiasc on Instagram and Twitter, @columbia.sc on TikTok, and Experience Columbia SC on Facebook.