Meet the RSO’s new music director

The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra (RSO) has named Yuga Cohler as its new music director.

Cohler majored in computer science at Harvard, and simultaneously studied conducting. He next attended Juilliard for graduate school, where he studied under New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert.

For the past three years, Cohler has served as music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Chamber Orchestra in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most prominent pre-professional orchestras. Last year, he took the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra on a seven-concert tour that concluded in Carnegie Hall.

At the RSO, Cohler’s hoping to apply the knowledge and skills he has picked up leading these great ensembles through his programming and concertizing.

Keith Loria spoke with Cohler about his impending debut at the May 5 concert at Anne S. Richardson Auditorium at Ridgefield High School.

Keith Loria: Why were you interested in becoming the new music director of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra?

Yuga Cohler: As a young conductor, it’s always good to be on the lookout for opportunities to lead orchestras. Having grown up in Lexington, Mass. — another New England suburb, similar to Ridgefield — I was excited by the prospect of taking the helm of the RSO. I felt that my familiarity with communities like Ridgefield would make the position a great fit.

KL: Why do you feel this is a good position for you at this point in your career?

YC: I’m very lucky to be able to lead such a talented group this early in my career. I think many conductors my age tend to gravitate toward assistant positions with larger orchestras; I’ve always been more interested in rolling up my sleeves and getting experience in the field as soon as I can, and the wonderful musicians of the RSO are very kind to enable me to do so.

I’m also interested in innovating the very notion of a symphony orchestra — what purpose it serves in society, how it can function within a community. I think the progressive outlook of Ridgefield makes it an ideal setting in which to experiment with some of the ideas I have.

KL: What are your plans for your first season?

YC: My first season with the RSO is titled “Mirrors” for three reasons: The season as a whole has a symmetrical structure. The first and last concerts are composed of similar types of pieces; ditto the second and third. Two, I believe strongly that an orchestra should reflect the relevant strands of the community it serves, and this season aims to do so. Three, there’s a post-modern vibe to the entire season. In my mind, it mirrors a certain feeling rather than being a feeling itself.

KL: What are you most excited about?

YC: I’m very excited for my first Rite of Spring, which is the last piece of the season. I’m equally thrilled to be collaborating with two soloists who are amongst the most amazing of my generation — Tessa Lark and Jay Campbell.

KL: What makes the RSO special?

YC: Someone told me that Ridgefield is the smallest town in America with a fully professional orchestra. That, to me, indicates the high value that the town places on cultural production, and fills me with pride. I take the responsibility of being a steward of that cultural production very seriously, and hope to cultivate an atmosphere of refined musical appreciation with the group.

KL: Can you preview what we can expect at your first concert?

YC: My first concert includes Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, Prokofiev’s G Minor Violin Concerto, and Franck’s D Minor Symphony. Although the concert was programmed by Courtenay Cauble, there are some interesting connections I have with these pieces. I’m actually an oboist, and I have vivid memories of practicing the famous solo from the first movement of Tombeau as a teen. Also, the Franck was the first symphony I ever performed as an oboist, and holds a special place in my heart. I’m looking forward to revisiting those pieces, as well as performing the Prokofiev with our wonderful concertmaster, Jorge Avila.

KL:  Anything else you want people to know about you and your plans?

YC: I’m honored to be music director of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra. I’m looking forward to exploring with the group all the things an orchestra can be in modern-day America.