Meet Yuga Cohler, New RSO Music Director

We are happy to share our recent interview with the new music director of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra. A highly acclaimed and internationally recognized maestro, Yuga made his official debut with the RSO in May 2018. Join us in welcoming Yuga into our arts and culture community! We are excited to share what’s in the works for RSO’s new season.

How did you first hear about Ridgefield and the RSO?

I made my connection to the RSO through my involvement in a music festival that a friend runs through the Danbury Music Centre, an organization that puts on concerts and chamber music programs for students. I conducted there for three summers and my friend mentioned to me that the RSO was looking for a new music director.

What attracted you to the RSO?

There were two things that really drew me to this position. The first thing was that Ridgefield is the smallest town in the country that has a professional orchestra. I think that says a lot about the community itself and the emphasis and value that it places on arts and culture. It seemed that Ridgefield would be the ideal community to explore the ideas I have about what an orchestra can be. The second reason is the wonderful history that is behind the RSO, going back 50 years and involving so many great musicians. I wanted to be part of that!

Much of your past work has involved mixing different genres of music. Can you tell us the inspiration behind some of your work?

Genres for me have always been semi-artificial. They are very useful in marketing and in public relations and they are also good commercial tools to sell things. While there is definitely a place for that, there is a lot of evidence nowadays that genres are breaking down. There is a lot of music, coming from all different realms that you can’t really categorize as one thing or another. I think it would be an advantage to the classical musical community to recognize that and incorporate that philosophy into the work they do.

Tell us about Yeethoven?

Yeethoven is an orchestral concert that I created that compared the works of Kanye West and Beethoven. At different points in the concert, I compared them side-to-side or mashed them up into orchestral pieces. I performed Yeethoven back in April 2016 and in December 2017. And then at Lincoln Center in January 2018.

Will you be bringing Yeethoven and your talent for genre mixing to our town?

I hope so. But, for me, it is important to think about what makes sense for the community. I am still getting to know Ridgefield as well as this community’s preferences. So, whatever genre spanning or mixing that we do, it will have to organically come out of what the people want to hear and see.

What can you tell us about the RSO’s upcoming season?

For me it is vital that whatever music we play, there is a logical justification for it. I believe that every concert has to justify its own existence. If the music doesn’t need to be played, it shouldn’t be played. So, this means that there must be a narrative for each individual piece and for each individual concert. And, there must be an overall narrative for how each individual concert fits into the season as a whole.

This next season is called Mirrors for a variety of reasons. I have always been interested in the idea of orchestras and cultural institutions reflecting the general state of society. Each concert will be about something in our own culture and each concert will have its own title that describes the concept and the pieces that you will hear.

In the past, the RSO has done much in the way of community outreach. How do you plan to continue that?

The RSO has always been an active player in this community and I definitely want to continue that legacy. In the past, the RSO has had a close relationship with SPHERE. There were joint concerts with SPHERE in which members of the organization sang and did small percussion. This fall, the RSO and the Conservatory of Dance will be involved with SPHERE’s production of “Mamma Mia.” The RSO has an amazing ongoing relationship with SPHERE and we do a lot with musical education with their members.

What is your musical philosophy?

I think that music is a potentially great way to get people to think without bias. Especially wordless music. Classical musicians and orchestras are in a great position to leverage this concept. We want to start a dialogue with our audiences and the community and the RSO’s upcoming season is doing just that. We have a wonderful program of music planned and my intention with our concerts is to develop a relationship with the Ridgefield community.

When you are not busy conducting, what do you do in your free time?

Well, in addition to conducting, I also work as an engineer for Google. But, when I have a moment to myself, I like to watch basketball. I live in Cambridge, MA, so I am a big Celtics fan. Also, I really enjoy traveling. I am half Japanese and I try to travel to Japan every year.

Do you have a message you want to share with the Ridgefield community?

Certainly. I am very excited to begin contributing to Ridgefield’s tradition of cultural excellence. I am also really looking forward to collaborating with the wonderful cultural institutions in town and finding creative ways to make new things together to enrich the community.

More about Yuga

Before taking on his new role with the RSO, Yuga Cohler was the music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Chamber Orchestra. He also appeared as a guest conductor with the Julliard and New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestras as well as served as a cover conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, Yuga has been awarded fellowships to some of the most prestigious musical institutions in the country and is a graduate of Harvard University and the Julliard School.

Learn more about RSO and their upcoming concert season, visit the RSO website.

Learn more about Yuga Cohler, visit his website.


Photo Credits:

  1. Lanly Le
  2. Masataka Suemitsu
  3. Laurie Kenagy, RSO
  4. YugaCohler.com
  5. YugaCohler.com