Strings: Yuga Cohler on Forging a Career as a Conductor in Classical Music

Whitney Phaneuf

Yuga Cohler is on a mission to disrupt the classical-music establishment. And he already has its attention. The 28-year-old conductor, who debuts as the music director at Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra (RSO) on May 5, gained international prominence last year with his project Yeethoven, an orchestral concert comparing the works of Beethoven and Kanye West that culminated in a sold-out show at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in January.

Cohler recognizes that his new post at RSO will require a different approach than his recent success with Yeethoven, which played in Los Angeles and New York, but he’s not deterred from taking risks altogether.

“Becoming a professional music director is a milestone in the path of a conductor. But I am interested in how to incrementally push the consciousness, to push the public relevance of the orchestra and classical music as an institution within a vibrant community,” Cohler says, by phone from his home in Boston. “To make the value and the worth of classical music relevant and abundantly clear to the community you’re serving, and to allow people to enrich themselves through classical music—not in a forceful way, not a neocolonialist way, but like, ‘Hey, you like this? Maybe you’ll like this, too’—is the conductor’s number one job, at least now in America, and that is what I’m looking forward to doing there.”

Read more from Yuga's interview here.