An Interview with Andrew Koehler, the Music Director of Kalamazoo’s Philharmonia Orchestra

By Viola Brown, Staff Writer

After leading the Kalamazoo Philharmonia for seven years, Andrew Koehler reflects on his experiences dealing with the orchestra, the new season and the upcoming performance “Regeneration”. The Kalamazoo Philharmonia is one of the six college ensembles and mainly specializing in classical music. They hold three concerts a season, one each quarter.

Index: Why is the concert called “Regeneration”? What are the names of the composers whose works will be performed?

Andrew Koehler: Strauss [Richard] and Mahler [Gustav] were contemporaries who went in different directions. Mahler died young while Strauss lived past the Second World War and saw the change in music. The Strauss songs were composed before he died and show a maturity towards death. Mahler songs were composed early in his career and show him coming to terms with death in a youthful, triumphant way.

Index: When did you first become interested in classical music, the type of music the orchestra plays?

A.K: I started playing the violin at the age of five and I wasn’t given a choice about starting. My mother thought that this would be a good way to impart discipline to me. Things really turned around for me in high school, when I started playing in the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra.

Index: How does it feel to lead the Kalamazoo Philharmonia? What emotions come to mind?         

A.K: So many emotions, I can feel frustrated sometimes, possibly with players in the orchestra or with myself.  I can feel exhilarated, which is the exact opposite of that moment when something gets solved or when something starts to sound the way you hope.

Index: What is your relationship with the people in the orchestra?

A.K: I think the relationship with the conductor and the orchestra can be a fraught one sometimes. In many cases when you have good musicians in front of you, you’ve got a lot of people who might have different ideas about the music and how they might want to hear it, how they might want to perform it. The conductor’s job effectively is to unify those ideas.
Index: How do pieces get chosen for the Philharmonia?

A.K: This is kind of a 2 part process. I often already have things in mind that I want to do, that I think are appropriate next steps for the orchestra cause you know we are steadily each season after the last trying to grow to do more ambitious repertoire. Things that I love are another big part. Also I always ask for suggestions from orchestra members. Then I kind of take all those things into account and hen look at 3 concerts we typically play in a season and usually in each one of them we try and start with one major work that has got me really me excited.

Index: How have you grown as a musician leading the Philharmonia?

A.K: There is no effective end to your learning. One of things I’m most grateful for is that that this group of musicians who allow me to experiment with them. I learn every time I go on the podium and learn something more about how I give or how the orchestra reacts to something in the music.

             This is the first of a series of interviews with the K Philharmonia members and faculty. Their performance “Regeneration” is on November 16th at 8pm in the Dalton Theatre.