The road to Juneau ran through Springfield, Missouri, for Christopher Koch, the newly named music director for the Juneau Symphony.
Koch, who is currently the music and executive director of Ozarks Lyric Opera, first heard about Juneau’s Symphony from Kyle Wiley Pickett.
Pickett was the symphony’s former music director. He left Juneau in 2014 to conduct the Springfield, Missouri symphony.
“Kyle and I were having coffee one day and he mentioned that Juneau was one of his favorite places on Earth and that it was full of some of his favorite people,” Koch said in a Monday afternoon phone interview. “I remembered Kyle’s words and that led me down the path.”
The path to Juneau was long and winding. The search process started almost three years ago with 50 candidates, was narrowed to three candidates shortly before COVID-19-driven lockdowns began, and ended earlier this month with Koch’s appointment.
“I’m very much looking forward to getting started,” he said. “The symphony stayed in constant contact with me and really was a poster child for how it should be done.”
In an interview last week, Charlotte Truitt, executive director for the Juneau Symphony, said she’s happy that the search is over and Koch is in place. She said she’s excited for Koch to conduct his first concert at the end of January and to start interacting with the community.
Symphony board members shared Truitt’s sentiment.
“We are so pleased with the collaborative process and believe that Dr. Koch will provide great leadership to the organization on the podium and in the community,” said Beth Pendleton, who was a co-chair of the search committee.
Back in the saddle
Koch said that he admires how Juneau’s Symphony continued small performances, including broadcast performances, while COVID-19 made it all-but-impossible to perform live shows.
But, he said he’s looking forward to being on stage with a full orchestra and a packed audience and suspects that his fellow Juneau musicians share that desire.
He said he recently returned to the stage with the Springfield Lyric Opera and found the experience emotional.
“It’s kind of like the first day of school, only you’ve never gone to school before,” he said. “I had all these conflicting emotions. It was really a milestone. Getting everyone back on stage and returning to that sense of community. That’s priority one.”
Other than getting back to live performances, Koch said he’s not planning wholesale changes to how the symphony operates. He said he will start his tenure in learning mode to understand more about the traditions and strengths that are already in place.
“The worst thing anyone can do is to start rearranging the letters before understanding the alphabet,” he said. “I’m really excited about a celebratory season with wonderful music that will engage people and make new connections with different agencies as we find ways to move forward together.”
Koch was born in California. As a kid, he lived in Alabama and went to college in New York at the prestigious Eastman School of Music, where he studied flute performance and music education.
Graduate school took him to the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music for flute and orchestral conducting degrees. He received a Doctor of Musical Arts in conducting from the University of Washington.
He’s lived and worked in Australia as part of a Rotary scholarship and worked as a University professor, most recently at Drury University in Missouri.
He currently lives in Oregon with his wife and their 16-year old daughter.
According to Truitt, Koch will continue to live in Oregon and travel to Juneau, frequently spending several weeks working with the orchestra to prepare for concerts.
When he’s not in town, he will develop future concert programs, cross-pollinating things he learns in Juneau, along with what he learns from other musical groups he supports.
“My hope is to really blossom as many potential wellsprings as I can,” Koch said.
Koch said he’s an animal lover and an outdoor enthusiast. He enjoys reading and cooking and learning about the cuisine of other cultures along with global cooking techniques. He also studies early music, specifically music created before the 1700s.
He declined to name a favorite composer or musical group. He said he listens to and enjoys a wide variety of music and is always eager to hear original voices that transcend genres.
“I’m excited when I hear a voice that is different from what one may be expecting. Many great composers have that quality. Beethoven and hip-hop artists both share that quality. I’m always looking for that spark. What’s great is you can walk by the middle school band room and hear a kid with a trumpet that has something in there. That’s exciting,” he said.