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The Loudoun Symphony Orchestra: Making Meaningful Connections Through Music and the Arts

The Loudoun Symphony Orchestra: Making Meaningful Connections Through Music and the Arts

Written by Laticia HeadingsFeatured photo by Michael Geissinger

At the center of Maestro Kim Allen Kluge’s musical endeavors is a long-held principle that encompasses everything he does. “I have a motto that I reflect on every morning, which is a belief in the power of music to inspire, transcend, unite communities, and make the world a better place,” says the new music director of Loudoun Symphony Orchestra (LSO). 

LSO has been performing world-class music since 1990 and includes a 215-member Loudoun Youth Orchestra. Kluge joined in 2023. “The quality of the musicianship is incredibly high, yet the Symphony still retains its roots as a community orchestra,” Matt Banner, president of the Loudoun Symphony Association, shares. 

On June 1, 2024, Kluge’s latest vision, “One Planet, One Community,” will come together in a collaborative performing and visual arts spectacle at the illustrious Ion Ice Arena in Leesburg. The event has been a year in the making with the aim of highlighting the importance of taking care of each other and the planet and as  “a way to unleash the creative energies of Loudoun County and then to showcase them in this spectacular public way,” Kluge says.

Select artists from Loudoun County will be featured during this fanfare performance. “It’s a big production,” Kluge explains. “Imagine your neighbor’s art, your nephew’s photography, your coworker’s poem, somehow all being fused together in a film that will be projected on a big screen, accompanied by the entire orchestra playing music while medal-winning ice dancers skate on the ice.”

“Maestro Kluge came up with the vision of engaging with artists of all ages across the county,” Banner says. “He’s taking it to the next level by adding the art portion to the performance … and creating a diverse repertoire with major symphonic works and film music.”

It may seem challenging to visualize, but Kluge is well acquainted with leveraging music and the arts to build a community bridge. “Growing up in small-town, Middle America, where there wasn’t a lot of ethnic or racial diversity, made me appreciate from a very early age the power of music to bring people together,” Kluge notes. He continues, “I wasn’t just called to be a musician; I was called to bring people together.”

As a child, Kluge was completely captivated by music — listening, learning, writing it, and cultivating his own mastery of its lyrical language. Known as a child prodigy in his hometown of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Kluge perfected playing the piano and violin by the age of 7, and by middle school was recruited to be the organist for his church. “I gained experience at a very early age and witnessed how music can heal and uplift people,” he says. 

An important influence in Kluge’s life was his first piano teacher, who referred to the young musician as “Mozart incarnate,” Kluge recalls. “Christian Flagge smothered me with praise and affection. He believed in me so strongly and so passionately. It’s made me appreciate how important it is to mentor young people, because I had such an amazing mentor.”

Though both of his parents had a creative side, the Korean-American family didn’t inherently come from musical roots. “My mother had the most incredible voice but wasn’t professionally trained. She was naturally gifted. And my father was just passionate about music.” 

Kluge’s five siblings were voracious readers and all pursued literary careers. Kluge diverged and begged his parents to take piano lessons. “I devoured music from an early age. That’s what resonated with me and fed my soul,” he says.

The fourth child, Kluge was the first in his family to take lessons of any sort. From that point on, he never doubted that music would be his future vocation, saying, “Once I put my fingers on the piano, it never entered my mind that I would do anything else but create music.”

Throughout high school and college, his musical path took him down many roads and allowed him to refine his talent on every level — composing, conducting, and playing. He was the valedictorian of his class at Oberlin Conservatory, the first music conservatory in the country, where he received the distinguished Arthur Dann Award for Outstanding Pianist. He also served as concertmaster of the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra. 

His studies in piano and conducting took him to Tanglewood Music Center in Boston, the renowned home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops, where he spent three summers studying with famed conductors Seiji Ozawa, Roger Norrington, and Sir Simon Rattle. In Italy, he earned a conducting diploma from the Academia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, where he studied with legendary conductor Valery Gergiev.

In 1990, while still a student, Kluge was selected from over 500 national and international applications to be the conductor for the Alexandria Symphony. “I think they sensed in me this kind of fire to use music to elevate the community.”

Kluge spearheaded a revival within the organization, elevating ticket sales from hundreds to several thousand for a single concert by his second year. “I was exploding with positive energy, as this kid who from an early age believed in the power of music to transform not just individuals, but communities, and by extension the world,” Kluge explains.

Kluge maintains that with all the praise and well-deserved accolades he’s been given, it was his wife, Kathryn, who made the biggest impact on his career. “The most important musical landmark for me was meeting Kathryn,” he says. “I’ve worked closely with many of the most legendary musicians of our time, and Kathryn, hands down, is the most naturally gifted musician I’ve ever encountered.”

The couple, who have been married for 17 years, have a daughter, Lily, a 10-year-old budding musician. Music is a constant in the house, especially in their home-based studio where the Kluges compose for people all over the world. 

In 2015, Martin Scorsese hired the couple as music consultants for his film, “Silence,” eventually deciding they should be the composers for the film score. “That experience improved our game and opened a lot of doors,” Kluge says.

Matt Banner. Photo by Michael Butcher.

That passion is exactly what the Loudoun Symphony saw in Kluge. “We were looking for a strong collaborator who wanted to raise awareness of the orchestra and increase the audience, and Kim has extensive experience in building communities with music,” Banner adds. 

When the virtuoso was offered the job of maestro with the LSO, Kluge knew he was “walking into an organization where there was a blank canvas exploding with potential.” He adds, “I was really attracted to Loudoun because it’s such a dynamic, diverse, and vast county.”

Kluge has sought opportunities to build collaborations in the area, including conducting the LSO at the 2023 Middleburg Film Festival for a special music concert where Grammy-winning composer Michael Giachinno was honored. 

“Both Kathryn and I share a special love for Middleburg,” Kluge says. “I’ve made it my mission to reach out and embrace Middleburg and all parts of Loudoun County as full partners in this journey, using music and the arts to unite and elevate all of us.”

The Loudoun Symphony has a bright future ahead and looks forward to the day that Loudoun County has its own performing arts center. Banner adds, “We’re entertaining twice as many audience members as last year. Community support for the orchestra is growing, and that’s incredibly exciting.” ML

Published in the April 2024 issue of Middleburg Life.

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