The sound of music

By Melissa Quinn

For Kim Allen Kluge, a life working in music wasn’t just a dream — it was his destiny.

As a child, the classically trained conductor played four instruments — piano, violin, French horn and organ — and, at a young age, realized music called to him from within.

Kluge, the critically acclaimed conductor of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, rings in his 25th year with the musical company this season. It’s a career marked by immense success: he’s written music for superstar musicians and Hollywood producers. And it’s a career that’s seen his early dreams fulfilled.

Born and raised in Madison, Wis., music was a way of life for Kluge and his five siblings. Each became familiar with treble clefs and B flats at an early age, and Kluge’s passion and skill led him to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, where he was valedictorian.

“I always felt fortunate that I have had a life, a full life in music,” he said.

He went on to pursue doctorate degrees in piano and conducting from the University of Maryland, ultimately receiving a conducting degree from the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy — an achievement Kluge holds near and dear to his heart.

“That’s probably where the most meaningful experience is,” he said.

Kluge began working for the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra as a 28-year-old and has played a substantial role in the musical group’s evolution with each piece he writes and conducts, according to former school board member Arthur Peabody.

“The orchestra is just magnificent, and over many years, [Kluge] has shown a strong commitment to constantly improving [it],” said Peabody, a longtime ASO supporter.

Kluge’s musicians agree. It goes beyond his talent, said percussionist Al Merz, a 20-year veteran of the orchestra.

“His musical talent … is amazing, [and] he is a very strong kind of musical person,” Merz said. “Virtually everybody who plays with him really enjoys it because of his enthusiasm.”

And Kluge’s work extends beyond the Port City. Through his work in the Washington, D.C., area, Kluge helped forge relationships with the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, and other prominent centers of culture and art in the region.

“We’re privileged to work in this rich, cultural community where I have been able to work and do what I feel,” he said. “I don’t have to go to Hollywood for that.”

Still, along with his East Coast duties, Kluge has seen success on the West Coast, writing music with his wife, Katherine, and Hollywood producer Barnet Bain.

“My inspiration comes from working with other people and collaborating,” Kluge said. “When standing at the podium, the inspiration comes from musicians. It becomes the most amazing and glorious instance the world has even known.”

Though the conductor’s music spans the globe, Kluge made it a priority to work with Alexandria schools, creating a mentoring program that brings together ASO and young musicians with a multi-arts curriculum.

“He is strongly committed to community outreach,” Peabody said. “He always ensured that musicians in our public schools had opportunities with the orchestra.”

In his next 20 years, Kluge hopes to emulate an initiative popularized by the conductor of the Los Angeles Orchestra, in which children from all socioeconomic backgrounds learn to play an instrument.

“All kids can make music and learn an instrument,” he said. “Life is all about mentoring, whether you’re an older sibling or grandparent or conductor or musician.”

While Kluge’s career continues to thrive, he recognizes the challenges a lifetime in the arts creates for others. He has watched as dollars for the arts have fallen away, even as the need remains the same.

“This is a great challenge and paradox,” he said. “We need arts more than ever, and a lot of the arts are dying.”

But Kluge and his wife have been fortunate, continuing to see success despite a difficult economic climate. He doesn’t have to look any further than the local newspaper stand to read the accolades.

“In its power, Kluge’s performance bore the hallmarks of the work of such mesmerizing conductors as Arthur Nikisch and … Leonard Bernstein,” the Alexandria Journal praised.

“… Kluge has fashioned an ensemble with tremendous musical responsiveness, and every instrumental group … bears the mark of his intelligence and drive,” the Washington Post hailed.

Intelligence and drive have been significant attributions to Kluge’s success. As he creates melodies and compositions, the conductor seeks to find notes that resonate.

“When I write music, it has to somehow achieve — it has to resonate with my core convictions,” he said. “ I want it to be about connecting with people.”

And Kluge hopes to continue creating music that resonates with audiences far and wide, starting in Alexandria.

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