The Utah Symphony lost one of its oldest members last weekend when Kenneth Kuchler passed away just a month shy of his 86th birthday.
A member of the first violin section, Mr. Kuchler died Feb. 23 of congestive heart failure. He joined the symphony in 1942, five years before Maurice Abravanel became music director. He left a year later to join the Army. After his discharge from the service in 1947, Mr. Kuchler returned to Salt Lake City and rejoined the symphony. He played with the orchestra until a few weeks before his death.
"To my knowledge, he was the longest-tenured musician in the Utah Symphony," said colleague Erich Graf. "And he probably held one of the longest tenures in the nation."
Graf, who is the symphony's principal flute as well as the president of Local 104 of the American Federation of Musicians, was a close friend of Mr. Kuchler. Frequently, Graf turned to the older musician for advice. "He was always very encouraging. When I agonized over whether or not to accept the position of union president, I called up Kenny to get his advice. I only managed to say 'Hi' when he interrupted and said, 'Do it!' He had an uncanny sense of intuition."
Mr. Kuchler was fiercely loyal to his friends and to the Utah Symphony, Graf said. Back when Mr. Kuchler rejoined the symphony in 1946, the situation was a lot different for American orchestras than it is today. "In those days, the WPA was just getting started, and the arts organizations were just getting through some hard times." Times were lean for the Utah Symphony as well. Not long after Abravanel took over the helm, there wasn't any money to pay the musicians, many of whom left to go elsewhere. "But not Kenny," Graf said. "Even though the musicians couldn't be paid for a while, Kenny stayed. He was a real stalwart and extremely loyal."
The Ogden native was passionate about music. "It was his life, from a young age." When he was about 6, Mr. Kuchler began showing an interest in music. His mother bought him a piano, and he started taking lessons. He studied at Weber State College and the University of Utah before going to the University of California at Berkeley to pursue a graduate degree. There he studied with Toscha Seidel, who was a student of the legendary Leopold Auer.
A love for music remained with Mr. Kuchler his entire life, and not just classical music. He played both violin and tenor saxophone in the KSL Radio Orchestra, and he was interested in ethnic music. "When he died, he was working on transcribing and preparing a book on Shoshone music," Graf said.
Mr. Kuchler was also a conductor and served as the chairman of the department of music at Westminster College. When Westminster disbanded its music department for a short while in the 1980s, Kuchler took his orchestra with him, renamed it the Wasatch Community Orchestra, and continued conducting it until his illness curtailed his activities. "He had such intense concentration and focus when it came to music," Graf said. "Nothing came in the way between him and his music."
Mr. Kuchler had a reputation for being gruff. "He had a gruff exterior, but sometimes when we would listen to music together when we were on the bus to some concert, he would turn to me and say, 'That's beautiful.' I thought that was out of character for him, but he was really quite passionate.
"He lived his life exactly the way he wanted," Graf said. "And I'm better for everything he did."A lifelong bachelor, Mr. Kuchler leaves behind his brother Ralph and sister-in-law Charlene, a niece and a nephew. Funeral services will be held Friday at 2 p.m. in the Larkin Mortuary Chapel, 260 E. South Temple.