John Koen is Acting Assistant Principal Cello cello of The Philadelphia Orchestra. He performs regularly as a soloist, in chamber music and recitals in the Philadelphia area as well as around the world. He teaches both privately and has taught at Temple University, Swarthmore College and given master classes at many other schools and conservatories.
I became a member in 1990, hired by maestro Riccardo Muti. I won the audition for Acting Assistant Principal Cello in October 2011 and have breen renewed by music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin for an additional year, through 2013. I performed the Schumann piano quintet in the opening week festival with Maestro Sawallisch, and Messiaen’s Quatuor pour le fin du temps with maestro Christoph Eschenbach.
I’m very involved in running the orchestra, often as chair of the Members’ Committee. As a matter of fact, we were negotiating the day before I took the audition for assistant principal — I spent most of that day in US District Court for the 3rd circuit, with my cello in an attorney conference room during the down-time.
I was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1966. However, I grew up mostly in El Paso, Texas, where I also was introduced to classical music. I began playing cello in public school at age 10. After moving back to Dallas, I attended the Arts Magnet High School at Booker T. Washington in downtown Dallas. My private teacher, Michael Coren, deserves the credit for preparing me to study in a conservatory and taught me the most important thing — how to practice.
After a year at the New School of Music in Philadelphia at the invitation of long-time Curtis cello professor Orlando Cole, I attended The Curtis Institute of Music, studying there with David Soyer, deceased founding cellist of the Guarneri Quartet. Also very important during my Curtis years were Felix Galimir, chamber music coach, with whom I spent more hours than with Mr. Soyer, Karen Tuttle, also for chamber music, who began the processing of freeing up my expressivity as a musician, and Peter Wiley, the second (and final) cellist of the Guarneri, who himself had studied with Soyer in the Seventies.