Charleston Symphony Orchestra ushers in new era of harmony

Yuriy Bekker (Courtesy: John Zillioux)

By Jon

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Like a crescendo during Beethoven's 5th Symphony, a powerful movement is emanating from the Gaillard Auditorium -- a movement filled with both classic sound and renewed vitality.

The Charleston Symphony Orchestra is making a raucous of a resurgence, one loud enough get people to start listening.

Coming off its highest grossing concert in its 76-year history; featuring a 326-year-old Stradivarius violin, the CSO is continuing to capitalize on its positive momentum of the season.

"I felt that our entire community had joined the CSO family, making it a day to remember," CSO Concertmaster and Artistic Advisor Yuriy Bekker said. "I was so touched that our community came out to hear that concert."

But that community support and playing to packed houses hasn't always been the case for the collection of 24 full-time musicians, 100+ regular per-service musicians and the administrative staff of 10. {}

Just two years ago, the symphony was forced to cancel its finale and suspend operations, citing a significant drop in fundraising dollars and the effects of the great recession.

"The CSO's troubles were caused by past management practices which did not adequately invest in professional administrative functions to support the artistic product which created an imbalance in the number of salaried musicians to the size of our budget in which we were operating," CSO Executive Director Daniel Beckley said.

The hardships continued in November of 2010, when after 25 years as the CSO's music director, David Stahl died of lymphoma.

The Charleston Symphony Orchestra brass were forced to downsize and restructure to save money.

Many of the musicians, including Bekker, were worried their next season wouldn't come and if it did, they would be playing to an empty house.

"To any musician, empty or half-empty halls are unfulfilling. Just imagine putting in all those hours of practicing, preparations and hard work and then when the performance happens there is an empty house," he said.

Symphony leaders and board members took immediate action. In 2010, the board and musicians were able to etch a new agreement and a professional administrative staff was put into place, bringing together new marketing strategies, fundraising efforts, leadership and perspective.

"We were spared from bankruptcy by the cooperation and leaders of the musicians and the board," Beckley said.

As a non-profit organization, the CSO depends of donation and ticket sales, both of which are seeing renewed signs of life. This season the symphony and the City of Charleston are once again making beautiful music together.

"Ticket sales have been outstanding, but donations are required to preserve and advance this great cultural jewel." Beckley said. "Even with record-breaking ticket sales, the orchestra still relies on philanthropic support to make up 70 percent of the operating budget."

But the interest in classical music and fine arts in the Holy City is making a comeback.

Opening night, this past November, featured a near capacity crowd of 2,300 people, dressed in their finest suits and gowns, captivated by the sounds of the masterworks series and world famous pianist Emanuel Ax.

At a time that performance was the highest grossing in the CSO's history, but the hard work of its musicians, the countless hours of practice, raising money, and getting the word out didn't end there.

The turnaround for the symphony continued into the New Year.

"Classical music is on the rise in Charleston. The town is bucking the trend nationally." Beckley said. "This year alone subscriptions to our primary Masterworks series are up over 50 percent! It's been an incredibly good show of support."

January's Chamber Orchestra Series concert Mozart in Prague February's From Salzburg with Love sold out the Dock Street Theatre.

February's Masterworks concert broke earnings records at the Gaillard, selling over 2,700 tickets.

But for Bekker, the man who played the violin crafted in 1686 like an angel, the night was so much more.

"Playing that violin was a dream." he said. "It had so many colors, and I really enjoyed getting them out of the violin and painting a picture for the 2,700 people in the Gaillard. I savored every moment and enjoyed every note that I got out of that violin."

Bekker believes community support is the key to preserving his life-long efforts and preserving the masterful art form of live music for future generations.

Last year, City of Charleston leaders approved a multi-million dollar renovation project seeking to turn the aging Gaillard Auditorium into a world-class entertainment destination.

The construction will force the symphony to temporarily relocate to the Sottile Theater, which Beckley says is acoustically superior to the Gaillard and will enable patrons a much closer and more intimate experience.


CSO leaders are hoping to capitalize on the resurgence and recent successes by investing in and presenting great symphonic works and new marketing initiatives, as well as services to reach out to new music fans that may not be aware or familiar with classical music.

"We need to continue programming the symphonic works that our community wants to hear." Bekker said. " People love famous masterpieces like Scheherazade{}and the Beethoven symphonies. We are working diligently so that the programming for next year and years to come is as good as and even better than this season. I feel that the future for our organization is bright."

To learn more about the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, for a list of upcoming events, and ways to purchase tickets or donate; Click on the link below.{}


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