Don’t tell anybody over at the Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s front office that any part of their operation has gone the way of the dinosaurs. But wouldn’t your outfit be leaner (and a lot meaner) if the price of staying in business was a 25 percent, across-the-board pay cut? At least most of their musicians (and staff) still have jobs. And the money’s not there to hire very many of the usual extras, either — considerably narrowing their range of musical options.
“You won’t hear any Mahler symphonies from us this season, or any other music that demands lots of extra players,” says Musical Director David Stahl, who must plan this season’s repertoire to fit a core orchestra of well under 50 musicians.
Or as Interim Executive Director Kathleen Wilson, long-standing CSO harpist, says, “We’re not out of the woods, but neither are we at death’s door.”
To keep the music playing, the CSO has had to streamline their operation. Esteemed former associate conductor Scott Terrell has moved on to head his own orchestra, and he won’t be replaced. In Terrell’s stead, we’ll be hearing a total of 10 accomplished guest conductors, many of whom have performed here before or have links to Charleston. We’re talking artists like Mikhail Agrest, whose dad Alex plays in the CSO’s viola section. As a protégé of Valery Gergiev, Russia’s greatest maestro, Mikhail’s international star is rising, and fast.
Other adjustments include a moratorium on importing big-name (and big-fee) soloists in favor of showcasing local artists. The CSO boasts a long list of gifted musicians, who are capable of delivering the solo goods within a gnat’s whisker as well as any superstar. Among others, we’ll hear trumpet wonder Karin Bliznik, clarinet-meister Charles Messersmith … and just wait ’til you hear Enrique Graf’s top College of Charleston piano protégé Sean Kennard.
Even in such hard times, the CSO is actually expanding the overall number and range of its concert offerings. And performing more is exactly what the players want. We’ll get the usual three main concert series: Masterworks (at the Gaillard), Backstage Pass, and Charleston Pops (both at Memminger Auditorium). On top of those, there are two brand-new series, each designed to penetrate new corners of the market and reach new audiences. The Stained Glass series will take place at the Citadel’s Summerall Chapel, and Yuriy Bekker and Friends — a family-oriented, musician-led series — will be offered in both Mt. Pleasant and Summerville. And all this is on top of the usual holiday and special event concerts.