The College of Charleston music department had a rough year in 2013. Last spring, Enrique Graf, artist-in-residence and founder of the college’s acclaimed International Piano Series (IPS), became embroiled in a sexual misconduct investigation that resulted in his resignation, placing the IPS in temporary limbo. Dr. Edward Hart, the music department’s chair, along with IPS program director Evie Christou and piano professor Robin Zemp, stepped in to helm the series for its 2013-14 season and ended up scheduling one of the best seasons the series has had in years.
And it seems that was a sign of things to come. Under Hart’s leadership — this is his second year as chair — the music department has taken a decidedly positive turn, streamlining its concert offerings and continuing to offer strong, solid programming that’s as heavy on performance as it is on education.
One of the school’s most unique program offerings is Magnetic South, a contemporary classical concert series created in partnership with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO). In a progressive turn, the S.C. Arts Commission recently awarded the college with a one-time grant to support Magnetic South. Often, contemporary composers are overlooked in favor of the canonical greats.
“There’s an interest in the greater world in this thing [contemporary composition] now,” Hart says. “This is something you’d find in a big city, a partnership like this, not a town our size.”
It’s impressive enough that the Holy City can support Magnetic South, in addition to the college’s other concert offerings. “I think it’s fair to say that Charleston is blossoming right now across the board, and the music scene right along with it,” Hart says. “Charleston is on the map as a cultural destination. I’m thrilled to be riding this wave — it’s an exciting time to be music chair.”
The second and final concert of this season is on March 21 and will showcase three new, commissioned works by contemporary composers Ayala Asherov, Jon Schwabe, and Andrew McKenna Lee. All three have ties to South Carolina. Israeli-native Asherov teaches songwriting at CofC, Schwabe received his Ph.D. in musical arts from the University of South Carolina, and McKenna Lee is a Charleston native who happens to be friends with Shepard Fairey. Hart won’t hear their works, all of which will be performed by the CSO’s chamber orchestra, until rehearsals begin.
The department also recently hired Israeli pianist and Juilliard graduate Ran Dank. Dank studied with the Grammy Award-winning classical pianist Emanuel Ax and will head the IPS — in fact, he’ll open the 2014-15 season — as well as focus on enlarging CofC’s piano program. He’s won multiple national prizes and competitions and performed with orchestras including the Orquesta de Valencia in Spain and at the Chopin Festival in Warsaw, Poland. Hart believes Dank will add a great deal to the department and is looking forward to welcoming him.
Other changes are afoot as well, albeit less flashy ones. For example, Hart and other department leadership have decided to put all of the college’s professional concert series under one roof, CofC Concerts. Before, Magnetic South, the IPS, and the college’s chamber music series, the Charleston Music Fest, were all separate. “The idea is to restructure in a smart way. They’ve existed separately, but now we can have coordinating branding,” says Hart. “We’re just trying to be smarter, doing credit card ticketing, that sort of thing. The nuts and bolts.”
The nuts and bolts are especially vital for a department that has to focus its attention on the general public as well as its students. Hart says, “Perhaps, outside athletics, we touch more people than any other department. It’s not about simply serving the college community. It’s about the outside community as well.”