The death of conductor David Stahl on Sunday night came just as the symphony he worked so hard to build up was forced to cease operations because of its precarious financial situation.
A memorial service for David and Karen Stahl, sponsored by the city of Charleston, has been arranged for 11 a.m. Nov. 13 at the Dock Street Theatre, 135 Church St.The service is open to the public.David Stahl, music director of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, died at home Sunday, two months after being diagnosed with lymphoma. His wife, Karen Doss Stahl, died of cancer Sept. 21.City officials have secured a second space where any potential spillover crowd can watch the service projected on a screen. It will be at the French Protestant (Huguenot) Church, directly across the street from the Dock Street.David Stahl made his Charleston conducting debut at the historic theater in 1981.
The musicians and symphony management now are in talks to renegotiate their master agreement.
One effect of this sad confluence of events is that the symphony -- should it find its way to a recovery -- is left with no heir- apparent, no interim music director and no slate of candidates for the position.
Stahl announced in October 2009, not long after the onset of the current financial crisis, that he would step down as music director to become laureate conductor in a three-year process, during which the symphony would search for his replacement.
But then came the shutdown, so no search was initiated. And because a 2010-11 season was never organized, the symphony was in no position to invite guest conductors to rotate through on a concert-by- concert basis.
The result is added uncertainty to an already tenuous situation, observers say.
Ryan Leveille, a percussionist and spokesman for symphony musicians, noted that Stahl "always managed to be optimistic about the future, even if the last couple years have been such a struggle" financially and artistically.
"Going forward, from a purely logistical point of view, it of course means that there's an immediate need, and vacancy, for whatever kind of performance schedule awaits us in the future," Leveille said.
But recent budget cuts eliminated the assistant conductor position, and therefore the person who might have stepped in quickly, he said.
"A conductor search is supposed to be under way anyway, but now it's more urgent," he said.
Ted Legasey, president of the symphony board, said Stahl was "the face of the symphony for so many years" and that his loss would be greatly felt in the community.
But a transition plan had been devised last year which would have de-emphasized Stahl's role in the organization anyway, Legasey said.
"We're trying to position the organization to be much more sustainable financially and still deliver a top-quality product," he said of the immediate goal. "We have to stay strong in pursuing that end. We have to pause and grieve, but we have to stay strong in getting to that outcome."
Legasey said even as negotiations continue, the organization is contending with a labor complaint that's likely to require a Jan. 3 hearing before an administrative law judge. The National Labor Relations Board backed symphony musicians who argued that the shutdown was illegal, prompting the dispute regarding lost wages.
A proposed settlement of $250,000, submitted recently by the Labor Relations Board, was rejected by CSO management because "we don't have the money," Legasey said, adding that he hoped the two sides could find a way to let go of the past and focus on challenges ahead.
"The best tribute to David would be to go forward and solidify the future of this orchestra," he said.
Meanwhile, the arts community in Charleston mourns.
Violist Ruth Goldsmith joined the symphony in 1969, long before Stahl won the post of music director in 1984, and has played in recent years as an on-call freelancer.
She was among the musicians who gathered Saturday morning at Stahl's house in Hollywood to play music on the back porch.
"He was exciting on the podium," Goldsmith recalled. "He could get the emotion out of the music. And we would feel it on stage."
Sometimes he would drill passages until some of the musicians groaned in physical discomfort, but he always exuded a contagious enthusiasm, she said.
"When you get right down to it, he had something, he had that special gift," Goldsmith said.
Nigel Redden, general director of Spoleto Festival USA, said Stahl had become a good friend and musical ally.
"I felt that he was a partner in the kind of plans we both had for Charleston in terms of how the performing arts scene could be strengthened."
A couple years ago, Redden and Stahl went to see Mayor Joe Riley to discuss the possibility of renovating the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. It was a project certain to benefit the symphony and Spoleto Festival, and the mayor agreed.
Stahl was determined to conduct the symphony in a beautiful new space with good acoustics and considered the Gaillard renovation the next logical step in bolstering the arts in Charleston.
Redden agreed and helped devise the plans that were made public by The Post and Courier in November 2009 and officially announced by the city in June.
"I'm so sorry he's not going to be there to see it happen," Redden said.
Stahl made his local debut in 1981 at the Spoleto Festival, conducting an opera trilogy by Stanley Hollingsworth.
"I liked the feeling I had," Stahl said in 2008 of his first visit to Charleston. "I saw the potential. This city was too important an American city to have only 17 days of a high level of quality in terms of the arts."
Two years later, he auditioned for the CSO. Ellen Dressler Moryl, director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs, was on the search committee.
She said the choice was obvious. In a short time, Stahl had managed to draw out beautiful music from the orchestra, displaying impressive energy, optimism and charisma.
"People were absolutely knocked out," Moryl said. "I knew immediately that this was the one we needed to lead this orchestra into the future."
Violinist Yuriy Bekker credited Stahl with making him concertmaster for the first time. That position led to many solo performances and guest appearances.
Bekker, who is in the midst of a one-year engagement with the Orlando Symphony, said he hopes to return to Charleston. "If there is a season, I would love to come back."
Stahl, he said, was fighting until the end for the survival of the symphony.
"It's important for us, our symphony board and the musicians, to come to an agreement not only for our city, but also for David," Bekker said.
Society honors Stahl: Award is for improving the human condition, published 10/11/10
David Stahl leaving music director post, published 10/14/09
Commerce Dept. honors CSO's Stahl, published 09/30/08
David Stahl's priceless gift, published 09/27/08
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902.
David Stahl made his Charleston debut conducting a opera trilogy during the Spoleto Festival USA's 1981 season.See that year's program