For the last 83 years of this city’s 350-year existence, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra has been making music. It’s a cornerstone of the arts community and a big contributor to what many consider the city’s impressive quality of life.
Now it has announced its new season, which is meant to celebrate the city during an important anniversary year, and to woo patrons with a slate of exciting music, some familiar, some new.
“We’ve dealt with past challenges,” said Ken Lam, CSO music director. “The question now is, what can we look forward to?”
The orchestra’s longevity was threatened in 2009 by financial and organizational challenges; it suspended operations the next year, then began a careful climb back to solvency and productivity. Its track record since it resumed its performance schedule in 2011 has been excellent. Each year it has improved and expanded its concert offerings and educational outreach; it secured Lam as the new music director; it has operated for eight consecutive years in the black; and it has established a rainy-day fund.
Concertgoers can look forward to a Masterworks series that includes a program featuring local composer Edward Hart’s CSO-commissioned Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, Edmund Thornton Jenkins’ “Charlestonia” and Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
Hart, a Charleston native, wrote a concerto that references his hometown. The Shanghai Quartet returns to Charleston to perform it.
Another Masterworks program will feature Hart’s violin concerto, “Under an Indigo Sky,” played by CSO concertmaster Yuriy Bekker, who premiered the piece in 2012.
A program of Baroque music that includes two of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, as well as modern works inspired by that era, will reference Charleston’s early period when, during the early 1700s it hosted concerts in drawing rooms and at the Dock Street Theatre featuring music of the time.
Another Masterworks concert will feature music inspired by visual art: Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” and Respighi’s “Trittico Botticelliano.” The program is a collaboration with Lowcountry artist Mary Whyte, whose portraits from her series “We the People” will be projected on a screen above the stage during the performance. Mayor John Tecklenburg will narrate the text of “Lincoln Portrait.”
Even the Pops series will include a Charleston-specific program featuring the Gullah folk-jazz group Ranky Tanky.
Lam said the orchestra is luring top-flight musicians and sounding better than ever.
“We want people to know about it,” he said. So the CSO is planning to record the Hart concerto and other works. It’s looking for ways to share its performances more widely.
Other Masterworks programs include performances of John Adams’ “Harmonium” and Bartok’s Viola Concerto (played by the CSO’s Jan-Marie Joyce), Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 (played by Conrad Tao), Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, Faure’s Requiem and more.
The Pops series, led by Bekker, will include a program of movie music, a Holiday Pops concert featuring cabaret sisters Lacy & Gracie, a show featuring popular and classical works with a Russian theme, and the aforementioned Ranky Tanky collaboration.