CSO appoints Beckley director

Danny Beckley, has been named the new executive director of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.

The Charleston Symphony Orchestra has hired a new executive director.

Danny Beckley, a symphony board member, bass trombonist and business entrepreneur, was tagged this week to lead the troubled symphony into calmer waters. He is tasked with implementing a "more sustainable business model" and spearheading a strategic shift for the organization, which resumed operations last week after a nine-month shutdown.

The appointment comes just as the symphony is striving to recover from the worst financial crisis in its history, exacerbated by contractual and legal disputes between musicians and management and the death of Music Director David Stahl.

The crisis, which many say was a culmination of trouble brewing for years, eroded support for the symphony and caused the nonprofit to flirt with bankruptcy.

Beckley, 31, said fundraising is the top priority. The restructuring process, still under way, has reduced the size of the annual budget from about $2.3 million to $1.3 million, but more than half that amount -- as much as $700,000 -- must be raised from individual and corporate donors, he said.

Next season and the season after that, the fundraising challenges grow along with the budget size, Beckley said.

To become "sustainable," the symphony is seeking to change the way it organizes concert programming and how it works with donors, he said.

A smaller core of full-time contract musicians (player payroll was reduced to 24 during recent negotiations) will make the symphony more flexible and better able to offer a wider range of repertoire and hire more freelance players on a per-service basis, Beckley said.

This should translate into "bigger programming for less money," he said.

Marketing Director Tara Scott said the symphony is scrutinizing its past practices and looking to develop new fundraising programs and corporate partnerships.

"We want to go in and build relationships with these organizations," she said.

The goal is to create programs that dovetail with the values held by corporate sponsors, she said.

Information gathered during a series of community forums held this past summer indicates, among other things, that the symphony-going public wants more outdoor concerts, programming variety and outreach to those who don't normally attend symphony concerts, Beckley said.

The new emphasis on flexibility should result in more chamber music concerts, outdoor events, popular music programming and regional performances, as well as more spectacular Masterworks concerts, he said. New music, perhaps specially commissioned for the orchestra, also is a possibility.

"We're effectively using the symphony organization as an entrepreneurial incubator," he said.

By adding programs that use smaller ensembles, the symphony can reach further into the community and perform more often without oversaturating the market with classical music, Beckley and Scott said. And by reaching out to people across the Lowcountry and beyond, the organization hopes to expand its geographical influence and pull more people in to see shows downtown.

Beckley said one key to success is staff leadership. The board will be reorganized and could grow in size, he said. During the initial fundraising and reorganization process, the staff will seek to hire a development director.

Beckley has served on the board for 18 months. He was recommended by musicians who wanted the board to benefit from a player's perspective, he said. He has held a position in the development, artistic and negotiating committees and has shown concern for educational programming. He is leaving BlueKey, the Web-development business he co-founded, to devote himself full time to the symphony.

He earned an undergraduate degree in music education from James Madison University and a master's degree in performance from Northwestern University. He was an orchestra director for a year at an inner-city public school in Newport News, Va.

Board President Ted Legasey said the new executive director is likely to "rebuild strong relationships between musicians, staff and board members."

"He's very committed to the job and to the art form," Legasey said.

A new board leadership team should be in place by the end of January, Legasey said, referring to part of a recent settlement agreement struck between musicians and management. That process likely will be driven by people outside the symphony organization in an effort to achieve transparency, he said.

But, Legasey warned, the change "isn't a one-time event."

"It is an everyday (effort) to support an orchestra," he said. "We are hoping the community will stand up tall and support this orchestra on a sustained basis."