Ken Lam, the dynamic music director of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, will retain his place on the podium for five more years, the result of a newly inked contract.

Lam joined the CSO in 2014, after an extended search that brought six finalists to town.

Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker became acting artistic director after the death of David Stahl in 2010, a post he held for four years until Lam joined the team. Now Bekker, who remains concertmaster, also is chief conductor of the CSO Pops series.

During his first three years with the CSO, Lam, 46, has challenged the ensemble and audiences with a variety of repertoire that has included classic works, monumental Romantic symphonies, opera, contemporary music and more.

“We are very fortunate to have someone of the caliber of Maestro Lam," CSO board president Cynthia Hartley said. "Our new five-year agreement ensures that he will continue to lead our orchestra to new heights of performance and delight our audiences for years to come.”

Lam has been instrumental in improving the CSO's financial and artistic well-being after a few tumultuous years that nearly caused the organization to declare bankruptcy in 2010. Today, it has an annual budget of about $3.6 million and consistently ends each season in the black.

Lam said he is focused on building upon what has been achieved. Now that the orchestra is stable, it's time to up the artistic ante, he said. For two years running, he has met individually with each musician to share ideas, seek feedback and provide some guidance. This year, each meeting lasted about an hour, and seemed to provide everyone with reassurance, he said.

"Everyone hears the same things," Lam said. So the only question is how to make necessary adjustments to the sound, tuning, balance and unity of the playing, especially in the Gaillard Center's performance hall, whose excellent acoustics make specific demands on each section of the orchestra, he said. Double bass players and cellists, for example, often need to project more since lower registers tend to get a little lost in the hall.

Lam said he plans to work more with the CSO Chorus, continue to support the Charleston Symphony Youth Orchestra, expand the CSO's repertoire, program special concerts and more.

"We're trying to do something exciting, things that stretch the orchestra," he said.

While Lam and CSO Executive Director Michael Smith are the final arbiters of what is programmed, players are involved in the process, Lam said. The buy-in that results is a motivating factor.

"We have so many opportunities to make it better," he said of the CSO's artistry. "Nobody wants to sound bad on stage." 

Lam, a former lawyer, has enjoyed a music career with a clear upward trajectory. Late last month, he was named music director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. He also is resident conductor of the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina, artistic director of Hong Kong Voices and conductor laureate of the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras. He lives in West Ashley.

Contact Adam Parker at or 843-937-5902.

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