Sometimes converging forces lead to the unexpected.

The Charleston Symphony Orchestra, which all but collapsed in 2010 under financial strain and contractual disputes, found its inner phoenix and re-emerged this season as a leaner but adventurous arts organization.

In the months since, it has done more with less, attracting some new patrons and donors along the way and reaching out to audiences beyond the immediate Charleston area.

On Saturday it will present the third of its Masterworks concerts, featuring Beethoven's popular Symphony No. 7.

Beethoven surely is an appealing reason to attend the 7:30 p.m. performance, but the real treat will be the local debut of a new violin concerto whose subject is the state of South Carolina, written by composer and College of Charleston music professor Edward Hart especially for CSO Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker.

But wait, there's more.

The concerto will be played by Bekker on the 1686 ex-Nachez Stradivarius violin, one of the most treasured and valuable instruments in the world.

On the musical map

How did Edward Hart, Antonio Stradivari and Yuriy Bekker manage to unite for this special show? Because of a convergence as unexpected as it is auspicious.

It began in the fall of 2009, before the symphony's financial crisis, when Hart heard Bekker play the composer's chamber work called "Three Latin Rivers." The two men had become good friends, and Hart admired Bekker's musicianship and style. After the concert came a proposal: "Why don't I write you a concerto?"

The idea was put before the late David Stahl, then the CSO music director, who endorsed it. Hart began to conceive the programmatic elements. He wanted it to be a lyrical love letter to his home state. He wanted it to be a gift to Bekker.

The theme of land and water emerged. The three regions of South Carolina -- its Upstate, Midlands and Lowcountry -- evoked various music ideas.

Hart, born in Charleston, attended the University of South Carolina and married a woman from Greenville. He wanted to celebrate the "diversity in culture and tradition and landscape."

The three-movement concerto is called "Under an Indigo Sky," and in some ways accords with the "program music" of the Romantic period.

It begins in the Midlands where three rivers -- Broad, Congaree and Saluda -- run through the greater Columbia landscape, sometimes in a rush of whitewater, sometimes in a graceful sweep.

The movement, called "Fast Flowing Rivers," is a metaphor for the fast-paced politics of the state capital and dynamism of its best-known public university, Hart said.

The second movement, titled "Warm Salt Air," refers to the coastal plain and its subtropical climate. What's warm and damp in real life becomes a lush and magical nocturne, he said.

"My thought is, you're sitting on the perfect late spring day on the water and you have the perfect blend of temperature, breeze and humidity. And there are no bugs." It's the dimming of the day, evocative, sweet, thick with nostalgia.

"Probably that's the movement I most thought about when I thought about Yuriy playing this," Hart said.

Finally, the Upstate comes into view in a movement called "Misty Blue Horizon," meant to evoke the region's verdant freshness and broad blue vistas.

"This landscape elicits a sense of awe, wonder and reverent reflection, along with a sense of gratitude toward its Creator," Hart said.

Bekker -- who first performed the concerto on his Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin, a stunning French replica of a Stradivarius, in October with the Lake Charles Symphony Orchestra in Louisiana -- said he is delighted to have a concerto with his name on it.

"It's the first time anything was ever written for me," Bekker said. "It's a beautiful piece of music, very accessible. I think it's a masterpiece."

Composer and performer worked together on the piece through the summer of 2010, even after the symphony's financial troubles forced it to shut down in March of that year. Hart would sketch a section, then send it to Bekker to try. The violinist would provide feedback, suggesting this or that tweak, he said.

Besides "Porgy and Bess" by George Gershwin, not very much classical music is associated explicitly with the Palmetto State, Bekker noted.

"I feel that this piece is putting South Carolina on the musical map," he said.

And it's doing so just after the symphony nearly fell off the map, and while it strives to regain its footing.

The quality of a city

Enter a compassionate and cosmopolitan couple with a valuable violin. A very valuable violin.

They had been watching from afar, impressed by the symphony's pluck and prestige, worried about its precarious finances and iffy future.

Winifred and John Constable, of Philadelphia, know about orchestras and their struggles. They love classical music and admire Charleston. They own some land on Kiawah Island and might someday retire to the area. They want the local symphony to flourish.

"It's a chance for us to say, 'Hey, they're doing really interesting things down there,' " John Constable said. After all, "the quality of a city is partly determined by the quality of its orchestra and the quality of its arts."

In December, the Constables sent a note to the symphony's executive director, Danny Beckley, making an extraordinary offer.

"We happen to have this marvelous violin," the Constables wrote, "and we would like to make it available to the orchestra for something special."

The violin is rarely lent, John Constable said. Only a few people have played it on stage in recent years.

The instrument spends much of its time locked in a vault, but is brought out occasionally for "exercise" by a Strad-qualified player. Violins must be used, even 326-year-old Stradivariuses (especially 326-year-old Stradivariuses), otherwise they wither.

Beckley contacted the symphony's artistic advisor and concertmaster, Bekker, and a meeting was soon arranged. On Dec. 27, Bekker spent the day in the Constables' apartment exercising the Stradivarius and describing, in words and in sound, Hart's new concerto.

"I felt like my eyes ignited," Bekker said, referring to the moment he was introduced to the famous fiddle.

"I knew that with Strads, the approach is different for every instrument. I had played a friend's Strad once before, so I knew I didn't have to press (down on the fingerboard) too hard. The violin reacted extremely well. The sound is very sweet, a golden sound."

Because a Stradivarius typically comes equipped with a large color palette, it can be especially expressive, Bekker said.

"You can tell a more interesting musical story. There are 10 more shades of blue, and so on. There's so much you can do with that."

But the connection twixt violin and violinist doesn't usually happen immediately. It's a little like the struggle between the Na'vi and flying mountain banshee in the movie "Avatar" -- it requires acclimation.

"Somehow, with this instrument, after five minutes I felt comfortable, really at ease," Bekker said.

He played everything that came to mind. Parts of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," sections from Tchaikovsky's violin concerto, some Bach, a little from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Sheherazade" (which was to be performed by the symphony at its Jan. 12 concert) and, of course, excerpts from Hart's "Under an Indigo Sky."

Constable said the Strad is perfectly suited for the South Carolina concerto, and he looks forward to hearing it played by Bekker.

"Charlestonians will be exposed to a superb violinist playing a superb violin," he said. "And that's just a treat for anyone."


Hart, already excited about the Lowcountry premiere of his piece, said the Strad is sure to make the event special indeed.

The Hart family arrived in the New World and settled in the Charleston colony in the late 1600s, more or less when Antonio Stradivari was carving the instrument that would become known as the ex-Nachez.

Now, Hart will hear his concerto played on this Strad by his good friend, accompanied by his hometown band, with friends and family in the audience.

"What a tremendous blessing," Hart said.

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