Saturday evening’s second musician-organized benefit concert this season by (and for) the Charleston Symphony Orchestra drew a pretty respectable crowd at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul.
The evening’s theme was “The Musicians of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Salute Charleston,” with the assorted musical offerings interspersed by assorted readings and poetry about Charleston: its rich history and artistic life. The event was the brainchild of Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker, who also led rehearsals for the event. Even though there was no formal conductor, most musicians’ eyes were on Yuriy as he provided downbeats and whatever cuing he could while playing.
The opening work – Josef Haydn’s “Military” symphony (No. 100, in G Major) – went very well overall, though there was an out-of-synch moment or two that a conductor could perhaps have helped them to avoid (you could sometimes tell that the musicians were counting beats harder than usual). Otherwise, they sounded confident and well-rehearsed: eloquent testimony to their ensemble quality and experience playing together.
The following piece – Samuel Barber’s beloved Adagio for Strings – was a searing miracle of lush string tone and potent emotion. Our players rendered it with exquisite, terraced dynamics that enabled its listeners to hear each instrumental section in turn as it took on the work’s leading themes. It was dedicated to America’s fallen soldiers throughout our history – and the piece faded away at its end to thoughtful silence (by request, there was no applause).
The final offering was the happy, bubbly finale to Ludwig van Beethoven’s third symphony, the “Eroica.” And the orchestra presented us with a delightful surprise when a string quartet (four of the five strings principals) performed the exposition section that’s normally played by the massed strings. Yuriy explained afterwards that he had performed it that way under the baton of distinguished conductor David Zinman (a leading Beethoven scholar) last summer at the Aspen Music Camp – and that it could well have reflected actual performance practice in Beethoven’s day.
Otherwise, the musicians handled the composer’s tricky dynamics and transitions with collective skill and aplomb, allowing Beethoven – sonically resurrected – to ensnare us yet again in his web of musical magic. I loved it.
By way of an encore, the CSO gave us a perky rendition of (what else?) The Charleston – the classic pop dance tune that put Chucktown on the musical map nearly a century ago. It was pure, toe-tapping delight.
Let’s hope and pray that those in attendance expressed their appreciation from the bottom of both their hearts AND their wallets – and that they went home afterwards with more determination than ever to see their beloved band through these troubled times. Let’s get real, folks: these wonderful people are fighting for their livelihoods these days, as well as Charleston’s musical destiny … and their future is now in OUR hands.