I agree with this but have some reservations. First, Charleston will support an efficient well-run, fiscally responsible orchestra. Second, half-fixing a problem more often results in additional, unanticipated problems.
After concluding season after season in the red, most recognize that the CSO had to do something and many of those recognize that the CSO sold itself short a year ago when it was “reborn.” We are getting down the the level of expense that Charleston can afford. However, to be fiscally “responsible” we can't stop now.
I ran into one of the former members of the CSO recently and I talked enthusiastically about the recent brilliant performance by Emanuel Ax and the CSO. I was surprised when he didn't share my enthusiasm. After talking further it was obvious there is deep resentment amongst the musicians regarding the recent layoffs. The selection of which instruments were eliminated from the full-time ensemble appears to have been haphazard without consideration for balance issues composers had in mind and it also failed to maximize on the cost savings of prioritizing instruments used more frequently. There's a feeling of entitlement with some that simply having succeeded in an audition years ago guarantees you a salary, regardless of whether you play a concert. I heard of a musician who was away all of last season but still received a salary! It seems that there is a legitimate gripe in this regard.
The error was on the board's part in not immediately restructuring to a fully per-service orchestra. This would have put every musician on a fair and level playing field (no pun intended!). You play, the CSO pays. You don't, the CSO won't. I learned that the CSO's pay per concert is noticeably less than what is paid in other places. It simply cannot afford to pay twenty-some-odd musicians full-time salaries for part-time work – and additionally be able to supplement these with out-of-town musicians at competitive rates. Pay well and the CSO can attract the finest musicians around – but make sure to be able to assure donors that each dollar they give will be respected and will be utilized for musical services actually played. This would not only be fairer, but the cost savings of this structure are substantial.
The recent concert by the CSO was a good start: they were playing – and the audience enjoyed a great show. I enjoyed hearing a “big” sound: I really don't care for the thin chamber stuff which I compare to watered down wine.
Only with a solid, non-wasteful business model is the CSO worth enthusiastically supporting.
MusicLuver324, I believe you've missed the point of the recent restructuring of the Charleston Symphony. For years the CSO over-reached the financial backbone of what Charleston could afford. True, it became a great symphony, the quality of which rivaled those in much larger cities. However, despite having many artistic ventures competing for the same "purse," Charleston is not a Chicago, Manhattan or Philadelphia, or even a Jacksonville for that matter. While many of us loved it, the orchestra Maestro Stahl built "outsized" the community's resources. It became the largest budget full-time performing arts institution in SC. It was the only orchestra in the state to employ full-time professional musicians throughout its season and offered the most generous benefits to its musicians. (These facts were unfortunately also paralleled by running in the red consistently for the past decade or so and repeatedly borrowing from the upcoming season to pay for the present season).
There were a small number of musicians let go in this restructuring process - and the artistic quality and consistency difference that your mention is as regrettable as it is undeniable. However, the restructured model achieved a balance between artistic quality and a budget size more appropriate to our small community. In my opinion, a view shared by many, the restructuring could be faulted for not going far enough: the other "professional" orchestras in SC employ an entirely "per-service" model with no full-time musicians. Listen to the symphonies of Hilton Head, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Florence and Greenville and, like Charleston, they sound tremendous! Were the CSO to adopt this model they could produce entertaining concerts year-round with world-class soloists like Emanuel Ax at an additional substantial savings.
The minimal difference in quality forms a sacrifice which is the seed for a stronger, more fiscally responsible Charleston Symphony. Already, the CSO has responsibly invested the savings in new professional back office staffing, with a new executive director, a new marketing director and a new development director, staffing positions demanded for years by people inside and outside the organization. The future of symphonic music in Charleston is bright.
Darrell Edwards, weren't you director of the CSO for years a couple years back? Please correct me if I'm wrong. Weren't you the director who missed payrolls and had to end seasons early? Didn't season after season end in the red? I've read that this past season was the first in years which ended successfully in the black.
Charleston has never supported the CSO to the level that was necessary to sustain it. It was a great orchestra, but had outgrown the community's level of support. Because I never received ticket renewal info. one spring a couple seasons back and because it sounded like the CSO was on the verge of folding then, I've only attended the occasional concert in the last year or so. Because of friends I have associated with this organization, I've been following what's been happening - and contrary to Mr. Beckley's remarks, nobody predicts the quality will be anything like what it was (and judging by these comments and what I've heard from acquaintances the recent concert was a testament to that). However, Charleston is a small out of the way city with no large corporations. I wish the best for this symphony - but we simply can't expect the same quality that larger cities support.
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