CSO loses a leaderLast Wednesday, Aug. 2, Charleston Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Sandy Ferencz let loose the news that after three years with the symphony, she's decided to pack it in. Ferencz said she'll stick around until the end of the month, but after that she's heels and elbows.

"I have provided the foundation essential to the continued success of the orchestra," she said in a prepared statement. "The time is thus opportune for me to seek other challenges before I retire."Ferencz is a personable, classy lady by any measure, and she took over what's never been an easy job at a time when the symphony was facing a major financial crisis. There's little question she provided strong leadership for the organization through some of its most difficult times, and she deserves credit for hanging in there day after day. It can't have been fun or easy.But the CSO's difficulties are hardly behind it, and "opportune" is probably not the word everyone at the symphony is using to describe Ferencz's timing. The organization barely dodged a financial bullet for the third year in a row, and is still carrying a substantial deficit. The second half of its coming artistic season is up in the air pending its meeting ambitious fundraising goals. Even with a recent spate of strong endorsements from corporate contributors, it's only through luck, serendipity, and some generous help from its own board (outgoing prez Ted Halkyard recently pulled $100K out of his own pocket to erase some of the red ink) that the symphony finds itself no deeper than $138,000 in debt as it enters its 2007 fiscal year and its 71st season.So to suggest that Ferencz is leaving the CSO in grand shape — or even in significantly better shape than she found it in in 2003 — is something reasonable people might disagree on. There are those within the symphony, from the lowest levels to the very highest, who've in fact been pushing for Ferencz to leave for some time, claiming that the former CareAlliance Health Foundation director lacked the arts-specific brand of fundraising and management skills critical to the position. Those voices will be appeased by her announcement, but let's hope they're willing to get fully behind a new director the moment one is selected.Ferencz has noted she's seeking "other challenges." It's hard to imagine any as demanding as her time with the CSO, but we wish her, and the symphony, the very best of luck. At least one of them's going to need it. —Patrick Sharbaugh


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