The Gift of Giving

Christmas comes early for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra this year, but it's too soon to know whether they'll be getting what they asked for or a lump of coal. Smack in the middle of the holiday season, and its 76th, the symphony finds itself facing a do-or-die dilemma: They've got to raise $500,000 before the end of the year, when most businesses are at their penny-pinching miserliest. It's enough to turn even the most rosy-cheeked administrator into a grousing Scrooge.

The CSO has been crisscrossing the city on its knees since July, after realizing it needed $250,000 to stay afloat for the season and setting itself the task of raising twice that from corporate contributors who, until now, have been only too happy to delegate money-giving responsibilities to wealthy out-of-towners living on Kiawah and South of Broad. Therefore symphony board members have an extra long Christmas wish list they're sharing with local business owners this year, and it starts and ends with dollar signs.

$250,000 will assure only that the CSO doesn't run out of cash sometime in next year's first quarter. By itself, the money won't accomplish much more than assuring the organization doesn't dissolve; it does nothing to resolve the long-term cashflow issues hobbling the organization. So they're going for the fence.

Vice President of Finance Ted Legacey says the symphony has five meetings between now and the end of the year that together will determine whether we'll live in a CSO-free zone starting in 2007. At meetings with business leaders this Thursday and Friday, Mayor Riley himself will reportedly engage in some heavy arm-twisting and knuckle-cracking for the cause.

"We're right in the thick of our approach to the business community to try and get them to understand the need to support the symphony," says Legacey. "So it's hard to know right now whether we're gonna get there or not. The business owners we've been meeting with have been understanding of the message of what the symphony does for this community. But now those people have to write checks."

Decision Day is Dec. 4, just three days before the CSO and Chorus perform Handel's Messiah at the Citadel's Summerall Chapel. If, at that board meeting, they're still short of the minimum $250K, there won't be much holiday cheer to go around. They'll have to scratch all artistic imports and guest artists for the second half of the season, largely gutting the artistic program. But if they hit their mark, a line in Handel's famous Hallelujah chorus may have special resonance for players at the Thursday concert: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined."Patrick Sharbaugh


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