The Charleston Symphony Orchestra is sounding a little different these days. As part of the Magnetic South series, a partnership with the College of Charleston, they're exploring new noise, rhythms, and ways of stringing sounds together. CofC professor and conductor Yiorgos Vassilandonakis, curator and director of the series, offers a new installment on Friday that includes music from 1906 to the present day. "It's about waking [the audience] up culturally and exposing them to this other world," Vassilandonakis says.
The program will feature Stravinsky's "Concerto in E-flat, Dumbarton Oaks," Schoenberg's "Chamber Symphony No. 1 in E major, Op. 9," Pärt's "Fratres," and Adams' "Son of Chamber Symphony." The pieces break away from classical orchestral arrangements by focusing on soloist sounds in a reduced ensemble.
"The size varies in each concert according to the pieces we perform," Vassilandonakis says. "All principal players of the orchestra are involved in the series as needed, so the biggest piece we do would be around 22 players. So it's a flexible, adaptable formation."
Vassilandonakis has worked with fellow CofC professor Edward Hart to unfurl this stylistic stretch of time through the Magnetic South partnership. The partnership emphasizes student opportunities, as it works to bring the music to the younger generation as well as to longtime symphony fans. Younger listeners are often unfamiliar with the sounds of symphony music, so they bring a fresh feel to performances, Vassilandonakis says. "They come in with open ears and open minds," he says.
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The goal is to move the audience with timeless and electronic sounds. "Our main thing to convey is that music is alive," Vassilandonakis says. "That this is actually something that's still going on, and a lot of young people don't have access to that because it's not in their consciousness. It's not in their mainstream."
Vassilandonakis wants his audience to absorb the individualism spotlighted by the onstage dynamic, as every player acts as a soloist. "Individualism also raises a level of musicianship, because you need to step up as a player and be accountable for every note," he says. "It's all going to be heard. And, of course, that is a model for the young generation as well. This is a highly technical level of playing. And it's all in your face."
He reveres the risks the CSO performers are taking through their adaptation and expression of new styles. "Every artist welcomes this challenge of being exposed to new things and having to adapt in some way to this new music that's been written," he says. As the performers' fingers flutter onstage, they will dare the audience to take risks with every beat. It's a challenge CSO Executive Director Danny Beckley always strives to offer fans.
"Experiencing a piece of music for the first time is a dangerous thrill that we experience in diminishing degrees as we age," Beckley says. "We hope that those who don't normally listen to symphonic music will find a new love. We hope that those who are frequent listeners will find a new favorite."
And Vassilandonakis, in turn, hopes that listeners' excitement for what they hear will transform Charleston into a hub for new music. "The minute I got here, I thought, this is a perfect place for something like this."