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CSO faces a fresh fiscal crisis

The Show Goes On — for Now

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Saturday's third edition of the Charleston Symphony's Masterworks series at the Gaillard delivered some wonderful music and some stunning bad news. Yes, the CSO finds itself yet again in prickly financial peril — despite last season's balanced budget and buoyant new hope for the future. But the powers-that-be apparently chose to delay the announcement of their predicament until just before the concert's second half, rather than cast a depressive pall over the entire program.

And what a choice program it was. To begin, we heard Yankee iconoclast Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question — an affecting piece, with muttering atonal woodwinds grinding against the strings' soft, sweet tonal foundation ... never quite resolving the offstage solo trumpet's quietly insistent "question." An extra-special treat followed: German master Richard Strauss' Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. It's a sort of genteel musical "Beverly Hillbillies" tale, recounting an ordinary man's social-climbing adventures, as he struggles to learn the skills of an aristocrat: fencing, dancing, fine dining, etc. It's full of both rare beauty and high humor.

You almost never get to hear this one in concert, mostly because it's so difficult to pull off. It's scored for just over 30 players, and just about every one of ours got the chance to shine briefly as a soloist of sorts. I caught a rough spot or two, but was still grateful for the chance to hear the work live — and beautifully played — for the very first time.

We returned after halftime expecting Mozart, but first got the bad-news bombshell, courtesy of CSO President Ted Legasy. It simply boiled down to this: unless fund-raising efforts turn around — and fast — the CSO will be unable to meet its payroll obligations within just a few weeks, and "the stage will go dark." Monday's fresh press release announced a request with the musicians' union to negotiate possible survival measures (i.e., pay cuts).

It's nobody's fault: The CSO simply stands to become the latest casualty of the "perfect storm" (Legasy's term) of economic woes that's sweeping the globe. I don't have to tell you the arts are the first to suffer in dire times.

On that somber note, we sat through the program's last offering: an exquisitely tailored rendition of Mozart's final, blazing Jupiter Symphony. And, as we listened, many of us no doubt wondered how much longer we'll be thrilling to the sounds of our precious orchestra.

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