Edward Hart is about as homegrown as you can get. He was born and raised in downtown Charleston, went to school at the College of Charleston, and now teaches there. His musical memory, if memories can be said to have a location, exists mainly against a misty backdrop of cobblestone streets and Civil War-era homes, of marshes, rivers, and ocean.
So it's no surprise that Hart's music draws on the Palmetto State for inspiration. "The area's very inspirational. From a natural perspective, of course, it's very beautiful, but there are also the historical and cultural aspects. It's a fun artistic thing to deal with, being connected to a place," he says. The professor, who teaches music theory and composition, has written several compositions — including some poetry — that are explicitly tied to South Carolina, including his newest, a violin concerto titled "Under an Indigo Sky." The concerto will be performed for the first time by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, with CSO concertmaster and violinist Yuriy Bekker as soloist.
In fact, Hart wrote the concerto specifically for Bekker to perform. "We've known each other since he moved to Charleston, and a couple of years ago we tossed around the idea of a concerto. It's always more fun to have your friends perform your music, especially when they're as gifted as Yuriy."
Since Hart is not a violinist himself, working with a master musician who also happens to be local offered many benefits. While any composer worth his salt has a strong grip on orchestration and the strong points and weak points of every instrument, Hart says, "The concerto's really a different animal, because though the orchestra parts are pretty standard, it seeks to highlight a single instrument and give very virtuosic music for that instrument. One of the virtues of writing for a friend who's close is that I could send him examples and ask him things."
As an added draw, Bekker will be playing an incredibly rare Stradivarius violin, donated specifically for this performance by Winifred and John Constable of Philadelphia.
Hart, who has had his compositions performed all over the world, is excited to debut this new piece with his "hometown band," especially considering the rough patch that the CSO recently experienced, when they had to suspend operations due to financial issues. The fact that they're "taking a chance" on playing music by a living composer is greatly to their credit, Hart says. "It is a little bit of a risk, since new music does tend to be a little different from what people are accustomed to ... but it's important for all our orchestras and ensembles to play more music by contemporary, living composers. There is new music being written, and if we don't play it, the music will just wither away and die. The art form only survives as it grows."
And if you've been to an orchestra concert in the past, oh, 30 years or so and taken a look around the audience, then you know that the music isn't the only thing Hart is talking about. Classical concert-goers, for whatever reason, are significantly skewed toward an older crowd, and as they continue to age, new music lovers aren't taking their place. If this continues, the very audiences that make an orchestra possible are in danger, quite literally, of dying.
So when the CSO performs the love letter to South Carolina, "Under an Indigo Sky," they'll be honoring more than the natural beauty of our state. They'll be affirming a commitment to playing music by living composers, helping to keep classical music alive. They're doing this in other ways too, most notably by engaging in a partnership with the College of Charleston to create a concert series called Magnetic South. Most of the works performed in the series are by living composers, and CofC has flown in several from the West Coast to participate in discussions with audience members — who are, Hart is pleased to report, younger than is typical.
With the way things have turned out, one could say that the concerto has become a sort of love letter to Charleston's classical musicians and music lovers, who have faced adversity and came out stronger on the other side. "I'm so proud of the way that [Charleston] has re-embraced the orchestra and how the orchestra has responded, getting better ... every day," Hart says. "It's a real success story and I'm very confident that the city will continue to support their orchestra because in the end, great cities have great orchestras. It's a privilege to have my music played by them."