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Samuel Thompson

Charleston, Charleston...The Netherlands, Detroit...

October 29, 2010 at 11:48 AM

A week of Young People's Concerts has passed - these were with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and conducted by my friend and colleague James Fellenbaum. The last time I played concerts like these was in 2006 while living in San Antonio and performing as a substitute with the San Antonio Symphony.

Having recently celebrated my fortieth birthday, I find myself looking at many things from both an impersonal historical perspective AND a personal one. I'm sure that it is safe to say that I am one of many people now working in classical music whose first exposure to the art forms was through events like Young People's Concerts, trips to see "The Nutcracker" at Christmas, and public television. How I remember those times: field trips! In Charleston, we would either pack our lunches at home or break into our piggybanks to buy lunches at The Gourmetisserie (which no longer exists in name), a cavernous space in which one would find one's heart's desire - of course, as a second or third grader it was wonderful to have those kinds of lunch choices instead of the school cafeteria...memories aside, it is because of these events that I always feel a certain inner excitement and responsibility when playing for young people.

Needless to say, because of my feelings for these concerts and the sense of gratitude I hold for those who organized county-wide field trips to the Charleston Symphony and the Charleston Ballet during my childhood, it has been disheartening on many levels to watch the events surrounding the Charleston Symphony. As everyone knows, the Charleston Symphony suspended operations in March of this year, with both management and the board citing very serious financial challenges including "a significant drop in fundraising dollars, exacerbated by the recession's "strong headwind'." The symphony had been in a serious transition since the 2008-2009 season, managing a tremulous financial situation by reducing both the number of full-time players in the orchestra AND the number of performance weeks. Additionally, at the beginning of the 2009-2010 season music director David Stahl announced that he would be relinquishing his post as music director, phasing out his involvement with the orchestra by 2012. At that time the orchestra was also without a permanent executive director and a resident conductor.

With all of this "bad news", it has been especially saddening to hear of David Stahl's recent death, as this nevertheless adds an even more serious tone to the Charleston dilemma.

I remember the excitement surrounding the late maestro upon his arrival in Charleston and while I did not perform with the orchestra until the 2006-2007 season, many of my friends and colleagues started their orchestral careers in the Charleston Symphony. During Maestro Stahl's tenure, the orchestra grew from being a modest community orchestra to one of the most important regional orchestras in the nation. Many of the musicians that began their careers in the Charleston Symphony later secured positions in orchestras including the Cleveland Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. It was always a GREAT delight to hear the orchestra during school breaks, holidays, and the Spoleto Festival and - as many friends played in the orchestra at times - wonderful to reconnect with colleagues with whom relationships were formed at music festivals and in conservatory.

Of course, everyone who has had an opportunity to work with David Stahl in any capacity is grieving in some form, and we are all watching, hoping for some sort of resolution to this situation. On a deeper level, it is heartbreaking to know that the experience that brought music to me is one that young people of my home city are not having at the moment and - dare I say - may never have again. While that statement may seem to reek of sentimentalia, I can hope that whoever reads this entry realizes the importance of our artistic institutions and recognizes that beyond the dollars and cents issues there is an abstract, long-term meaning and reason for their existence.

Now more than ever, we have to work hard, diligently, and unceasingly to ensure the survival of orchestras and cultural institutions across the globe. It is indeed disturbing to imagine a world without.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 30, 2010 at 3:04 PM

 Well put, as always, Sam! A touching tribute to the late Maestro Stahl, to boot.

And I love the image of you as a little kid, heading off to see The Nutcracker. : )


From Samuel Thompson
Posted on October 30, 2010 at 5:44 PM

Thank you, Terez - they were definitely, as the kids say, "Fun times!"

Very much enjoyed your latest post as well - how are you these days, dear?


From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 31, 2010 at 12:07 AM

Happy to have completed my latest writing draft and happy to be back in the symphony groove - next performance is an Anne Sophie trio on Nov. 7th. : )

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