I have spent the better part of this school year focusing my studies on viola repertoire, but in February I had the opportunity to return to my first love, my violin! I have been on the substitute list for the Charleston Symphony for a while now, but my teaching schedule has never offered me flexibility to be able to head to South Carolina to perform which is why I was so happy to accept a contract during Brewster’s Winter Recess in February.
Braving the icy weather, I met Ben in Philadelphia and we drove the 600+ miles to Charleston together, stopping overnight to visit a friend along the way. We arrived at Yuriy and Jenny’s condo on Monday night, February 16th and picked up some groceries and Thai food for dinner nearby. Rehearsals began the following afternoon, allowing us time to practice in the morning when Yuriy was out teaching and Jenny was at work at the hospital.
The Charleston Symphony Orchestra appointed Ken Lam as their music director last June, but guest conductors are still contracted for the current season. For this series, we had the great pleasure of working with conductor Gerard Schwarz, formerly of the Seattle Symphony. The CSO breaks their concert offerings into a few categories: Masterworks, Pops, Special Events (such as chamber ensembles or works for smaller orchestra), and Children’s concerts. This concert, Masterworks Series 5, featured guest instrumentalists Robert Sullivan and Stefan Farkas on a program of Quiet City by Aaron Copland, the Hummel trumpet concerto, and Symphony No. 4 of Brahms. Since the orchestra has a very small core group of musicians, most players come from out of town, and my stand partner, though a regularly engaged violinist with the CSO, also came from outside of Charleston.
Tuesday’s rehearsal in the Sottile Theater was all about Brahms, and I realized early on that I was glad to have practiced quite a bit beforehand. Even as an inside second violinist, I felt very self-conscious of the fact that I do not play regularly with professional ensembles and might have to deal with the rust around my fingers for a little while. But oh how beautiful the Brahms is! It is hard to tire of a work such as that. After rehearsal, Ben and I walked around the downtown area a little, peeking into some store windows and looking for a place to eat dinner. We finally settled on Nick’s Original BBQ on King Street where we had platters of pulled pork and big cans of Tecate. Most stores were closed by the time we had finished, so we made our way back to the parking garage and headed home.
The next day seemed a lot cooler than on Tuesday, but we wouldn’t be spending much time outside anyway. Quiet City didn’t need much rehearsing, and so we spent much more time on the Hummel and Wagner. Robert Sullivan was the former assistant principal trumpet of the Cleveland Orchestra and is currently principal trumpet of the Cincinnati Symphony. It was really wonderful to hear him play as he filled the hall with a beautiful tone both warm and brilliant. Prior to this experience, I had never heard Quiet City, and I was a little skeptical about the mix of trumpet with English Horn, but the combination had a loneliness that Copland composes so well. Our program would open with the overture from Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which I’ve never played despite having programmed Sandra Dackow’s arrangement so frequently. So many notes, but quite fun to play. We had lunch with Yuriy, assistant concertmaster Micah, and Micah’s wife (and CSO librarian) Rachel during the break and then returned for another rehearsal that afternoon.
Musicians tend to grumble about morning rehearsals on concert days, but I like the chance to get one last shot at the tougher spots and the gentle reminder of what needs a little extra care on a particular day. Our dress rehearsal Thursday morning ended a bit early, and we had some free time before returning to the hall for the first concert at 7:30pm. The Sottile Theater isn’t very large (fewer than 1,000 seats) which helps it to feel full for even smaller audiences, and it felt like we got a warm reception from those in attendance. I was mostly happy with how I played, but I couldn’t help but feel nervous for my stand partner whose violin pegs had slipped unexpectedly just before the start of the performance.
Ben and I treated ourselves to SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) for lunch the next day, a gourmet southern restaurant whose name will always remind me of Dowisetrepla, but was much more appetizing. I don’t think I’ll ever really have a handle on what “lowcountry food” is, but I tried shrimp and grits (super creamy!) and some local beer. Together with housemade bread, it was a very delicious meal. We had another concert that night, also at 7:30pm.
The temperatures Brewster had crept into the single-digits when I left, and I had fantasized about my February in warm, sunny Charleston, South Carolina. Unfortunately, Charleston was experiencing its own cold spell and the temperature most days hovered close to 40ºF, so when Saturday morning was sunny and 60ºF it was like a dream come true. My cousin and his family have lived in Charleston for many years, and we were lucky to be able to coordinate our schedules to meet for brunch. Even more fortunate was that my cousin seemed to be a minor celebrity at the brunch spot we picked, allowing us to hop past the long wait line to a table away from the door! They showed us around the historic waterfront area after we ate and, after we parted for the day, we ran into them again at a craft beer place nearby! Since I had not seen these particular cousins since I turned 21, it was nice to be able to sit at the bar and introduce them to some beers they wouldn’t have otherwise tried. Perhaps more importantly, we had plenty of time to restore our sobriety before our final concert that night.
The Charleston Symphony has a tumultuous history, but so many of the things they do now indicate that they understand how to address concerns and build relationships for their future. One of the ways they show that they value their audiences is through a post-concert reception for donors and ticket holders in an upstairs room of the theater. Musicians are encouraged to attend these receptions, and they do! Over free wine, beer, cheese, and crackers, I had the opportunity to talk to orchestra supporters and other visiting musicians. Especially since so many people in Charleston are displaced north-easterners (so many New Yorkers!), it was really easy to mingle. We got home late which made the long drive home on Sunday even longer, but I am so glad to have had this opportunity, and I hope I will be able to come back to play for the CSO again!