Covid hits hard as CSO dumps music director for concertmaster

Covid hits hard as CSO dumps music director for concertmaster


norman lebrecht

March 10, 2021

Just another of those press releases with an orchestra ‘restructuring’ into its parent hall due to huge Covid losses and no future security?

Not quite.

In the small pring the Charleston Symphony Orchestra is dispensing with music director Ken Lam from next season and replacing him with guest conductors. They will be chosen by a new ‘artistic director’ who is also the otchestra’s concertmaster, Yuriy Bekker.

Ken Lam (r.) has dones a fine job over the past seven seasons, but it looks like this could be one future model for orchestras: save the music director’s salary and fall back on existing payroll.

From the press release:

The new model means the upcoming 2021-2022 season will be the last with Ken Lam serving as Music Director. Lam joined the CSO in 2014, and conducted the orchestra with renowned soloist Yo-Yo Ma, for the Charleston Gaillard Centers Opening Gala in 2015. “Ken’s engaging presence on stage conducting outstanding performances has been warmly welcomed by patrons over the last seven years. The orchestra has never sounded better, and we look forward to celebrating Ken’s final season next year,” said Robert Siedell, President of the Charleston Symphony’s Board of Directors.

With the redeveloped artistic leadership structure, Yuriy Bekker, Concertmaster and Principal Pops Conductor, will assume the additional role of Artistic Director beginning in the 2022-2023 season. Bekker will work closely with the administrative team, musicians, and the Board Artistic Committees to create outstanding programming and secure guest conductors that inspire both our musicians and our patrons for CSO’s Masterworks performances.


“Despite the challenging year, we are incredibly enthusiastic about our future” Smith concluded. “These changes will ensure the Charleston Symphony is equipped with the necessary resources and flexibility to invest in the organization for the foreseeable future. We are committed to providing audiences with the highest quality orchestral experiences while remaining a financially viable community asset. Over the last thirteen years, Yuriy has become an anchor within the Charleston arts community. I am excited to work with him in this capacity and I know our patrons will share my sentiments. I strongly believe that the CSO will be even better positioned to achieve our mission of bringing people together through music.”


  • Mecky Messer says:

    Now that for 90% of american orchestras play only 2 classical concerts a season in between their mindless galas for every potential holiday (Xmas Gala/ Dia de los Muertos/ Halloween gala/ Valentines Latin Fuego Passion Gala/ Independence day ‘Murrica First Gala), now they will have no music directors, no stable members…

    How long until we start calling these organizations for what they are: the town band.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Dramatic headline about CSO = ,err, Charleston

  • Hm says:

    Minor orchestra, little impact. Not really news

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    In the UK, dumping the front man and bringing in guest presenters is called the ‘Have I Got News For You’ solution.

  • drummerman says:

    I can’t believe that this decision was made solely for economic (money saving) reasons. Something is rotten in the “state of Charleston.”

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Actually makes good sense.

    I have witnessed too many small orchestras overpay for young music directors who only view the job as a stepping stone to bigger things rather than maintaining, weeding and fertilizing the garden they have been given.

    Better to save the money and use it to hire guest conductors who will fly in and out, stay at a board member’s home, and live nicely for one week on a reasonable per diem.

    • Musician says:

      I can assure you that while there are many like that, Ken was extremely dedicated to his job, and did a wonderful job with Charleston.

  • M says:

    i say cheers to this… it is so smart. chalestton is such a charming city. and look, mahler 8 is not in their rep (where one really Does need a conductor…) so i applaud this decision.. how i love leading without a conductor! i wish them all the best…..

  • FrankUSA says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. We need “training” time in the life of young conductors/music director. All of the smaller community orchestras in the USA are ideal for this. As for the “CSO” obvious it’s not Chicago but it is Charleston. It is a good sized city which very possibly can support an orchestra that has 4-5 concerts. And what is wrong with that. As I said before these are ideal training positions for young conductors/music directors. Simone claimed that the ONLY reason is that conductors can wait and get better positions. I think that is a cynical view. That view might be more relevant with the upper-top tier of conductors. And it’s the same way in Europe,South America,Asia etc. Young conductors take on the responsibility of smaller community/provincial orchestras and it gives conditions a chance to work on their craft. It has always been like this and should continue to do so.

  • Icecreme48 says:

    You left out a key detail, that the symphony actually had this same model for 5 years prior to Ken Lam coming and Yuriy Bekker served as acting artistic director during that time. So it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel. It was a very successful model for them then.

  • Mari says:

    Ken Lam is amazing. Dispensing of him from the equation will cost Charleston much more than the save.

  • JoshW says:

    Because nothing makes a clearer artistic statement than programming by committee.