Concertmaster at 25, director of the Chamber Orchestra series and now principal pops conductor, violinist Yuriy Bekker, a native of Minsk, Belarus, is celebrating his 10th anniversary with the CSO, having shepherded the orchestra through a difficult period during the Great Recession.
The CSO scaled the heights under the 27-year stewardship of music director David Stahl, who died in 2010, yet suffered a brief decline that year due to the recession, labor disputes and a tendency toward living beyond its means. The nadir came with the CSO executive board’s decision to suspend the orchestra’s operations that year, cutting its season in half. The orchestra recovered as a more streamlined entity in 2011, with 24 full-time musicians, in time for the CSO’s 75th anniversary.
Bekker served as acting artistic director from 2011 until the arrival of Ken Lam as music director in 2014, absorbing a great deal about the business and administrative side of operations.
“One of the most valuable things I took from my time as acting artistic director is a better understanding of how symphony orchestras operate from a business standpoint— what it takes to produce a concert, sell tickets and raise funds,” says Bekker, who earned his master’s degree from the Indiana University School of Music. “I learned which programs succeed in our market and which are not right for our community. Through all the different roles I’ve had within our organization, I feel that I truly discovered who I am and my purpose.”
Bekker, who lives on Johns Island with his wife, Jenny, and their new son, Nathanael, has exerted an impact and influence beyond his work with the CSO. Since 2014, he has served on the faculty of the Miami Summer Music Festival as violinist and conductor, and held positions as concertmaster for the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, the Houston Symphony and the Houston Grand Opera and Ballet orchestras.
He also teaches and conducts as an adjunct professor with the College of Charleston School of the Arts, has acted as artistic advisor to the Piccolo Spoleto Festival and, most notably, performed globally as a soloist, guest concertmaster and chamber musician, the latter being one of his great loves.
Throughout his career Bekker has given equal emphasis to artistry, technical mastery and invention.
“As an artist I aim to interpret a piece in the way the composer wanted, so technical mastery is essential. I must practice very hard, especially difficult passages,” says Bekker, who also studied at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “In terms of artistry and invention, it is also very important to add my own voice to each piece. I must practice hard to master the technical elements in the piece so that they don’t hold back my artistic phrasing and interpretation.
“I am constantly discovering new works. But at the same time, I can continue to discover new things about pieces that I have already performed many times. As a performer, I draw from my personal experiences, so as I grow older I have a greater pool to draw from, and this affects my musical interpretation.”
Bekker has assembled an enticing Pops season, ranging from works by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein to renowned film composer John Williams. It is a demanding series, and one he relishes building each year. But he is most enthusiastic about the CSO in general.
“We have a team of passionate people who are so committed and dedicate so much time,” Bekker says. “They have a love for the art form, but also care deeply about each other and the success of the organization.”
Bill Thompson covers the arts, film and books.