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Charleston Symphony Orchestra

Charleston Symphony Orchestra

Charleston’s rich orchestral heritage began in the year 1819. The first symphony orchestra was made up of 30 musicians who performed small intimate concerts for friends and family. In 1936, Miss Maude Winthrop Gibbon and Mrs. Martha Laurens Patterson founded the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.

The first concert was held December 28, 1936 at Hibernian Hall with Mr. Tony Hadgi as the conductor. During their first season, the CSO provided the music for The Recruiting Officer, the opening night performance at the newly renovated Dock Street Theatre. DuBose Heyward of Porgy and Bess composed a prologue especially for this opening night concert.

The orchestra remained in the Dock Street Theatre for the next three years. Memminger Auditorium became the home of the orchestra in the '40s and '50s, and artists, such as Robert Merrill, Eleanor Steber, Blanche Theirbom, Jan Pierce and Donald Voorhees performed with the Orchestra. The  orchestra played a major role in the cultural life of the community under the batons of conductors J. Albert Frecht, Tony Hadgi, Don Mills, and Lucien DeGroote.

In the late 1970s, the Orchestra emerged as a fully professional organization with the employment of a core of full-time, conservatory-trained first chair players. It achieved “Metropolitan” status in the American Symphony Orchestra League, being the only orchestra in the state at that time to do so. Gaillard Municipal Auditorium then became the home for the orchestra in its annual season. The orchestra and its ensemble groups also performed throughout the Charleston community, with Pops concerts in parks, on the Yorktown aircraft carrier, and at the U.S. Custom House.

In 1984, David Stahl became the Music Director and Conductor of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. For 27 years, he led the orchestra and built the CSO into one of the leading arts organizations in the Southeast until his death in 2010. David Stahl’s energy and dedication inspired the growth of enthusiastic audiences for the orchestra’s performances of concert masterpieces, as well as popular repertoire. He is a beloved figure in the Charleston community and he is credited with elevating the quality and professionalism of the CSO.

The orchestra’s major concert series—Masterworks, Pops and Chamber Orchestra—offers extensive and varied programs for this music season. The CSO has an active schedule of community concerts, special events and school programs throughout the state. The CSO places an emphasis on educational programming and is committed to the development of musical experiences for children. During the current season, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra will reach more than 7,500 students through in-school concerts given in the Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester County school systems.


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