The Charleston Symphony Orchestra announced Wednesday the selection of Ken Lam as its new music director.
Lam was one of six finalists for the coveted position. All candidates came to Charleston during the 2013-14 season to conduct a Masterworks program and meet with musicians, staff and board members, patrons and benefactors.
Lam led the fifth concert, which featured Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite.” He will begin the 2014-15 season, already settled, with the title Music Director Designate and work to firm up programming and educational outreach initiatives for the following season. He will take the podium as the symphony’s new leader in the fall of 2015, when the orchestra first occupies the stage of the newly refurbished Gaillard Center.
CSO Executive Director Michael Smith said the word “sincerity” kept coming up in connection with Lam. Smith said the 12-member search committee, which included five musicians, was enthusiastic about Lam, his charisma, humility, vision and potential for community engagement.
“I think Ken, because of his musical experience and because of his personality, I think he’ll become an asset to the community immediately,” Smith said.
Concertmaster and Acting Artistic Director Yuriy Bekker will remain in charge of the chamber orchestra series at the Dock Street Theatre. He will trade his artistic director title for Director of Chamber Orchestra.
Bekker called Lam “a wonderful musician, a great conductor and a delightful person. I’m so looking forward to collaborating with him and continuing to present world-class music to the Charleston community,” Bekker said. “I’m so honored to continue to lead the chamber orchestra series. I love the series, I love the intimacy of it.”
Lam, 43, will relocate to Charleston; he will likely maintain certain existing obligations and occasionally guest conduct other ensembles.
He is currently resident conductor of the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina, education conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, artistic director of the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras, and associate professor and director of orchestra at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
In recent years, Lam has made appearances with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Meridian Symphony Orchestra and at Spoleto Festival USA, Lincoln Center Festival and Luminato Festival in Toronto.
He spoke admiringly of Charleston and its symphony.
“I felt very comfortable down in Charleston,” he said. “I just think all the ingredients are there. It’s rare that you go to place where musicians and management actually like each other. Everywhere I go I just feel this buzz about the orchestra. All know that the orchestra has gone through a tough period of time. People who stuck with it, I think they’re immensely proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
The last music director, David Stahl, presided over the orchestra for 26 years, until his death in October 2010.
Lam said the Charleston Symphony is on the cusp of greater success. He hopes to introduce challenging repertoire that stimulates players and audiences alike, he wants to expand education outreach programming and he expects to oversee the continued growth – physical, financial and musical – of the organization, he said.
“The reason I was just so keen for this position, it just seems that there are not a lot of places where you go there and think the future is limitless,” Lam said. “But here I really feel it’s about to take off.”
Board president Cindy Hartley said Lam was the overwhelming favorite of the musicians and that he received great support and feedback from many others.
She said that entire management team now is restored thanks to the recent appointment of Smith, the new leadership role for Bekker and the engagement of Lam.
“We have the whole compliment in place,” Hartley said. “A year from this coming season, we move into the new Gaillard. We are excited to no end. It will be Ken’s inaugural season. A new hall, a new music director: it’s kind of serendipity.”