A world-class orchestra for a world-class city

our mission


Our mission is to inspire and engage our community through exceptional musical performances and educational programs.

Our History

Charleston’s rich orchestral heritage began in 1819 with its first, 30-person orchestra. Then, the musicians performed intimate concerts for family and friends.

In 1936, music lovers Miss Maude Winthrop Gibbon and Mrs. Martha Laurens Patterson founded the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO). The first concert was held December 28, 1936 at Hibernian Hall with Mr. Tony Hadgi conducting. During the 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 the concert. The CSO remained in the Dock Street Theatre for three years.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, the CSO moved to Memminger Auditorium  

with artists including Robert Merrill, Eleanor Steber, Blanche Theirbom, Jan Pierce and Donald Voorhees performing. The orchestra played a major role in the growing cultural life of the community under the batons of conductors J. Albert Frecht, Tony Hadgi, Don Mills, and Lucien DeGroote.

In the late 1980s, the CSO emerged as a professional organization with a core of full-time, conservatory-trained first chair players. It achieved “Metropolitan” status in the American Symphony Orchestra League, the only orchestra in the state to do so.

In the early 1980s, the CSO moved to Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, and its ensemble groups performed throughout the community, with Pops concerts in parks, aboard the U.S.S. Yorktown aircraft carrier, and at the U.S. Customs House.

In 1936, music lovers Miss Maude Winthrop Gibbon and Mrs. Martha Laurens Patterson founded the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO). The first concert was held December 28, 1936 at Hibernian Hall with Mr. Tony Hadgi conducting. During the 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 the concert. The CSO remained in the Dock Street Theatre for three years.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, the CSO moved to Memminger Auditorium

with artists including Robert Merrill, Eleanor Steber, Blanche Theirbom, Jan Pierce and Donald Voorhees performing. The orchestra played a major role in the growing cultural life of the community under the batons of conductors J. Albert Frecht, Tony Hadgi, Don Mills, and Lucien DeGroote.

In the late 1980s, the CSO emerged as a professional organization with a core of full-time, conservatory-trained first chair players. It achieved “Metropolitan” status in the American Symphony Orchestra League, the only orchestra in the state to do so.

In the early 1980s, the CSO moved to Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, and its ensemble groups performed throughout the community, with Pops concerts in parks, aboard the U.S.S. Yorktown aircraft carrier, and at the U.S. Customs House.

In 1984, David Stahl became Music Director and Conductor.

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. His energy and dedication inspired a generation of enthusiastic audiences for concert masterpieces and popular repertoire. A beloved figure in the Charleston community, Stahl is credited with elevating the CSO’s quality and professionalism.

In 1984, David Stahl became Music Director and Conductor.

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. His energy and dedication inspired a generation of enthusiastic audiences for concert masterpieces and popular repertoire. A beloved figure in the Charleston community, Stahl is credited with elevating the CSO’s quality and professionalism.

Today, the CSO makes its home in the newly renovated, acoustically perfect performance hall at The Gaillard Center.

Major concert series, including Masterworks, Pops and Chamber Orchestra, offer audiences rich, diverse performances. In addition, we provide an array of educational programs that connect us with students, help them succeed, and inspire a lifelong love of music. Meet our staff and board.

Today, the CSO makes it home in the newly renovated, acoustically perfect performance hall at The Gaillard Center.

Music Director, Ken Lam, and Principal Pops Conductor, Yuriy Bekker, raise the baton for a rich and diverse season of Masterworks, Pops and Chamber Music concerts, as well as exciting special events. In addition, we provide an array of educational programs that connect us with students, help them succeed, and inspire a lifelong love of music.