Late afternoon light bathes the sanctuary of the Sea Island Presbyterian Church while Beethoven’s crescendos echo off the wood paneling. The former is atmospheric and naturally occurring; the latter is provided courtesy of the Beaufort Symphony Orchestra.
Last Sunday’s concert — which followed a Thursday evening performance — was the first of the orchestra’s 2017-2018 schedule. While it featured young New York-based pianist Reed Tetzloff, it also highlighted the efforts of conductor Fred Devyatkin, fully in his element in his 25th year with the baton.
“Live music is live people with stories to tell,” said Devyatkin. “This never gets old, and boy are we alive right now.”
Trained as a violinist, the New York native was first asked to guest conduct a song for the Beaufort Chamber Orchestra in 1992. As an orchestra member at the time, he saw the conductor struggle on a piece that was challenging for strings players. Asked to step in and take the reins, Devyatkin found he had a natural rapport with the other orchestra members. When subsequently asked to make conducting a full-time gig, Devyatkin thought it sounded fun.
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“At the time, they weren’t a professional orchestra and I wasn’t a professional conductor,” said Devyatkin.
Safe to say they have grown together.
The best advice he received: Learn what he didn’t know about conducting, while remembering that what he already did well couldn’t be taught. The result was incrementally growing the orchestra from community musicians into a full-fledged symphony with varying levels of professionals.
“Artistic ambitions require increased investment,” said Devyatkin.
That philosophy was fully on display in Sunday’s concert, as guest pianist Tetzloff brought both sighs of wonder and a standing ovation at intermission.
The second half of the concert belonged solely to the other members of the orchestra. With lips whetted and bows held upright, the local musicians waited for Devyatkin’s cue. As sweat poured down his temples, his head barely above the top of the baby grand piano, he launched into directing a full score of Beethoven’s best. As the music swelled into an acoustic display, it was hard to tell the difference between the church and the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts.
Devyatkin’s continued presence has increased not only the quantity of musicians but also, accordingly, the quality, according to Beaufort Symphony Orchestra Board President Ed Like.
“Right now, he’s world class,” said Like. “Where can you get this quality? For a small town, this orchestra’s incredible.”
Devyatkin certainly has spoiled us here.
Good musicians no longer have to travel to Charleston or Savannah to ply their trade. Though Devyatkin himself has likely had opportunities and offers elsewhere and remains a sought-after violinist, his talent — and heart — remains in Beaufort. If it’s not quite the London Philharmonic or the Boston Pops, the local group in its present state is the culmination of Devyatkin’s commitment to raising the artistic value of chamber music in Beaufort.
And if you missed them in October, you have another chance in December when they play their annual Christmas concert, this year featuring songs from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. For some, the chance to hear the music from the ballet without having to actually endure the ballet is much appreciated.
For concert-goers, Devyatkin hopes their “life is better as they walk out of our concert than it was when they came in.”
Right now, life in Beaufort’s musical realm is very good indeed.
Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.