By Amy Mercer, Island Eye News Editor
Every year the Charleston Symphony Orchestra presents “The Sunset Serenade,” a free concert that’s held on the steps of the Custom House in downtown Charleston to kick off the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. The concert is sponsored by The City of Charleston and starts at sundown. This year the CSOL is adding a twist to the concert:
Four or five notable Charlestonians have been asked to “compete” for the opportunity to conduct a short piece during the Sunset Serenade. The competitors will represent various dimensions of the community including arts, sports, local television and business. The competitors will ask friends, colleagues, and members of the general public to vote for them. Voting will continue for 45 days (April 1-May 15, 2017), and the winner will be announced on May 20th on the CSOL website. The winner will conduct the short piece near the end of the Sunset Serenade on May 26.
One of the “notable Charlestonians” is award-winning artist Mary Whyte, an American watercolor artist receiving international recognition for her watercolor paintings of contemporary realism and portraiture. In 2016 the Portrait Society of America chose Mary Whyte as the recipient of the Society’s Gold Medal. The Gold Medal is the highest honor awarded by the Portrait Society with past recipients including iconic artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth, and Nelson Shanks. Whyte has been awarded the South Carolina Arts Commission’s prestigious Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award, the highest honor for an artist given by the state of South Carolina. Mary Whyte recently sat down to talk with us about her “Pursuit of the Podium.”
Q&A with Mary Whyte
AM: What is your involvement with the CSOL, or how did you hear about this project?
MW: I’ve always been a proponent of the musical arts, and have been a member of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra League for over twenty years. When I was asked to be a part of this particular fundraiser I was thrilled.
AM: You are an accomplished, award winning artist, what is your experience with music? Do you play an instrument? Do you listen to music while you paint?
MW: Art and music go hand in hand. Both involve composition, emotion and engaging the viewer/listener in a sense of place. I learned to play the clarinet in elementary and high school, and know how difficult it is an instrument to play! Learning to do anything well, whether it’s painting or playing an instrument requires an incredible amount of hard work, patience and practice. I often spend long hours in the studio painting. During long stretches of time I listen to orchestral music, generally classical or jazz.
AM: Painting is a mostly solitary process, will you be nervous performing/conducting in front of an audience if you win the Pursuit of the Podium contest?
MW: Painting is indeed a solitary process, as I spend many hours by myself in the studio. Will I be nervous conducting the orchestra if I win? Of course, but I will also be incredibly excited, too. What an amazing adventure it would be to experience music in that way! As a an artist, I would truly love this opportunity to be apart of the orchestra’s collective creation for one incredible moment.
AM: Under the current administration budget cuts to the arts are looming, can you tell readers why access to and support of the arts is important for our country?
MW: The arts are more important now than ever before in our country, and are necessary for us to move forward in innovation and compassion. This freedom of thought and creativity is the basis for invention, as well as the foundation for a society that that embraces beauty, joy and expression. I cannot imagine our community without the Charleston Symphony Orchestra League!