CSO concertmaster, artistic director, and principal pops conductor Yuriy Bekker outside the Gaillard Center; (opposite) the rare 1638 ‘ex-Degen’ Andrea Guarneri violin, purchased by an anonymous patron for Bekker to play during performances.
As concertmaster for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, playing side-by-side with the youth orchestra.
Guiding Light: A young Bekker at home in Minsk with his mother, Selima, who died when he was 15; “Today, when I think of my career, everything I do is in her memory and in her honor,” he says.
Political Unrest: Workers led by the Belarusian Popular Front in Minsk, protesting Soviet policies during the economic crisis of 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Early Recognition: As a 14-year-old, Bekker won a concerto competition and the opportunity to perform Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major at New York City’s Merkin Hall under conductor David Barg.
As a young boy, Bekker wanted to be a sailor and explore the world. His mother, a native of seaside Odessa, Ukraine, told him he “should become a musician and travel through music,” he says.
Like many Russian Jewish families in the early 1990s, the Bekkers left Russia, chartering a bus to the airport in Moscow to avoid thieves preying on the immigrants. Getting on the bus, a 10-year-old Yuriy is on the far right.
Yuriy with his brother, Dmitry, who is a decade older. “Despite the age gap, he has always been a generous and amazing brother,” says Yuriy. “I can count on him, rain or shine.”
Yuriy with his brother, Dmitry.
Yuriy in Belarus, in his school uniform with a red neckerchief and a pin of Lenin. “I was a Pioneer. Growing up in a communist country, we all had to be Pioneers,” he explains.
Yuriy in 2000 at London’s Sherlock Holmes museum, wearing Holmes’s hat and holding his pipe; “I love that his violin is in the background,” he says.
Playing the “ex-Degen” Andrea Guarneri in the Gaillard Center lobby; “Early on, while playing the violin as concertmaster... it felt like a Ferrari,” wrote Bekker about the instrument in The Strad magazine. “Having played this instrument for nearly four years now, I feel very fortunate... this has enabled me to become a better player. I never expected this level of growth in my early 40s, and it is a great blessing.”
Serenading Jenny a few weeks after their October 2009 engagement.
Basketball fans Yuriy (a Hoosier) and Jenny (a Tarheel) with their kids at a CofC game.
With his dad, Valentin, and brother, Dmitry, and his family after a performance at Grazhda, a Ukrainian cultural center in Hunter, New York.
With Charlton Singleton, Quiana Parler, and Mayor John Tecklenburg at The Joe for the inaugural free Fourth of July concert in 2022.
With composer Trevor Weston and members of Ranky Tanky for their CSO pops concert on March 12, 2020.
With Yo-Yo Ma for the new Gaillard Center opening, October 2015.
With friends and College of Charleston colleagues Natalia Khoma and Volodymyr Vynnytsky wearing Ukrainian flag pins in support of Ukraine at a March 2022 performance in Lancaster, South Carolina.
With pianist Andrew Armstrong, who accompanied Bekker on his first album, Twentieth Century Duos, and CSO principal clarinetist Charlie Messersmith after their 2009 Piccolo Spoleto concert, “A World of Jewish Culture.”
After his junior recital at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music with violin professor Nelli Shkolnikova.
Playing with his Peabody Institute professor Herbert Greenberg, whom Bekker invited to perform with the CSO as a featured soloist in 2012 and describes as “his mentor to this day.”
From Protégé to Leader: Recognizing the influence of his teachers’ guidance and expertise, Bekker focuses on mentoring young players, whether through the CSO or the College of Charleston. In February, he led the CofC Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. “It validates our students’ commitment and hard work. Until this point it was only a dream for the CofC Orchestra to go on a tour or to be recognized nationally,” said Bekker in a College Today interview. “It was a great honor. Our orchestra played on a very high level. I think this was the best we have ever sounded.”
Top Pops: Bekker has served as the CSO’s principal pops conductor since 2016, delighting audiences with a repertoire of classics and popular tunes. (Above) At the CSO League 2018 Concert Gala performing the music of Bernstein and Gershwin with Grammy-nominated pianist Paul Sánchez
Meet the beloved violinist and hear him play a priceless 17th-century instrument