Guest conductor for Holiday Pops knows more about stitches than stanzas

December 22, 2021
a composite of three images of a man enthusiastically conducting
Dr. Andrew Matuskowitz puts his all into conducting the Charleston Symphony Orchestra during rehearsal in this composite of three moments in time. Photos by Sarah Pack

Around this time last year, Andrew Matuskowitz, M.D., got his first COVID-19 vaccine. He breathed a sigh of relief after a grueling period working in MUSC Health’s Emergency Department, treating COVID patient after COVID patient – and fearing he or some of his colleagues would get sick and maybe even die. 

This year, Matuskowitz is in a very different place – both psychologically and, on Dec. 23, literally. He’ll serve as a guest conductor for the song, “Sleigh Ride,” in the Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops concert at the Gaillard Center.

“I'm overjoyed and so grateful to have been asked to do this. I can't express it. To be able to represent the front-line community – I was just really, really touched to be asked. The fact that the orchestra is putting this on for the community during the pandemic and that they're taking such great efforts to be safe with it, I'm just delighted. I think the city needs it, and it's going to bring a lot of joy to the community.”

That joy will be felt by members of the orchestra, too – including trombonist and personnel manager Thomas Joyce. “I think it is especially appropriate during this holiday season to honor our front-line health care workers who have sacrificed so much to take care of those who have fallen ill to the virus these past 18 months, especially now when numbers are rising once again,” Joyce said.

“So many of our nurses and doctors are so exhausted but still give their best to care for us. Having one of them be a guest conductor of the orchestra allows us to thank them in an unusual way but also allows us to bring that thanks before a large audience.”

two men stand side by side with batons raised 
Yuriy Bekker, right, principal pops conductor for the symphony, helps Dr. Matuskowitz get started.

That large audience is possible in part thanks to MUSC Health’s Back2Business program, which helps organizations navigate the pandemic. It has advised the orchestra on everything from air flow to spacing.

Regina Creech is with the Back2Business team. “We went down to the venue and did our full onsite risk assessment and then worked with them to develop strategies so that they could open safely and still perform and play.”

That relationship with the orchestra led to the request for a frontline worker to temporarily take the conductor’s spot. Ryan Taylor with Back2Business got the call. “They just reached out to me and they said, Hey, I know there's a new variant, but I'm not here to ask you about the variant. I want to know if we could feature someone from MUSC who's been a front-line worker during this COVID time caring for the sick.”

a man stands in front of an orchestra ready to conduct 
Dr. Matuskowitz and the musicians in rehearsal for his Dec. 23 guest appearance.

Matuskowitz was a perfect fit. He’s thrilled by the prospect of taking the stage, if only for a brief period, to lead the orchestra – and serve as a symbol of hard work and hope.

“Every time I get in my car, I listen to the song. I downloaded it on iTunes. I play it on repeat, and I make the finger motion, the hand motions, to try to get the beat. I'm going to try to have a little bit of fun with a few parts of the song that have some humor to them. So I'm going to hopefully take it very seriously and respect the craft of the folks who have worked so hard to bring this music to us but also try to have fun with it.”

For more information about the concert, visit the Charleston Symphony Orchestra's website.