San Antonio was so named by Spanish missionaries who reached the area on the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, in 1691, and began establishing missions that would lead to the founding of the metropolis that grew through the centuries.

The San Antonio Symphony will help launch the city’s Tricentennial on Friday and Saturday, the first week of the celebration, with music by composers named Falla, Luna, Lecuona, Granados, Torroba, and other Spaniards, plus two Frenchmen writing about Spain’s “flavors, smells, rhythms, and melodies,” as described in the event’s marketing material.

Grammy-winning Puerto Rican-American soprano Ana María Martínez will perform as the guest artist fresh from starring in operas in London, Chicago, and with her home company, the Houston Grand Opera.

Martínez and the concert program reflect elements of San Antonio’s cultural heritage and history, Symphony Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing told the Rivard Report in a recent interview.

“Martínez’s father is Cuban, her mother is Puerto Rican, she’s Puerto Rican, but grew up on the mainland and lives in Houston,” he said. “She will bring the most idiomatic of Spanish music, singing populares, a song cycle made out of folk song-style songs very much rooted in the Spanish folk song.”

Other selections will weave together Spain’s cultural mix of the Moors, Morocco, and North Africa, and Catalan along with baroque and zarzuela music.

Ironically, this vibrant Tricentennial kick-off concert, the first of three planned for the Symphony’s Tricentennial Festival, will serve as the last of its season in light of the shut-down announced Wednesday night. 

“I’m optimistic about the Symphony’s future despite their decision to suspend the season after this weekend,” said Ramiro Cavazos, honorary consul of Spain and president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “The creative industry is so important – musicians, writers, designers, [and] artists make up a significant part of San Antonio’s economy and represent our cultural soul as a city.”

President and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Ramiro Cavazos introduces a guest. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

He said contingents from the Canary Islands and Spain plan to visit San Antonio for Tricentennial events in March and May, and that the King and Queen of Spain have been invited to visit this summer.

While Spanish missionaries may have founded San Antonio, they weren’t the first people in the area and have little influence on San Antonio’s cultural life today compared with those of Latin America, said Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, an independent scholar of Latin American and U.S. Latino arts and culture. He has served as associate director of creativity and culture at the Rockefeller Foundation and as professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Stanford University.

Scholar Tomás Ybarra-Frausto speaks about the many Latino artist in San Antonio. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Scholar Tomás Ybarra-Frausto speaks about the many Latino artists in San Antonio. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“This one program is very significant,” he said, speaking of the Symphony’s weekend concerts, “but the Symphony is part of a larger cultural picture.”

San Antonio is a composite of New World peoples originating from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Latin America, and the Southwest, he said, not primarily Spain or Europe.

“Our colonial roots are terrific, but the missions themselves were built by Mexicans and American Indians.”

Attending an academic conference in Spain recently, Ybarra-Frausto told his Spanish colleagues, “if you want to know the saga you created in the Southwest, the last chapter in the things you started, you need to see how we’re writing that continuation right now.”

He believes cultural institutions need to connect with the living culture of their populace such as is happening with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Its Venezuelan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, has created “exciting programs incorporating dance and movement, [and] the 30-to-40-year-old market started coming.

“You can’t have a world-class city without world-class music,” he said. “We have to find out how to re-enchant” the larger city of all ages and ethnicities.”

Ricardo Romo, former president of UTSA and a collector, with his wife Harriett, of Chicano and Latino art, pointed out that “Spain was here longer than anybody else, 1718 to 1820, but it was the frontier; there was very little development of culture” until it blended with Mexican, German, and other cultures.

“All of that is valuable but it doesn’t mean everybody in the city today understands the Spanish aspects,” he said.

Lang-Lessing would agree.

“Music probably is the form of art that is the most flexible in its tradition, like a language,” he said. “Unlike visual art that can be created out of nothingness with no context, music is always like a developing language. So, we always go back to the roots; it’s never disconnected from the present.”

Nicholas Frank contributed to this report. 

Avatar photo

Nancy Cook-Monroe

Nancy Cook-Monroe is a local freelance writer and public relations consultant. She has written about San Antonio arts and civic scenes since she could hold a pencil.