This week, the San Antonio Symphony begins its 2018-19 season slate of free community concerts, beginning Wednesday with a performance at Haven for Hope downtown, followed by a concert Thursday at Palo Alto College in southwest San Antonio.
The community concerts, 10 in total scheduled for the season, are one facet of a new focus on outreach that began under the leadership of board chair Kathleen Vale and interim executive director Michael Kaiser.
“We’re not just about performances at the Tobin, as great as those are and as much as we want you to come, but that we also embrace our city in other ways that have real relevance to many, many people,” Kaiser told the Rivard Report on Tuesday, prior to meeting with the orchestra’s musicians during a rehearsal in the Palo Alto College auditorium.
The Symphony is relevant even to San Antonians unfamiliar with classical music, said Eric Dupré, one of seven new Symphony board members looking to help connect the orchestra to its community.
“I know there’s a lot of Gen Xers out there who haven’t been exposed to the Symphony or classical music,” he said.
His parents were board members two decades ago, and Dupré recalls gravitating towards Beethoven after being inspired by concerts. He would go on to play piano throughout high school.
Now, as a wealth management specialist with Dupré Financial Group, his goal is to spread the word about the importance of the Symphony to San Antonio, particularly as a educational benefit. A self-described “numbers guy,” Dupré said exposure to music particularly helps math and science education.
Another new board member, Bexar County District Judge Karen Pozza, said she does not have a musical background. Nevertheless, “I just love that San Antonio has a symphony, and just wanted to be part of ensuring that we keep it here,” she said.
Pozza aims to build awareness among the local legal community that the Symphony is “an important part of the culture of any city. Great museums, great art, great music, I just see it all rolled into part of that,” she said.
Kaiser aims to make certain that many communities within the city benefit from the orchestra. The Haven for Hope concert, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the dining hall of the homeless services center, will feature mezzo-soprano and frequent symphony guest Veronica Williams performing popular tunes by George Gershwin, Scott Joplin, and Leonard Bernstein.
Thursday’s concert, at 7 p.m. at the Palo Alto College Performing Arts Center, will feature soloist Mark Teplitsky on flute. During the Tuesday rehearsal, Assistant Conductor Noam Aviel brought the orchestra into synchrony with Teplitsky’s riveting, melodic flurry.
Kaiser said he’s looking forward to another remarkable soloist, pianist André Watts, who will join the Symphony for its season-opening concerts at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Having grown up in New York, Kaiser said he witnessed the remarkable debut of Watts, then a teenager substituting for an ill Glenn Gould during a Young People’s Concert with the New York Philharmonic.
Watts “just shocked everyone,” Kaiser said, and has since risen to the top of his profession. That 1963 moment at will bring Kaiser full circle to his current position 55 years later leading the San Antonio Symphony into its future as “a community’s orchestra,” in his terms. “I believe we belong to the entire San Antonio community, and that we want to offer programming that embraces all parts of our community,” he said.
The Symphony also plans to keep up its vigorous schedule of 10 Young People’s Concerts, annually performing at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts for about 40,000 area students, some of whom might be hearing classical music for the first time, Kaiser said. “For many of them it’s going to become a highlight of their year,” he said.
As a new board member, Pozza emphasized that though she is also unfamiliar with most orchestral music, “honestly, I haven’t been to a symphony I didn’t love,” she said.
Passionate fans of symphonic music can go to concerts to enjoy what they know, and community members like herself can “enjoy learning what you might become passionate about,” she said.