The San Antonio Symphony performs at the Tobin Center.
The San Antonio Symphony performs at the Tobin Center. Credit: Courtesy / Juan Martinez

San Antonio’s apparent love of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may soon overtake its reputation as a heavy metal town. The first few concerts of the sixth annual San Antonio Symphony’s Mozart Festival, which continues through March 2, have been near sell-outs.

Two concertgoers, retired U.S. Army warrant officers Jim and Nadine Johnson, are inclined to play bluegrass, blues, and oldies on their stereo. Yet they listened with rapt attention to a concert of Mozart arias performed by members of the San Antonio Chamber Choir last week. The concert took place in the stately Tobin Center Rotunda.

“It doesn’t get any closer to perfection than Mozart,” Jim Johnson said afterward with a sage smile.

While the popular 1984 film Amadeus made Mozart more accessible to modern audiences, he has been captivating audiences and influencing other composers for centuries. When he died in 1791 at the age of 35, his creative output surpassed that of 80-year-old composers by far, said Sebastian Lang-Lessing, music director of the San Antonio Symphony.

“He was living his life in triple speed,” he wrote in an email. “And while his creative mind is so fascinating, it’s also the logic and perfection in his works that strikes audiences and musicians alike. He created a musical universe that is unique in its beauty.

“He was also a revolutionary when it comes to his opera work, where he entered totally new territory by using German as language in opera, or criticism of social structures like in The Marriage of Figaro. His music speaks directly and unfiltered to us and is, therefore, the example of music as a universal language.”

San Antonio Symphony Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing leads his musicians to the sound of Las Fundaciones de Béjar. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio Symphony Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing leads musicians at the San Pedro Creek groundbreaking ceremony in 2016. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

At a sold-out screening of Amadeus by Texas Public Radio at the Santikos Palladium IMAX on Jan. 10, at least half a dozen representatives of organizations partnering in the Mozart Festival stood and called out their group’s names to enthusiastic cheers.

The festival was designed to unite many of the city’s outstanding musical resources.

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“The festival idea came to me,” Lang-Lessing wrote, “to exactly achieve a collaboration of the performing arts in San Antonio, with its biggest organization, the San Antonio Symphony, being the catalyst, facilitator, cornerstone and vehicle. It really is a community festival! The impact it has is enormous. It showcases the cultural diversity of San Antonio and demonstrates how close we’re working together.”

Rick Bjella, artistic director of the Chamber Choir, regrets not having more room in his upcoming concerts, which highlight Mozart’s influence on later composers, such as an array of jazz musicians and the Beatles. He hears Mozart’s sense of melody and counterpoint in both.

“There are many Beatles tunes that live fully in his influence, like Blackbird, in their artistry and complexity in a popular idiom,” he explained.

The Chamber Choir’s concert will begin with Beethoven and work its way to 20th century composers Gershwin and Stravinsky.

San Antonio Symphony violinist Beth Johnson hears Mozart’s influence in music by jazz artists like singer Nina Simone and pianists Keith Jarrett and Dave Brubeck.

“Listen to ‘Blue Rondo à la Turk,’” she said. “Brubeck, the Beatles, jazz musicians – they’re carrying the torch forward.”

The next Festival concerts will occur on Sunday. First, the prize-winning Æolus Quartet will perform a cutting edge program at 3:15 p.m. at Temple Beth-El, 211 Belknap Pl., sponsored by the San Antonio Chamber Music Society. At 7 p.m., Youth Orchestras of San Antonio will perform “Mozart at the Opera” at the Tobin Center. Also at 7 p.m., the Symphony’s “Mozart at the Cathedral” concerts of violin quartets will continue with Mozart and Haydn in San Fernando Cathedral.

Other groups who are performing during the Festival are Soli Chamber Ensemble, the UTSA Department of Music, Cactus Fair Music Festival, Musical Offerings and Christ Episcopal Church Friends of Music, the Olmos Ensemble, San Antonio Choral Society, Musical Bridges Around the World, and the San Antonio International Piano Competition.

A complete schedule of Mozart Festival concerts is online here.

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.