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With a combination of optimism and practical strategy, the San Antonio Symphony announced on Tuesday its 2021-22 Classics season of 14 concerts, most of which will feature guest conductors.

With each guest-led concert in part an audition for a potential new music director to take over after the 10-year tenure of Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the search was interrupted by the pandemic, with 2020 season concerts at first postponed and then canceled.

The truncated 2021 season began Feb. 5, but guest conductor David Danzmayr left before the concert due to a family emergency. At the time, Symphony Executive Director Corey Cowart said he’d like to bring Danzmayr back at some point in the future, but the chief conductor of the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra does not appear on the newly announced schedule.

Longtime conductor of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Jeffrey Kahane will lead the slate of guest conductors, with an Oct. 29-30 “Radiant Rachmaninoff” program also featuring cellist Sterling Elliott as soloist for Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor.

The October start is later than the usual September season kickoff, “in hopes that national and local trends, as well as CDC guidelines, will allow for concert experiences that are comparable to pre-pandemic events,” according to the Symphony media release announcing the season.

“While the 2021-22 season should mark a return to normalcy, we hope that it is more than that. We want it to be a celebration,” Cowart said, citing the “remarkable resilience of our musicians and audiences” in enduring canceled concerts, strict pandemic safety protocols, and reduced audience capacity at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Cowart is hopeful that with the advent of widespread vaccination, those protocols will no longer be necessary.

The Nov. 5-6 program brings Brett Mitchell from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra to conduct guest violinist Angelo Xiang-Yu, with a piece by 21st century composer Missy Mazzoli opening the program. Called “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart” by TimeOut magazine, Mazzoli describes her Holy Roller for orchestra as “devotional music for a non-existent religion,” and cites 16th century composer Thomas Tallis as an influence.

Russian masters Prokofiev and Shostakovich are featured in the Nov. 19-20 program, with guest conductor Roderick Cox and soloist Jon Kimura Parker on piano. D’un matin de printemps by French composer Lili Boulanger, younger sister of famed composer Nadia Boulanger, leads off the program.

Beethoven is featured in two programs, with guest conductor Jessica Cottis leading the “Emperor” Piano Concerto No. 5 on Nov. 26-27, and Music Director Emeritus Lang-Lessing returning to conduct Symphony No. 7 on May 13-14, 2022. Lang-Lessing will also conduct the following weekend program May 20-21, “Romantic Chopin” featuring the Polish composer and piano virtuoso’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor.

Concerts during the upcoming season will present composers perhaps less familiar to San Antonio Symphony audiences, including Na’ama Zisser, Gomes, Respighi, Villa-Lobos, Ligeti, Detlev Glanert, Anna Clyne, Korngold, Jorg Widman, and John Corigliano, as the orchestra stretches its wings under the direction of Cowart and guests who bring their own specialties and favorites to the programming.

The holiday classics program Dec. 22-23 will feature the much more familiar Handel’s Messiah, with soprano Elizabeth Sutphen, countertenor Daniel Moody, tenor Rafael Moras, and baritone Hadleigh Adams as special guests.

If all goes according to plan, the season will close out June 3-4, 2022, with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 featuring guest conductor Yue Bao, conducting fellow of the Houston Symphony, and concertmaster Eric Gratz as soloist.

Though every season announcement includes a disclaimer, the asterisk at the end of the 2021-22 announcement is particularly apt:

*Artists, programs, prices, dates, and times are subject to change.

More information on the San Antonio Symphony’s 2021-22 season, ticketing, and season subscriptions, is available on the orchestra’s website.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...