While well-known for his edgy, modern music, composer Igor Stravinsky once said that rules, although limiting, can also work to inspire creativity. San Antonio Symphony Executive Director Corey Cowart cited Stravinsky’s thinking in describing the orchestra’s plans for its 2021 season, announced Friday.

“The more limitations that you give to an artist, … the more creative they can be to try to figure out how to make those rules really express what they’re looking to express,” Cowart said of the Symphony’s position in planning performances during the pandemic.

After canceling the end of its 2019-2020 season in May, and losing the first half of its 2020-2021 season as coronavirus cases surged in July, the truncated 2021 season opens Feb. 5 and closes June 6. All Symphony performances will take place at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, and pandemic safety protocols including socially distanced and limited seating will be observed.

Safety protocols for orchestra musicians include a limit of 40 players on stage at one time, Cowart said, which meant a different approach to programming music that doesn’t require the full orchestral complement of 72 musicians.

“We’re actually offering a completely different experience,” he said, with many compositions that the Symphony hasn’t performed in 10 to 15 years. “It’s really looking at the unexplored San Antonio Symphony [repertory] that fits within these rules that we’re forced to play in.”

Cowart said the Appalachian Spring of Aaron Copeland, the centerpiece of the April 9-10 program, is particularly well-suited to a smaller ensemble. A Stravinsky concerto is also on the program, which begins with the overture of Mozart’s dramatic Don Giovanni. Guest soprano Lyubov Petrova will also perform as soloist for Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate.

Cowart also looks forward to the March 12-13 performance of “Starburst” by American composer Jessie Montgomery, whom he called “an amazing, exciting living composer. She’s already making a very big splash, and her star is just going to continue to rise.”

“Starburst” opens a program that also includes Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, and another personal favorite of Cowart’s, Haydn’s Symphony No 102 in B-Flat Major.

Beethoven will appear multiple times throughout the season, including the Feb. 5-6 opening concert featuring the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, along with Schubert’s Symphony No. 10 in D major and “Lyric for Strings” by American composer George Walker. Noting its “ambivalence,” one critic called the composition a “perfect ode to our times” after a July performance in Philadelphia.

Music Director Emeritus Sebastian Lang-Lessing will conduct Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major May 28-29, fulfilling in part his desire to make up for the Beethoven 250th birthday celebration initially planned for the 2019-2020 season but lost to the pandemic.

“Beethoven’s birthday really sucked this year, so we need to make up for that,” Lang-Lessing said in May.

As planned previously following Lang-Lessing’s move to emeritus status, each concert will feature a guest conductor as the orchestra continues its interrupted search for a new leader.

Conductor Michael Christie will lead a Feb. 19-20 program featuring Associate Concertmaster Sarah Silver Manzke, performing as violin soloist for Ravel’s Tzigane for violin and orchestra. Concertmaster Eric Gratz will be the soloist for Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 on an Apr. 2-3 program conducted by Carlos Izcaray, featuring Beethoven’s famous “Fifth,” the Symphony No. 5 in C Minor.

The full season schedule is available on the Symphony’s website. Single-performance tickets are not being sold at this time, Cowart said, in order that current, renewing, and new subscribers have priority. Cowart also said a livestreaming option would be made available for subscribers unable to attend the concert hall.

Mary Ellen Goree, principal second violin and chair of the orchestra committee, said she and fellow musicians are comfortable with the arrangements and anticipate beginning the season in February.

“I’m looking forward to it very much. This is what we do,” Goree said. “We miss our audience. We miss each other, making music together.”

Cowart echoed a similar sentiment on behalf of the entire organization, saying “our mission is delivered through music.”

Though he said the new season plans, along with any planning for the immediate future, come “with a pretty big asterisk, … we do feel confident that we’re going to be able to play concerts for an audience in February.”

Information on Tobin Center safety protocols is available here.

This article has been corrected with details on Symphony programs.

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...