The San Antonio Symphony Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Corey Cowart, executive director of the Amarillo Symphony, will take the helm of the San Antonio Symphony in 2019, the organization announced Tuesday.

Cowart helped the Amarillo orchestra grow its audience from 65 percent capacity to 88 percent capacity over his three years there – most importantly without sacrificing artistic quality, he said.

“We’ve been able to do that without compromising the art we put on stage,” he said. In terms of music programming, “We’re not shying away from anything, we’re still challenging our audience,” he added.

Corey Cowart Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio Symphony

Prior to leading the Amarillo Symphony, Cowart worked with the Minnesota Opera as vice president of development, and spent six years with the Atlanta Symphony in various fundraising positions.

He said his development and fundraising background will help in shaping conversations with various stakeholders about the San Antonio Symphony’s future. The orchestra world being small, Cowart is well aware of the Symphony’s recent year of struggle and its new focus on building community support, he said.

“Every orchestra is supported by their community, and they need to reflect their community as much as possible,” he said, citing the San Antonio Symphony’s current education and outreach initiatives as “very strong.”

In Amarillo, Cowart oversaw new commissions from composers-in-residence, a major clarinet concerto composed for the orchestra by Anthony McGill, and an upcoming program with American composer Steve Reich’s Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards, as examples.

“We’ve done more daring artistic pieces here in Amarillo that you wouldn’t think there’d be and audience for,” he said, but “there’s a way to make an artistic statement, as well as push the ears of the audience, while giving them something they’re excited to hear and walk away happy.”

Cowart said the Amarillo Symphony has also created a “family tradition” with the orchestra, with a special Happy Holiday Pops concert series. “It’s more about persuading people to come and engage more often with the orchestra,” he said. He also helped forge a partnership with the local PBS affiliate to broaden the symphony’s reach across the 25,000-square-mile Texas panhandle region.

Cowart will take over from interim Executive Director Michael Kaiser, an arts consultant and former director of several nonprofit arts organizations around the world, who brought to San Antonio a sense of stability and forward-looking management.

Kaiser credited the board and staff of the San Antonio Symphony for working diligently over the past year “to create a foundation of excellence, community engagement, and stability. Corey, no doubt, will help build on this foundation,” he said.

“He is smart, experienced and devoted to symphonic music. He helped increase revenue in Atlanta, Minnesota, and Amarillo, a central skill that the San Antonio Symphony will draw upon in the years to come,” Kaiser said.

A Houston native, and self-described “recovering trombone player,” the 40-year-old Cowart holds degrees in musical performance from the University of Houston and Yale University.

What initially drew him to the art form of classical music, he said, were composers like Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich, and “all the really big, loud stuff.” He gradually developed an appreciation for period Renaissance music, he said, but is also a fan of rock musician Frank Zappa’s orchestral music.

Cowart said he looks forward to working with Sebastian Lang-Lessing, conductor and music director of the San Antonio Symphony since 2010.

Longtime Atlanta Symphony Orchestra music director Robert Spano believes creative and executive leadership should work together to program most effectively, Cowart said, and he hopes to follow Spano’s example.

“It’s more about how do you package everything together to both accomplish the music director’s vision, and do so it in a way that’s palatable to the audience,” Cowart said.

Cowart will begin as executive director on Jan. 2.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter 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...