The San Antonio Symphony is poised to infuse the city with creative energy as it emerges from the coronavirus shutdown, having canceled the remainder of its season in March.

The orchestra announced on Tuesday its full schedule of classical concerts for the 2020-2021 season at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, including a triumphant season-ending concert in May 2021 for its Music Director Emeritus Sebastian Lang-Lessing, and a performance by cellist Sterling Elliott for its season opener Sept. 25-26.

“Sterling is incredibly young but amazingly talented,” said Corey Cowart, the Symphony’s executive director, “and is somebody who just oozes energy.” Featured on the program are Son et lumière by Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. composer Steven Stucky, Variations on a Rococo Theme by Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2.  

The Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 holds personal and symbolic meaning for Lang-Lessing. Intended as the final concert of his last season as conductor, the composer’s ethnicity recalls Lang-Lessing’s Russian-Jewish side of the family, he said. It also contains a political dimension, as Shostakovich’s reaction to being declared an enemy of the people in 1936 by Russian dictator Joseph Stalin and finally banned from performance in 1948.

Written in 1937, the symphony uses what the composer called “camouflage” to balance a diplomatic approach with undertones of what Lang-Lessing called “a symbol of resistance … of perseverance in times of oppression. It’s also a great pre-war work that united a country,” which was ultimately victorious over Nazi invaders.

In between, the season brings over another concert from the canceled 2019-2020 season, Beethoven’s grand Symphony No. 7, intended in part to be a celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

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

Another holdover from the lost season will be a season-long slate of guest conductors, though many intended for 2020 have already booked other concerts. Guests scheduled to appear are Jeffrey Kahane conducting the season opener, Carlos Miguel Prieto for “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” Oct. 2-3, Matthew Halls for the “Sibelius and Schumann” program Nov. 6-7, Michael Christie conducting Mozart and Carmina Burana Nov. 20-21, Paulo Bortolameolli with “Brahms and Beethoven” Nov. 27-28, and Pablo Rus Broseta for “Mozart and Prokofiev” Jan. 8-9, 2021.

Jessica Cottis will conduct the Sibelius Symphony No. 5 Jan. 15-16, David Danzmayr will conduct Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 Feb. 5-6, and Jonathon Heyward will lead the “Dvořák and Brahms” pairing March 5-6.

Carlos Izcaray will conduct Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 5 April 2-3, Garrett Keast leads the program featuring Stravinsky’s The Firebird April 9-10, and Lina Gonzalez-Granados will conduct “Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances” May 14-15 before Lang-Lessing takes the podium for the season finale May 28-29.

That is, if everything goes as planned. “We want to talk and look towards the future as much as possible, realizing that future is always changing,” Cowart said. As San Antonio gets through the summer, he said, having more data about containment of the coronavirus will direct decisions on how best to proceed with performances, with safety foremost in mind.

“By that point, we still may not have a 100 percent true, clear picture, but we’ll know a lot more than we do at this time,” he said. “And if we have to make changes and adjustments to certain things, we’ll be able to do that well in advance and communicate that with all of our patrons in the community.”

An asterisked phrase on the season announcement is telling. It reads, “artists, programs, prices, dates, and times are subject to change.” The announcement also accounts for the possibility of disruptions, reading, “should the San Antonio Symphony need to reschedule, cancel, or alter elements of the season detailed in this press release, the Symphony will communicate these changes in a timely manner. Additionally, ticket holders would be notified about options for ticket donations, exchanges, or refunds.”

The Symphony has not yet announced plans for any pops or movie concerts, as those are expense-heavy events and budgeting will have to be evaluated, Cowart said.

Confronting the uncertainty of the months ahead, Lang-Lessing said of going forward with the schedule, “this is all nice planning. Let’s hope it really materializes.” More information on the 2020-2021 season is available on the Symphony’s website.

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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...