Sebastian Lang-Lessing conducts the San Antonio Symphony at the Tobin Center. Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio Symphony

Update:  On Friday, January 15, 8:00 p.m., there will be a simulcast presentation of the complete program “Rhapsody in Blue.” Works by George Gershwin and Duke Ellington will be performed by the San Antonio Symphony and guest pianist Vincent Balse inside the Tobin Center’s H-E-B Performance Hall. The simulcast will be shown on the 30-foot video wall of the River Walk Plaza at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. No outside food, drinks, or pets will be allowed, but all are encouraged to bring seating and blankets. Entry to the River Walk Plaza will begin at approximately 7:00 p.m. This free event is sponsored by H-E-B.

Music aficionados across San Antonio, take note. The annual city-wide winter music festival is set to take place over an eight-week period from Jan. 5 to Feb. 23. Las Américas Festival is the sixth edition of this winter festival, organized by the San Antonio Symphony and its festival event partners. In the lead is San Antonio Symphony Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing, who meticulously curated the musical selections for San Antonio audiences.

“The rich diversity of the beautiful lands and music of the Americas was the inspiration for this year’s festival,” said Lang-Lessing. “We wanted to take the festival in a different direction this year – from the masters of European composition to a celebration of the uniquely expressive works representing the Americas. Our artists and featured works stretch from New York to Mexico and Argentina, and the music we are celebrating is representative of that wide range of cultures. At various turns it is evocative, provocative, complex, sensual and celebratory.”

The change in focus from an individual composer such as Strauss, for example, is a real departure after five years.

“Rather than focusing on a specific composer,” Symphony President David Gross said, “Maestro’s concept was to have a broader focus of repertoire and artists creating a more inclusive theme for participating organizations.”

Gross added that Lang-Lessing “felt that it was important to have a theme that related to the community in which we live and work.”

Some of the events are free, most have varying ticket prices ranging from $10 to $50. Tickets must be reserved with the presenting organization. There are also a few events taking place out in the Hill Country in Boerne and Kerrville. The comprehensive Las Américas Festival webpage can help guide the way to a great concert experience.

“Considering our geographic location as a city, the theme of the upcoming festival brings strong relevance to the community and is a welcome interjection to the normally composer-focused festival,” said Suhail Arastu, of festival partner Musical Bridges Around the World. “It adds variety, diverse flavor and Latin heritage to the mix.”

Argentinian bandoneón player Juan Pablo Jofre will  perform Piazzolla with the SA Symphony. Photo by  Mihyun Kang.
Argentinian bandoneón player Juan Pablo Jofre will perform Piazzolla with the SA Symphony. Photo by Mihyun Kang.

The festival recently received a boost in the form of a $10,000 Challenge America grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).The Challenge America grant category supports projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability.

“The arts are part of our everyday lives – no matter who you are or where you live – they have the power to transformindividuals, spark economic vibrancy in communities, and transcend the boundaries across diverse sectors of society,” NEA Chairman Jane Chu said. “Supporting projects like the San Antonio Symphony’s Las Américas Festival offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”

These community concerts will take place across the city and include conventional theaters and concert venues, churches, museums, and other assorted gatherings and exhibitions. There will be lectures, performances, art exhibits and special events from more than twenty other local arts organizations, bringing a rich and moving cross-cultural experience to the entire community.

SOLI Chamber Ensemble performs a piece of commissioned work. Courtesy photo.
SOLI Chamber Ensemble performs a piece of commissioned work. Courtesy photo.

“This festival illustrates the best of the arts and arts organization in our community as they work together to bring San Antonio audiences a diverse tapestry of programs and experiences,” Gross said.  “We are grateful for the funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and for its recognition of our efforts to continue to provide concerts to residents of the area.”

As part of the Symphony’s outreach activities, two open rehearsals and free tickets to Symphony concerts will be offered to over 100 public middle and high schools. More than 50% of participating students engaging in these activities are from Title 1 campuses with a high proportion of low-income and underserved populations.

Highlights from the 2016 Series

The San Antonio Symphony will present four concerts, for a total of nine performances, at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, H-E-B Performance Hall. Individual tickets start at $25:

  • Rhapsody in Blue, January 15-17, 8 p.m.
    • This concert features works from popular music and jazz legends George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. Cross-cultural influences include Gershwin’s Latin-themed Cuban Overture and The Essential Ellington: Music of Ellington and Strayhorn. The program includes Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue.” Vincent Balse, a past winner of the International Piano Competition of Paris and the Arcachon will be featured on piano. Conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing. 
  • American Cello, Jan. 22-23, 8 p.m.
    • John AxelrodArtistic and Musical Director, Real Orquesta Sinfonica de Sevilla and Principal Conductor, Orchestra Sinfonica Di Milano “G. Verdi”, will conduct these performances. He is one of today’s leading conductors and is sought after by orchestras throughout the world. This concert features cellist Christine Lamprea playing composer Jeffrey Mumford’s “of fields unfolding…echoing depths of resonant light.” The New York Times has said that Mumford “has an unerring knack for fashioning rigorous works as changeable as cloudscapes, bursting with color, nuance and poetry.” The program will also include works by Piazzolla, Adams and Bernstein.
  • Barber Violin Concerto, Jan. 29-30, 8 p.m.
    • This concert features the Symphony’s own brilliant concertmaster Eric Gratz in Samuel Barber’s superbly melodic Violin Concerto. The program will open with Aaron Copland’s “El salón Mexico,” an evocative tone-painting of a Mexico City dance hall, and orchestral excerpts from Mexican composer Daniel Catán’s tuneful “Florencia en el Amazones” round out this colorful program. Conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing.
  • From Bernstein to Piazzolla, Feb. 5-6, 8 p.m.
    • Two sides of the legendary composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein’s greatest masterpieces will be presented: the symphonic suite from the Oscar-winning film “On the Waterfront” and his sacred work set to biblical texts, “Chichester Psalms,” featuring the San Antonio Symphony Mastersingers. Guest artist Juan Pablo Jofre, an Argentinian bandoneón (a type of accordion) player who enjoys international acclaim, joins the Symphony for Tango-king Astor Piazzolla’s soulful concerto “Aconcagua.” The program is complete with Márquez’s toe-tapping “Danzón No. 2.” Conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing.
The Monterey Jazz Festival brings their vibe to the Carver Cultural Center. Courtesy photo.
The Monterey Jazz Festival brings their vibe to the Carver Cultural Center. Courtesy photo.

With ambitious programming and numerous quality events to choose from, one must conduct due diligence and seek out the musical treasures to be had. In addition to the Symphony, these performances represent only a fraction of concerts presented. This is a handful that caught our attention:

  • Musical Bridges Around the World presents Café Columbia, Jan. 17, 6:30 p.m. at San Fernando Cathedral.
    • The MBAW mission “is to unite people, one concert at a time.” This concert features virtuoso harpist Edmar Castañeda of Colombia. According to National Public Radio, Castañeda “is the sort of musician who isn’t afraid to challenge the established order. He’s carving out a place for himself in Latin jazz on an instrument you don’t often hear in his chosen genre: the Colombian harp.” He will be joined by the world famous St. Petersburg String Quartet in a world premiere of “La Tierra.” This performance is free and open to the public. Click here for more information.
  • Carver Community Cultural Center presents Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour, Jan. 23, 8 p.m. at the Jo Long Theatre.
    • The longest continuously-running jazz festival in the world comes to San Antonio for one evening. Featuring critically-acclaimed, Grammy®-winning jazz artists, the latest edition of the all-star tour band features Raul Midon on guitar and vocals; Ravi Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxophones; Nicholas Payton on trumpet; musical director Gerald Clayton on piano; Joe Sanders on bass; and Justin Brown on drums. The Monterey Jazz Festival is world-renowned for its artistic excellence, sophisticated informality, and longstanding mission to create and support year-round jazz education and performance programs in local, regional, national, and international venues. Tickets are $34. Purchase here.
  • SOLI Chamber Ensemble presents Postcards from Las Américas, Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m. at the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theatre, Tobin Center and Jan. 26, 7:30 p.m. at the Ruth Taylor Recital Hall, Trinity University.
    • The centerpiece of this concert is guest artist Clarice Assad, a Brazilian-American composer of high acclaim in both the classical and jazz worlds. Her unique and compositional style is equalled by her dazzling performances as a pianist and singer all around the world. Assad joins SOLI in the world-premiere of “Elementos.” Also on the program are works by Astor Piazzolla, Gabriela Lena Frank, Diego Vega, Miguel Del Aquila, and Gabriela Ortiz. Fresh from performances in NYC at the esteemed Chamber Music America 2016 national conference, audiences will delight in the ensemble’s dynamic style and commitment to contemporary, living composers. Each concert is preceded by an informal talk with Clarice Assad at 7 p.m. For the Tobin date, Elizabeth Johnson with PharmTable will cater the reception at the nearby Radius. General Admission seating is $25 ($10 for students). Purchase here.
  • YOSA presents Danzas de las Americas, January 31, 7 p.m. at the H-E-B Performance Hall, Tobin Center.
    • Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA) is the premiere youth orchestra program in South Texas. Their mission is to enhance education, enrich the community, and transform lives by pursuing excellence in classical music in a stimulating, nurturing, and fun environment that is equally accessible to all youth. Under the baton of Music Director Troy Peters, YOSA Philharmonic will present an electrifying evening of irresistible dance music from the USA, Mexico and Argentina. Timpani soloists  Peter Flamm  and Peter Wilson will join the young musicians in a performance of Phillip Glass’s thrilling “Concerto Fantasy.” The Guadalupe Dance Company will join in dancing to music by Ginastera and Moncayo. Individual tickets start at $16. Purchase here.
  • Tuesday Musical Club presents Tenor David Portillo, February 23, 2 p.m. at the Laurel Heights United Methodist Church.
    • Here’s one for the opera lovers. Praised by Opera News for hitting the “high notes with ease, singing with a luxuriant warm glow that seduced the ear as he bounded about the stage with abandon,” American tenor (and Houston resident) David Portillo is considered one of the leading artists of his generation.  The Tuesday Musical Club was founded in San Antonio in 1901, and  is dedicated to the promotion, study, and performance of music as a fine art. General admission tickets are $25. Purchase here.
Music Director Troy Peters conducts the YOSA Philharmonic. Courtesy photo.
Music Director Troy Peters conducts the YOSA Philharmonic. Courtesy photo. Credit: Courtesy / YOSA

Click here for a complete concert schedule and ticket information.

Patrons may also take advantage of a special festival offer at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts: buy one ticket and get the second ticket for half-price. This offer provides a savings of 25% off tickets for Symphony Las Américas Festival concerts held at the Tobin Center. Offer expires on Jan. 25, 2016. Visit, using promo code FESTIVAL.

 *Top Image: Sebastian Lang-Lessing conducts the San Antonio Symphony. Courtesy photo.

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Tami Kegley

Tami Kegley has lived the life of an artist. Through multiple careers — dancer, percussionist, performance artist, sculptor, goldsmith, gallerist — she has pursued her need to create. The Great Recession...