San Antonio Philharmonic planning more free holiday performances to expand its audience

The Philharmonic aims to make its free performances annual events that build excitement in the community.

click to enlarge The San Antonio Philharmonic performs at First Baptist Church. - Courtesy Photo / San Antonio Philharmonic
Courtesy Photo / San Antonio Philharmonic
The San Antonio Philharmonic performs at First Baptist Church.

The San Antonio Philharmonic last Friday performed a free, standing-room-only Diez y Seis concert at the Lanier High School Auditorium. 

The first-of-its-kind performance at the public school followed a move by the orchestra — created last year from the ashes of the San Antonio Symphony — into a new home office at the West Side's Avenida Guadalupe, just two blocks from the Lanier campus.

If such moves make it seem like the San Antonio Philharmonic is intent on presenting itself as the people's orchestra, that's intentional, Executive Director Roberto Treviño said.

"The point of all this is to say that we're reaching out to all communities in San Antonio," said Treviño, a former San Antonio councilman who chaired the deliberative body's Arts, Culture, and Heritage Committee. "We're looking to expand our audience, not change it and move on [from the people who normally support classical music]."

The Lanier concert is one of many free performances the musician-run orchestra is planning across the community this year. This marks the group's second year of operation since it formed after the San Antonio Symphony Society dissolved the previous orchestra amid a months-long labor dispute.

While the Symphony, under its prior leadership, periodically played free concerts outside of its home base at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, those were most often one-off shows, according to Treviño.

The Philharmonic aims to make its free performances annual events that build excitement in the community, including people who normally wouldn't dress up for a classical music performance, Treviño said. That kind of exposure is necessary if the orchestra is to continue building its audience and attune a new generation to classical music.

To that end, the 62-member Philharmonic is already planning a slate of performances including a Fiesta concert at either the Majestic Theatre or The Espee, a Juneteenth performance on the East Side and a July 4 concert at the Alamo.

"We want to plant things that become new traditions," Treviño said.

The Philharmonic hasn't ruled out adding more to its calendar, which also includes 10 classical concerts scheduled for its 2023-24 season at First Baptist Church of San Antonio.

The first of those are scheduled for Sept. 22 and 23, when the orchestra will play selections including Stravinsky's Suite from The Firebird with guest conductor Jeffrey Kahane and violin virtuoso Chee-Yun.

click to enlarge Executive Director Roberto Treviño (right) looks over sheet music with Alison Bates, the orchestra librarian, at the San Antonio Philmarmonic’s new office. - Sanford Nowlin
Sanford Nowlin
Executive Director Roberto Treviño (right) looks over sheet music with Alison Bates, the orchestra librarian, at the San Antonio Philmarmonic’s new office.

New digs, new opportunities

In conjunction with the opening concerts, the Philharmonic will present a masterclass with Chee-Yun, one of seven such educational programs it plans to present this year. Treviño said that kind of community outreach is also essential — and something aided by the orchestra's new home.

In addition to its West Side office space, the Philharmonic now has access to Guadalupe's El Progreso Hall, a 4,500-square-foot space where it will be able to rehearse and offer programming once it's able to make acoustic upgrades.

At present, the Philharmonic pays $4,000 monthly for rent and access to El Progreso. That compares to rehearsal costs that can run $5,000 to $15,000 per concert if it's required to rent outside facilities, according to Treviño.

The upgrades at El Progreso, expected to take place in coming months, also would enable the hall to be used as a sound studio — another moneymaking opportunity for the Philharmonic.

"There are also things we'd like to make available to the community free of charge," he added.

Treviño said he's hopeful the organization's expanded outreach won't just draw in new audience members but also funders who haven't supported classical music in the past.

To that end, he points to the $45,000 in funding which the orchestra raised to support its Lanier performance. Former Mayor Henry Cisneros, who suggested the location, kicked in the first $10,000, according to Treviño.

The pace and intensity of fundraising is also bound to increase once the organization brings on a full-time development director. The Philharmonic has already started a search for that position, and the candidate must be ready to expand outreach beyond the same old channels, Treviño said.

"We want people to know we're listening," Treviño said. "There's an opportunity to get out there and have conversations with the community."

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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