San Antonio Philharmonic Orchestra debuted at First Baptist Church

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The San Antonio Philharmonic performed its first concert to an enthusiastic response Friday night at the First Baptist Church in San Antonio

The Philharmonic Orchestra, founded by musicians from the former San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, received standing ovations for nearly every piece of the two-hour program. Ravel’s “Bolero,” the finale, received the kind of lengthy response that would have prompted at least a few encores at a rock show.

The show will repeat at 7:30 p.m. today at the church, 515 McCullough. Tickets range from $30 to $65 at saphil.org.

Ken-David Masur, the symphony’s former resident conductor, conducted with energy and precision. He made several references to the resilience of musicians and the turmoil that led them to found the philharmonie.

“A city without an orchestra is a city without a soul,” he said.

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The evening began with the Mexican national anthem – a nod to the date, which was Mexico’s Independence Day – followed by “The Star Spangled Banner”, with many onlookers singing along. Masur noted that it is rare to hear two national anthems performed “by a world-class symphony orchestra”.

The first half of the program also included the world premiere of San Antonio composer Ethan Wickman’s “Emergent,” a pandemic-inspired piece that captured the step forward, three steps back of the journey out of the darkest part of the battle with disease. It ended on a triumphant note with a fanfare.

This was followed by a lyrical rendition of Johannes Brahms’ “St. Anthony Variations”.

The new San Antonio Philharmonic has emerged from the ashes of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra.

Carlos Javier Sanchez

At intermission, Stan Blazyk, 78, was chatting with James Gordon, 12, in the lobby. Blazyk’s niece, Sharla Gordon, plays fiddle in the Philharmonic Orchestra, and James’ father, Martin Gordon, plays bassoon.

Blazyk, who is mostly retired although he teaches continuing education classes and is a weather blogger, has followed the symphony’s woes closely. He came from his home in Galveston with his wife for the concert. He donated to the philharmonic orchestra, he said, adding that it is important to ensure he survives.

“Even Galveston has a symphony,” he said. “A city must have a symphony.”

Both said they were enjoying the gig, though James noted that listening to his dad wasn’t exactly new: “I hear him play all the time.”

The second half of the concert began with a lively five-movement rendition of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Before the musicians began “Bolero”, Masur said, “San Antonio, the Philharmonic has arrived.”

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Renowned Chicano scholar Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, 85, who was a regular at symphony concerts, said he enjoyed the debut of the philharmonic orchestra.

“It’s a wonderful re-engagement with the community,” he said.

The sanctuary was quite full, although there were empty seats.

“If you like what you heard, tell people to come tomorrow and come with them tomorrow,” Masur said. “And we will fill this place.”

[email protected] | Twitter: @DeborahMartinFR

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