San Antonio Philharmonic debuted at First Baptist Church – San Antonio Express-News

The San Antonio Philharmonic played its first concert to a rapturous response on Friday night at  First Baptist Church of San Antonio 

The Philharmonic, founded by musicians of the now-defunct San Antonio Symphony, was greeted with standing ovations for nearly every piece on the two-hour program. Ravel’s “Boléro,” the finale, received the kind of lengthy response that would have prompted at least a couple of encores at a rock show.

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

Ken-David Masur, one-time resident conductor of the symphony, conducted with energy and precision. He made several references to the resiliency of the musicians and the turmoil that led them to found the philharmonic.

“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 Mexican Independence Day — followed by “The Star Spangled Banner,” with many in the audience singing along. Masur noted that it’s rare to get 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 piece inspired by the pandemic that captured the one step forward, three steps back of the journey out of the darkest part of the battle with the illness. It ended on a triumphant note with a fanfare.

That was followed by a lyrical performance of Johannes Brahms’ “St. Anthony Variations.”

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

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

Carlos Javier Sanchez

At intermission, Stan Blazyk, 78, was chatting with 12-year-old James Gordon in the lobby. Blazyk’s niece, Sharla Gordon, plays violin in the philharmonic, and James’ dad, Martin Gordon, plays bassoon.

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

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

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

The second half of the concert began with a rousing rendering of five movements from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Before the musicians began “Boléro,” Masur said, “San Antonio, the Philharmonic has arrived.”

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Noted Chicano scholar Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, 85, who was a regular at symphony concerts, said heenjoyed the philharmonic’s debut.

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

The sanctuary was fairly full, though there were empty seats.

“If you like what you’ve heard, tell people to come tomorrow, and come with them tomorrow,” Masur said. “And we will fill this place.” | Twitter: @DeborahMartinEN

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