San Antonio Philharmonic debuts this weekend with world premiere – San Antonio Express-News

Though the San Antonio Philharmonic is just getting started, its first program this weekend will include a world premiere.

“It’s exciting to see music with our name on it,” said bassoonist Brian Petkovich, who is president of the group.

The new work is “Emergent” by San Antonio-based composer Ethan Wickman. It’s in good company: The program also includes Brahms’ “Saint Anthony Variations” and highlights from Ravel’s “Bólero” and Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

The concert will be conducted by Ken-David Masur, principal conductor of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. He served as resident conductor of the San Antonio Symphony from 2007 to 2011.

The Philharmonic is made up of musicians who used to play with the now-defunct symphony. They went on strike in September 2021 during a labor dispute with the Symphony Society of San Antonio, the nonprofit board that ran the orchestra.  On June 16, the board announced that it had initiated Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings. The orchestra, which had been plagued by financial turmoil for decades, was shut down for good.

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The musicians produced three concerts on their own in the spring under the name Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony Performance Fund. Renamed the San Antonio Philharmonic, the ensemble has mapped out a 13-concert season as well as a full slate of educational concerts at area high schools.

Wickman wrote “Emergent” for the San Antonio Symphony. He and the symphony board had applied for funding for the piece from the Barlow Endowment in the spring of 2021. The idea was to create work that would unite the community in the wake of the first phase of the pandemic.

Ken-David Masur will conduct the opening concerts in the San Antonio Philharmonic's first season.

Ken-David Masur will conduct the opening concerts in the San Antonio Philharmonic’s first season.

Beth Ross Buckley

He learned that the endowment would fund the piece a few weeks before the musicians went on strike and went ahead and wrote it, even though he thought it might never see the light of day. When the musicians began producing their own concerts, he offered “Emergent” to them at no cost.

Listeners may detect a little Americana as well as the influences of composers Ravel, Shostakovich and John Adams, he said.

“What I really started with was an idea — what does it sound like to come out of the depths of something deep and dark, or something deep and painful, and to move, with some resistance along the way, to something grand and large,” he said. “So in terms of the sound, I begin with this low,  primordial, deep contra basses, low woodwinds, low brass melodies, and it evolves later into a fanfare.

“If everything goes off as planned, everybody should be smiling big when it’s done. And not just because it’s done.”

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When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Where: First Baptist Church of San Antonio, 515 McCullough
Details: $30-$65, saphil.org

“Emergent” will start the program, which Masur shaped with the musicians.

The conductor said it means a lot to him to be able to reunite with many of the musicians he used to work with and to play a role in this new phase of the classical music life of the city.

“There is a huge need, there is a huge appetite, and I think this is a much-needed, important moment for people who can make it possible to attend or just to be a part of it in some way,” Masur said. “It will be something they can tell their children or their grandchildren about, because this will potentially be the start of something extraordinary, something really historic.”

dlmartin@express-news.net | Twitter: @DeborahMartinEN

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