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San Antonio Symphony Briefly Silenced During Pension Problems, Operating Again

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The San Antonio Symphony announced last week that the tricentennial concert that they performed recently would be their last until further notice. The troubled symphony was depending on the help of a management group, Symphonic Music for San Antonio, to help them get back on their feet when the group unexpectedly backed out of a deal to take over the symphony in December, due to a potential multimillion-dollar pension commitment. This left the symphony with no way to pay its musicians, thus the decision was made to cancel all future concerts.

Good News For San Antonio Music Lovers


Photo: Unsplash/Zach Doty

The good news is that the Symphony Society of San Antonio on January 5th voted to continue an abbreviated season, abruptly reversing an earlier decision to suspend the rest of this year’s concerts. The announcement came from new board Chairwoman Kathleen Weir Vale, who took over the symphony’s board of directors Friday after the previous chairwoman, Alice Viroslav resigned Thursday. Vale told San Antonio news website, MySA, that new funding has been secured to resurrect at least part of the remaining season. Vale declined to identify the sources of new funding.

San Antonio Symphony Founded in 1939

San Antonio Symphony

Photo: Facebook/sasymphony

According to the San Antonio Symphony’s website, the 1880s brought San Antonio’s earliest symphonic concerts, but no formal orchestra was formed at first. The San Antonio Symphony was founded in 1939 by conductor Max Reiter, a native of Trieste, Italy, who brought with him to America a background in symphonic and operatic repertoire. Eritrea was formerly the director of the symphony orchestra of Milan; he was one of few Jewish conductors working in Italy at the time. When the Italian government proclaimed an official anti-Semitic policy, Reiter was forced to sign a release renouncing all professional contracts. Seeing no future for himself with European orchestras, Reiter boarded a ship for New York carrying only a briefcase of introductory letters, a few articles of clothing, and $40 in cash.

Finding New York crowded with musicians whose circumstances mirrored his own, Reiter purchased a round-trip train ticket and began a circuit of the southern United States. Leaving the train at each major town, Reiter approached citizens with his dream of creating a new American orchestra. When he made his presentation in San Antonio, civic leaders encouraged Reiter to conduct a “demonstration concert” in the Sunken Garden Theater at Brackenridge Park on June 12, 1939.

Fueled by public enthusiasm and Reiter’s vision, a fledgling orchestra was formed and enjoyed rapid growth to become a fully professional ensemble of 75 musicians performing a 16-week season in 1943. A budget of $100,000 for the 1944-45 season made the San Antonio Symphony one of America’s 19 major orchestras and the only one in Texas.