Who’s Next?

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One welcome and very successful innovation San Antonio Symphony Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing introduced in 2010 was an annual festival focused on the works of a single composer. So far we have had festivals featuring the works of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvorak and Richard Strauss. Only works by the featured composer were performed during the first four festivals. This season (2014 – 2015) took a significantly different approach. In addition to works by Richard Strauss the works of other composers who either influenced Strauss or were influenced by him were included in the programs. The selections in a concert were usually related by a theme. For example, the waltz was the unifying link for an evening consisting of works by Johann Strauss Jr., Richard Strauss and Maurice Ravel.

I find it interesting to speculate on the festival composer for 2015 – 2016. If we look at composer birthday anniversaries there are two notable composers who were born in 1865: Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen. A festival of both composer’s works could be quite interesting. Both wrote some exceptional symphonies, tone poems and choral works.

There are, of course, many great composers who haven’t yet been featured in a festival. I think some (Bach, Mozart, Haydn come to mind) would be unlikely because they use limited orchestral resources. Mr. Lang-Lessing has shown a preference for romantic period works. Richard Wagner comes to mind as a possible candidate. There are a number of standalone orchestral works but no symphonies or concertos. A gala concert of opera selections and/or a semi-staged portion of an opera would be doable. Opera San Antonio is not in a position to successfully produce a fully staged performance of any Wagner opera.

This is a long shot, but I think an Elgar festival would have a lot to offer. There are two symphonies (and an unfinished symphony in a performance version), a violin concerto, a cello concerto, a number of large-scale choral works and several fine overtures. In addition, there are enough chamber works to give local chamber music organizations some festival-related concert material. However, I don’t know that Elgar has enough audience appeal to make such a festival sufficiently attractive.

Festivals based on a couple of composers who wrote (almost) only symphonies would be a real challenge, especially for the audience. Symphonies by Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler have been programmed fairly frequently in recent years. A festival of either composer’s works would be too heavy for sustained interest.

It shouldn’t be long before the San Antonio Symphony announces the schedule for the next season. I’m looking forward to the announcement and expect I’ll be surprised by the choice of composer for the 2015 – 2016 festival.

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