UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed.
The San Antonio Symphony is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a concert and celebration on Saturday, June 14, 2014. An anniversary is a good time to reflect. I shared some deep thoughts in this recent post, and here are some more: What is the role of the arts, and specifically music, in building a community? How do we bridge the distinctions among different types of music? In teaching our children about music, what values are we passing on to them?
The Symphony put me in touch with Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing for an interview, and gave me two tickets to the 75th Anniversary Concert with Joshua Bell to give away to my readers. For a chance to win the pair of tickets to this special concert, just leave a comment on this blog no later than Wednesday, June 11. I will randomly choose a winner from among the commenters, and will send a notice by email on June 12.
Lang-Lessing designed the program for the 75th anniversary concert to mirror the program of the original June 12, 1939 concert, including:
- Carl Maria von Weber, Overture to Oberon
- Richard Wagner, Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
- Richard Wagner, Prelude from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
- Maurice Ravel, Bolero
There’s one notable departure: in 1939, the featured performer was a tenor; in 1939, the featured performer will be Joshua Bell, performing Jean Sibelius’s violin concerto in D minor, op. 47, on a historic violin. “Safe from Thieves: Joshua Bell’s storied 1713 Stradivarius”, Jim Berg, Rivard Report, May 6, 2014.
Lang-Lessing reflected on what the world was like when the Symphony was founded in 1939. People had experienced years of struggle during the Great Depression, and were feeling the anxiety of what was about to become World War II. The Symphony’s founding conductor, Max Reiter, of Italian-German heritage, left Milan because of Fascism and anti-semitism in the Axis countries. A Jewish exile in San Antonio, Reiter seems like an unlikely person in a remote place at a difficult time to found and build an orchestra. Yet, it thrived.
The 1939 program is eclectic, mixing pieces that we think of now as classics (Wagner) and pops (a waltz by Johann Strauss II). Today, we might consider it a daring “crossover” program. According to Lang-Lessing, Reiter and his colleagues would not have made such sharp distinctions among types of music. It was all just music, not merely classical, pops, or popular music.
To carry this idea further, the 75th Anniversary post-concert celebration event at the St. Anthony Hotel will feature live jazz music—the popular music of 1939. (Read more about the historic St. Anthony Hotel in this earlier post about the renovations at Travis Park.)
And, in the first Pops concert of the 2014-15 season, Lang-Lessing will conduct the Symphony and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy playing music of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. “We have moved in the wrong direction to have such strict categories,” added Lang-Lessing.
Looking back at the Symphony’s 1939 founding, we see that it bloomed in difficult times, and that its founder had a comprehensive approach to music, without contrived divisions. What are the lessons we can apply today, on the Symphony’s 75th anniversary?
Lang-Lessing speculated about how the Symphony established itself during World War II. Perhaps there was a heightened sense of need during a difficult time, especially for exiles like Reiter. “Music gave people a reason to continue living. Art gave meaning to survival,” said Lang-Lessing.
Today, we are not experiencing a depression or a world war, but there is a sense that our society is divided between rich and poor, and that people spend less time as part of a community and more time consuming mass media. (I’ve been re-reading Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone (2000), an authoritative book on that subject.)
Over the past year, my kids and I have attended several concerts, and invited friends to join us. (Read more here.) I feel like we are becoming part of the Symphony community. Ticket prices are reasonable, so the Symphony brings together people of different economic backgrounds—more so than at some sporting events. People of all ages go to concerts. In the time before and after a concert, there is room to socialize and meet people who share your interests.
I agree with Lang-Lessing that sharp divisions among types of music are “counterproductive and misleading.” He sees this kind of pigeonholing across our society, with people defining themselves as either a cat person or a dog person, a basketball fan or a baseball fan. “The arts are not about that—they are for mixing.”
Compared to the Symphony’s founding, we are living in better times—no depression, no world war—but we still have a feeling of unease. Perhaps the arts are part of the remedy, especially for healing our families. Lang-Lessing is a father, and I asked him for advice that I can share with the moms and dads who read my blog.
As parents, we have some control over the influences in our children’s lives, and how they spend their time. Lang-Lessing is concerned about the lessons our children are learning from these influences. He made some key observations:
- Music is fighting for time against games and television.
- In many activities, especially sports, children are being rewarded for mere participation, rather than true success.
Lang-Lessing does not have a television at home. (I’m not that strict, but I understand where he is coming from.) His concern is that watching television is generally a passive activity.
I agree with Lang-Lessing that the practice of heaping praise for ordinary performance has gotten out of hand. It does not help our children build realistic expectations for college, the workplace, or life.
A better model for real life is learning to play a musical instrument. The first time you try, “it screams at you,” said Lang-Lessing. “It’s unforgiving and honest.” You will fail, fail, and fail again, but you keep trying. Eventually, you will make something beautiful, and feel a real sense of accomplishment. (Speaking of character education, here is an earlier post regarding teaching character strengths in charter schools.) Playing music will connect you with a timeless tradition, that—unlike our clever devices—never grows obsolete. The music that moved audiences in San Antonio in 1939 will do so again in 2014.
If you have not been to the Symphony yet, I hope you will give it a try, and consider bringing your whole family. The 2013-14 season is almost over, but the Symphony has already posted the 2014-15 schedule for Classics and Pops. Mark your calendars for the opening night concert on September 20, 2014 in the new Tobin Center, featuring Renée Fleming singing Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs. “S.A. Symphony to open in Tobin Center with Renée Fleming”, David Hendricks, San Antonio Express-News, February 21, 2014. Later in the season, there will be a Richard Strauss festival. Lang-Lessing told me about the connection between Strauss and Reiter—fascinating, but I will have to save that story for another post. The 2014-15 season will also feature a series of new commissioned works, and I looking forward to learning more about those.
Will you be joining the Symphony on Saturday, June 14th to help them celebrate their 75th anniversary? To enter the giveaway of two tickets to the 75th anniversary concert, leave a comment, no later than June 11, about your favorite way to listen to classical music. I will randomly choose a winner and send notice on June 12. Good luck!
Disclosure: The San Antonio Symphony gave me two free tickets to the 75th anniversary concert to give away.