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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

Tobin Center lifts curtain on resident orchestra's ambitious future

Classical Music Institute Musicians
Courtesy photo
Siggi Ragnar
Classical Music Institute Musicians

A surprise announcement on Tuesday elevated the Classical Music Institute into a new role at the Tobin Center.

The move was announced via email: The Orchestra San Antonio (TOSA) will be the Tobin’s new resident symphony. At the heart of TOSA is CEO Paul Montalvo, who was a San Antonio firefighter for 26 years.

“I got my music degree and music composition at UTSA in 2002. And then co-founded the at the time, Chamber Orchestra San Antonio in '08,” he said.

That chamber orchestra educational arm melded into the Classical Music Institute, which formed the core of what he said now becomes TOSA.

Former San Antonio Express-News critic Mike Greenberg has covered music in the city for decades.

“Their programing at their concerts has been really fascinating,” he explained. “A lot of contemporary music. There's quite a lot of music by women composers.”

This concert, 'The Apotheosis of Dance,' was performed in December 2022 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and features four pieces notable for their dance rhythms.

TOSA is at this point still in the planning stages. With very few employees, Montalvo said its budget is lean.

“We're starting small. This year it's at around $2.1 million, and next year we're looking at about $2.5 million,” he said. “The goal would be to grow that to let's say by between 2030 and 2032, to grow that between $6 and 7 million.”

While Montalvo is a working musician, as the CEO of a non-profit, he’s hiring musicians in a calculating way so as to not get ahead of himself.

“There's maybe about four to five that are employed because we've started in the last just year and a half. And like I said, we're building very slow, making sure that what we do build upon is sustainable,” he said.

They are planning their first performance season for next spring.

“We're going to announce everything in detail in July; it'll be a fun season,” Montalvo said.

Given the selection of TOSA as the new resident orchestra at the Tobin, you may be wondering about the San Antonio Philharmonic, the city’s other professional orchestra. Why were they not selected as the resident company? Montalvo said while that was not his decision to make, he hopes both organizations will thrive.

“I think the city is big enough for both. I think, you know, our missions are different. And doesn't that benefit the city?” he said.

Classical Music Institute Musicians
Courtesy photo
Siggi Ragnar
Classical Music Institute Musicians

Greenberg said that both organizations have high aspirations and talent, though there is an important difference between them.

“Neither organization has anything to be ashamed of. With the possible exception of Classical Music Institute being a non-union shop. And that is the cause of a lot of friction between them and the Philharmonic,” Greenberg said.

The Philharmonic is made up largely of musicians who once played in the San Antonio Symphony, which was the original resident symphony before they dissolved in June 2022.

Greenberg said there’s a lot of talent in both organizations and they both deserve to exist.

“Ideally you would have both and both would be well supported. I think it's conceivable that they could merge and be one organization that is really extraordinary,” he said.

The Philharmonic declined to be interviewed for this story. Montalvo is hoping both entities will succeed and thinks that they have different paths to take. He takes a philosophical stand on the way forward.

“It's not about us versus them. It's about why can't just the both of us just do what we do? And I think that's possible,” he said.

Like the Philharmonic, TOSA has extensive outreach in local schools with young people.

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Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii