A conductor who's adept at rousing corporate brass to give vital funds
San Antonio — With business growing as fast as it is in San Antonio, even the man who conducts the symphony sometimes has to put down his baton and mingle with the corporate types.
One of the things this city's promoters almost always mention to executives thinking of moving or expanding here is the symphony orchestra. And to keep it worth mentioning, everyone involved with the symphony -- including the music director -- has to get in on fund raising.
But for the new conductor of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, that's not a great hardship.
"The job of the music director is changing," said Lawrence Leighton Smith. "I feel it's necessary to be involved in fund raising in some way. I actually enjoy that part of the job."
Mr. Smith has certainly had experience serving as combined money raiser-conductor. He recently arrived in San Antonio from Portland, Ore., where he was music director of the Oregon Symphony. There, he was involved in fund raising for an orchestra of part-time musicians. The day of the interview, in fact, was his first full day in his new house in San Antonio, and he was still unpacking.
While conductors of what he calls the six "super-major" orchestras -- in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, and Los Angeles -- may have the luxury of devoting almost all their time to the music, in smaller cities the conductor has to be more visible.
Mr. Smith's visibility has been increased by a TV commercial he made even before he moved here. Now playing on San Antonio stations, the ad shows the new conductor at a piano urging viewers to buy season tickets, not the sort of thing conductors in some of the larger cities do very often.
If the orchestras in the six cities listed earlier are in the "super-major" category, what does that make San Antonio's? "This is a major orchestra," claims Mr. Smith, who has also conducted in Austin, Texas, and served as assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. One skeptical East Coast music critic, hearing of the major/super-major categories, remembered how a soap company used to call the smallest size of a certain product "large," and the next two larger sizes "giant" and "jumbo."
But Mr. Smith says that in fulfilling part of his definition of a major orchestra, the San Antonio Symphony does provide him with a luxury he did not enjoy in Portland -- an orchestra of full-time musicians. For the 85 players here, "this is their main job." At Portland, "we had to practice in the evenings and on weekends. And not everybody could be there all the time."
Another thing that separates the majors from the super-majors, Mr. Smith says , is the size of the budget. The larger orchestras have over $10 million to spend. In San Antonio, the budget is around $4 million, he says.
While the San Antonio Symphony probably will have a small deficit this year, he hopes to change that by fund raising and by having the orchestra become more visible. To this end, the city will be helping by paying for a series of free public concerts in mostly outdoor locations around San Antonio.
Of course, Mr. Smith is also working on his orchestra; and, like the budget, he wants to see that built up, too.
"I want to increase the size of the string section," he says.