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San Antonio Symphony names new executive director

November 13, 2018

The San Antonio Symphony has named Corey Cowart, currently the executive director of the Amarillo Symphony, as its new executive director.

Cowart, 40, steps into his new role Jan. 2.

“He’s quite a winner for us,” said Kathleen Weir Vale, chairwoman of the symphony’s board and a member of the search committee. “He will take us up to the next level for sure, at least.”

Cowart, a Houston native with a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Houston and a master’s in music from Yale University, began his career in arts administration with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. From there, he served as vice president of development with the Minnesota Opera before moving to Amarillo in 2015.

Cowart was one of five finalists for the San Antonio position, culled from a larger group of applicants by Arts Consulting Group, a national company specializing in executive searches for arts and culture organizations.

The things that put Cowart over the top, Vale said, were “his consummate professionalism and successful experience in arts management, particularly in symphonic arts.

“He’s got the chops.”

Cowart follows two interim directors. Karina Bharne oversaw the symphony for about six months beginning in January. Bharne was brought in following the collapse of a plan for the Symphony Society to hand over management of the organization to Symphonic Music for San Antonio, a nonprofit formed by major funders specifically to resolve the symphony’s stubborn funding problems.

Bharne left in July to accept a job as executive director for Symphony Tacoma. She was replaced by Michael Kaiser, a noted arts consultant who specializes in working with troubled arts organizations.

Kaiser had advised a city-county task force formed earlier this year to come up with solutions to the symphony’s financial issues. One of the goals drawn up by the task force was to name a permanent executive director by the end of the year.

“That’s a very, very important step,” Vale said.

Cowart said he had followed the news of the symphony’s recent turmoil: “It was very well-known in the industry,” he said.

He asked questions about it during his interviews for the executive director position.

“From hearing the steps put in place by the board, it seems like a new day for the orchestra,” he said.

Cowart first heard the San Antonio Symphony play when he took part in a master class here during his undergraduate days, and he said he has long admired the skill of the musicians.

“The quality of the orchestra is something that’s always been impressive to me,” he said. “I think the orchestra is in a place where I can really be able to come down and add strength and resiliency.”

Cowart, who studied and played the trombone, originally planned to pursue a career as a musician.

“My goal was to be a member of a major orchestra,” he said. “And what really made me switch to go to the administrative side was I just love this art form. To me, it is mankind’s highest artistic achievement, and it’s still the only thing that regularly gives me goosebumps, whether I’m listening to a live concert or a recording. And I believed that I could do more for the art form and make it stronger by working behind the stage.”

dlmartin@express-news.net | Twitter: @DeborahMartinEN

Deborah Martin is an arts writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | dlmartin@express-news.net | Twitter: @DeborahMartinEN

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