Max Reiter, director of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, was born in Trieste, Italy, on October 20, 1905. In 1915 his German-born businessman father and his Italian mother moved to Munich, where he continued his middle-school education and attended a university. He studied conducting with Bruno Walter and at the insistence of his father also earned a doctorate in law.
Reiter's first public appearance was in a concert in 1927 with the violinist Joseph Szigeti. In 1929 he became the first assistant conductor at the State Opera of Berlin. He conducted orchestras to glowing reviews in all the major cities of Italy, at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, at Munich, Budapest, and Warsaw, and in Russia. He conducted opera in Yugoslavia as well. In 1933, with the rise of Nazism, he left Germany and settled in Milan, where he became director of the orchestra. In 1937 in Merano he became acquainted with Richard Strauss, who arranged a symphonic suite of waltzes from the opera Der Rosenkavalier at Reiter's suggestion. The friendship between the two men later led Reiter to premiere many of Strauss's works with the San Antonio Symphony and in radio broadcasts.
After the Fascists staged an anti-Semitic demonstration outside of the hall in Rome where he was conducting in August 1938, Reiter left for the United States. Following a brief stop in Switzerland, he arrived in New York, only to find the city overcrowded with conductors, many of whom were European refugees. Reiter was advised by the Steinway family to go to Texas, which he believed to be one of the areas least affected by the Great Depression; more Steinway pianos per capita had sold in Texas than in any other state.
In Texas, Reiter first went to San Antonio, where, in spite of initial encouragement, he made little immediate progress in establishing an orchestra. He then traveled to Waco, where he gave a "demonstration concert," using an orchestra composed of Baylor music faculty, student members of the Baylor orchestra and band, amateur musicians from Waco, and a few key players from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Inspired by the success of this concert, Waco citizens decided to form a symphony orchestra and engaged Reiter to conduct four concerts the following season.
In the meantime some of Reiter's supporters from San Antonio had attended the Waco concert and reasoned that Reiter would do even better in a city like San Antonio, which had a greater supply of talent and a long-standing tradition of supporting the arts. Reiter's supporters organized a similar demonstration concert in the Sunken Garden Theater in San Antonio on June 12, 1939. The event was a resounding success and led to the establishment of the Symphony Society of San Antonio, with Reiter as the orchestra's founding conductor and music director. Under his baton the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, which began with amateur players as well as professional musicians, grew and prospered.
Reiter was invited to conduct with the NBC Orchestra, which was under the direction of Arturo Toscanini, and with the ABC Orchestra, among other distinguished appearances. The San Antonio children's concerts and the annual opera festival, with nationally acclaimed guest stars, were inaugurated under Reiter's leadership. In June 1946 Reiter married Pauline Washer Goldsmith, who had helped found the orchestra. He died on December 13, 1950, in San Antonio.