In 1959, the San Angelo Symphony Society and its President, Henry Batjer Jr. established a competition in music for young Texas budding artists. Dr. Eric Sorantin, the founder and first conductor of the Symphony was honored by the Society in naming the competition "The Sorantin Competition." The first overall winner was the well-known Texas pianist, James Dick.
Funding for the awards was made possible during the first five years by the Junior League of San Angelo. In 1965, the Hemphill-Wells Foundation began its financial support for the competition and award, which in time came to be named the Hemphill-Wells Sorantin Award for Young Artists.
1985 marked the 25th anniversary of the competition. At the time the award for the overall winner was increased from $300 to $850, and the total number of contestants over the years had risen to over 1,000.
Initially a competition for Texas artists, the contest has greatly expanded to international interest, drawing competitors in from all over the world and consistently from the major conservatories and music schools. In the past, soloists of many types of instruments and even voice were invited to enter the competition, and the preliminary round as well as the semifinals and finals were conducted live in San Angelo. In more recent years, the focus has been narrowed to strings and piano,the total prize awards have increased to $10,000, and the preliminary round is now judged from DVDs submitted by the contestants. The public is still invited to hear the semifinal round free of charge. The finals are part of the Symphony's regular subscription concert series.