Texas' San Antonio Symphony Shuts Down

The orchestra's board announces a plan to file for bankruptcy, after months of failed negotiations over its musicians' contracts

2
(Photo Courtesy: Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony)

 

Last year, the San Antonio Symphony's (SAS) management proposed a reduction of the orchestra’s size from 72 full-time musicians to 42, causing 30 musicians to lose their salaries and health benefits.

The musicians rejected this offer and have been on strike since September 2021. Players protested the proposed changes by staging a sit-in at San Antonio's City Council Chambers on February 17, 2022. Some held placards that read "We demand better management!" and "We're fighting for a living wage!"

Additionally, in April, Music Director Emeritus Sebastian Lang-Lessing was dismissed from the organization, after agreeing to conduct the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony (MOSAS) in a concert at the city's First Baptist Church on May 12. MOSAS is made up of players from the San Antonio Symphony, but is not associated with the organization itself, and has continued to create playing opportunities for the musicians while on strike.

Management said Lang-Lessing was dismissed since he was found to be in breach of his contract, which prevented him from being affiliated with a competing music entity within a certain distance of the city.

In what seems to be the final development of the long-fought battle, on June 16, 2022, the Board of Directors of the San Antonio Symphony released a statement announcing the dissolution of the orchestra. It reads, in part:

"With deep regret, the Board of Directors of the Symphony Society of San Antonio announces the dissolution of the San Antonio Symphony. By unanimous vote, the Board has initiated the requisite steps to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The assets of the Symphony now lie in the hands of a Trustee who will liquidate them, pay what creditors remain, and close the doors.

Labor negotiations for what would have been the 2021-22 season began in January of 2021. The last bargaining session between the Symphony Society and the Musicians’ Union took place on March 8, 2022 after which the Union declined to return to the bargaining table, despite efforts of federal mediators and the Symphony. The Musicians’ Union has made it clear there is no prospect of the resumption of negotiations, absent the Board agreeing to a budget that is millions of dollars in excess of what the Symphony can afford. The absence of a labor contract has effectively forced the Symphony to shutter its operations.

We want to thank the hundreds of talented musicians and administrative staff who have served our organization since its founding. Without your tireless dedication, we would not have had an organization to deliver great symphonic music for these past eighty years.

Over our long history, many individuals and organizations have supported the Symphony. Of particular significance are our concertgoers and season subscribers. You share our passion for symphonic music and as such, you are the heart of our work and the cornerstone of our support. We send heartfelt thanks to all of the many volunteers, former board members, and donors who have served our organization and community. Your powerful support over the years has meant the world to all of us.

As we close, we extend a final vote of thanks to you, the symphonic music lovers and generous donors and supporters who have sustained the Symphony since its founding in 1939."

 

The Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony released a statement on their website, giving their perspective on the points made in the Board's statement. Mary Ellen Goree, Principal 2nd Violin and Chair of MOSAS wrote, in part: 

The Symphony Society’s declaration of Chapter 7 bankruptcy yesterday, unhappy news though it was, did not come as much of a surprise to those of us closely involved in the events of the past year. Our board and management have been making it crystal clear for a long time that their long-term goal was the reduction of the San Antonio Symphony from the full-sized, full-time, fully professional orchestra that San Antonio has enjoyed for 83 years to a part-time, downsized orchestra of the type found in much smaller cities. When the musicians refused to participate in our own destruction, our board and management elected to burn the house down rather than move from their irrational position.

Now it is time for the musicians to move forward with plans to organize the full-sized, fully professional orchestra that any city with a claim to “major league” status must-have. We presented three pairs of artistically and financially successful concerts, one each in April, May, and June, in the beautiful sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of San Antonio. We are making plans for a fall season as well; please follow www.MOSASperformancefund.org for information as it becomes available, and/or to make a donation to support the music. The MOSAS Performance Fund is a 501©3 organization and all donations are tax-deductible.

Audiences can donate to the MOSAS Performance fund here.