San Antonio Symphony To Play Final Concert Of The Season Saturday

Jan 4, 2018

UPDATE, Friday evening: The Symphony Society of San Antonio voted on Friday afternoon to continue the current performance season in an abbreviated format. This is a developing story and will be updated.

 

Original story continues below.

 

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A Wednesday night meeting of the board running the San Antonio Symphony and the musicians' union ended with the suspension of the remaining performance season, effective Sunday.

The symphony will play its last two concerts at a Tricentennial event Friday and Saturday, at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

"This city no longer has an orchestra as of Monday morning, until further notice, and I don't know when it's coming back," symphony violinist and union member Craig Sorgi said.

San Antonio's symphony, which was formed in 1939, was run by the San Antonio Symphony Society. The financially troubled orchestra was energized last spring when a consortium of three of the symphony's major donors created a management board called Symphonic Music for San Antonio, which planned to take over Sept. 1.

"They made promises in the spring and summer. They were going to do a better job than the previous board management, the Symphony Society,” Sorgi said. “They were going to improve the lives of the musicians. They were going to make sure that we were finally treated fairly."

But problems with the takeover surfaced when the new group looked into musician pension obligations, said Symphonic Music board chair J. Bruce Bugg Jr.

"The pension fund was underfunded by the Symphony Society of San Antonio to the tune of more than $4 million," he said.

The musicians' union contract ran out in September. "We gave them all the time in the world. We gave them a four month extension to get their act together, and they just stalled and stalled and stalled," he said.

Symphonic Music decided to back out of the takeover deal, handing back responsibility to the Symphonic Society. Bugg said the $4 million figure was simply a misreading of the pension information, but the damage had been done. The ball was back in the Symphony Society's court, but board chair Alice Viroslav said when they looked at expenses for the remaining season, it didn't look good.

"One of the options that we'd looked at was producing a modified or shortened second half of the season, and the price tag on that would have been about $2.6 million," she said.

But while the shortened playing season reduced cost, Viroslav said they didn’t reduce them enough. The symphony's three major funders had contributed about $2 million since last July.

"In the first half of the season they've already contributed a very significant amount of money and time to the symphony, so they've already supported us,” Viroslav said. “But they were not able to support us in the second half of the season."

Union musicians now face the new year without pay and many are already looking for work elsewhere, Sorgi said.

"Those players are not going to stick around and wait and see what happens for a year. They're going to move on, and we're going to lose them," he said.

Viroslav said she comes from a town that's a fraction of San Antonio's size, and it has a symphony.

"I was a Symphony Belle in San Angelo. We always had a symphony, and I took the symphony for granted,” she said. “It didn't occur to me that you wouldn't have a symphony."

Back in San Antonio, Sorgi said, “It's not over until it's over.”

“We are not done fighting. We are not giving up," he said.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org