The San Antonio Symphony (SAS) has had financial troubles before but the recent crisis provoked genuine fear that the city may be left without a professional symphonic orchestra. The first public indication of serious trouble arrived in the form of an emailed letter from violinist Craig Sorgi, who was the musicians’ representative in the contract negotiations with the symphony management. It was sent Dec. 18 and described as “a press release regarding disturbing new developments in the ongoing negotiations between the musicians and the management.” The musicians called a press conference to tell the public that management “walked out of a bargaining meeting after only five minutes at the table.”
The problem apparently stemmed from the odd situation SAS found itself at that moment. Having been governed by the nonprofit Symphony Society of San Antonio (SSSA) for 78 years, the organization was taken over last fall by the newly formed Symphonic Music for San Antonio (SMSA), created by three major donors – H-E-B, the Tobin Endowment and the Kronkosky Foundation. By the end of the year, the Symphony Society had largely disbanded, said Sorgi, with only a few people left to tie up some loose ends. At the bargaining meeting it was apparently unclear who had the authority to negotiate with the orchestra members.
From there on, the events took a somewhat bizarre sequence of turns. SMSA pulled out of the deal citing a pension fund liability that, it said, it did not know about, followed by the cancellation of the remaining winter-spring season and the abrupt resignation of SSSA’s chair Dr. Alice Viroslav. Prospects looked bleak. But two days later, the former board vice-chair Kathleen Weir Vale bravely jumped in and literally saved the “sinking ship.” She rallied SSSA’s forces, city leaders and enough donors to reinstate most of the cancelled programming, and returned to the negotiating table with the musicians. The new contracts were hammered out in about two hours.
“It was actually a pleasant and productive meeting, an enjoyable experience” said the clearly relieved Sorgi, a SAS veteran who had witnessed other crises during his 36 years with the orchestra. “The universe was very kind to everyone that day.”
When I spoke with Sarah Silver, the newly designated contact person at SAS, on Jan. 12, she was reluctant to confirm anything beyond the fact that the next two January concerts were back on the schedule. The next day, the Tobin Center sent a press statement in Silver’s name. It confirmed that the majority of the spring 2018 concerts would indeed take place and included part of the letter sent a few days before in which the new chair graciously thanks all who contributed to the resolution of the crisis.
“You have no idea how excited we are,” said Sorgi. “We are thrilled and the future looks bright.”
End of turmoil. Time to go the concert!
This weekend: Eroica Symphony by Beethoven ( Coincidentally a good choice for this new beginning at SAS); tonight and Sunday, Jan. 14. Also on the program are Ellington’s Three Black Kings and Schwantner’s New Morning for the World.
Next week: Classical Mystery Tour, music of the Beatles with Jim Owen (guitar, piano, vocals), Tony Kishman (bass guitar, piano, vocals), Tom Teeley (lead guitar, vocals) and Chris Camillieri (drums, vocals). This should be an interesting rock-classical blend – Yesterday accompanied by a string quartet!! Jan. 19-20 at 8 p.m.
Tickets at www.tobincenter.org/box-office