This article has been updated.
After nearly nine months of a concert season lost to a musicians’ strike and failed contract negotiations, the 83-year-old San Antonio Symphony is no more. Again.
The Symphony Society of San Antonio board of directors announced Thursday that it had reached a unanimous decision to dissolve the orchestra and file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The board last declared bankruptcy in the summer of 2003, and the following season was canceled before the revived symphony returned for a 26-week season in 2004. Years of financial struggles followed, with regular deficits resulting in a nearly canceled 2018 season.
In its Thursday announcement, the board of directors cited the withdrawal from negotiations of the musicians’ union, American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 23, in April, and musicians’ demands for “a budget that is millions of dollars in excess of what the Symphony can afford.”
During negotiations that began in 2021, the musicians and the orchestra management made multiple proposals to continue the 2021-2022 season with concessions including a reduced schedule and wage reductions. What ended negotiations was the musicians’ refusal to accept a two-tier wage schedule imposed on them by management in September, which resulted in a strike that continued until the season was canceled in May.
The Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony independently organized a series of public concerts with the help of city residents and funders including the Symphony League of San Antonio, which donated $100,000 for eight concerts. Two of those concerts were conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing, who served as music director for 10 years beginning in 2010.
The Symphony Society terminated Lang-Lessing’s contract as music director emeritus for conducting the concerts, citing a breach of contract.
Lang-Lessing subsequently called for the board to resign.
Reached for comment while conducting in Seoul with the Korea National Opera, Lang-Lessing said dissolving the orchestra is far worse than the board resigning, which would have potentially preserved the organization for a new board to take over.
“If a board resigns, it gives other people the the possibility to carry on the mission,” Lang-Lessing said.
“Instead of admitting failure, they now claim that the musicians — because of their lack of willingness to negotiate on a plan that doesn’t work — are to be blamed.”
Board chair Kathleen Weir Vale could not be reached for comment prior to publication.
MOSAS chair and principal second violinist Mary Ellen Goree said, “it’s a very sad day.” She said the orchestra has been nationally recognized for its excellence and commitment to the finest artistic quality.
“I think that the Symphony Society deserved better by its leadership. I think the musicians have deserved better,” Goree said.
Goree said she and other musicians have donated monetarily to the Symphony Society over the years, in addition to multiple and repeated concessions made in efforts to help the orchestra continue.
She expressed gratitude for the “many hard-working board members and many hard-working staff members over the decades. I want to make it clear that the musicians are grateful for their efforts.”
The board of directors thanked “the hundreds of talented musicians and administrative staff who have served our organization since its founding,” and closed its announcement by recognizing “symphonic music lovers and generous donors and supporters who have sustained the Symphony since its founding in 1939.”