New Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra Committee Chair Mary Ellen Goree, with outgoing Chair Craig Sorgi.
Mary Ellen Goree (left) is the new Orchestra Committee chair for the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony, replacing Craig Sorgi (right). Credit: Courtesy / Peter Rubins

Craig Sorgi, the San Antonio Symphony violinist who shepherded the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony through one of its most tumultuous periods, is stepping down as the union’s negotiating chair. His resignation was announced Monday.

Sorgi said he considers the resolution earlier this month of a new labor agreement for musicians as among the five-member Orchestra Committee’s most difficult challenges “possibly ever.” He credited new management under Symphony Society Board Chair Kathleen Weir Vale, and an outpouring of support from the community.

“I think the fact that we’re still onstage really speaks to the hard work of the members of that committee, but especially Craig’s leadership,” said violinist Mary Ellen Goree, who will replace Sorgi.

Along with Sorgi, the committee’s other four members also have stepped down and been replaced by other musicians. They will continue to work with negotiator Brian Petkovich, who remains as secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Musicians Local 23, Sorgi said, as the Symphony heads toward new contract negotiations.

The current agreement takes the San Antonio Symphony only through its shortened 2017-18 season and into August.

“She’s an extremely intelligent person, very organized, incredibly logical,” Sorgi said of Goree. “She also understands the contract, and she’s been a great union colleague. She’s fantastic, so I think the orchestra is in really good hands.”

Sorgi and Goree have worked together on the orchestra committee in past years, including during contract negotiations. Sorgi has been in the Symphony for 36 years, and Goree for 30 years.

Goree said she is ready to lead the orchestra into contract negotiations, adding that the Symphony’s new interim executive director, Karina Bharne, with whom Goree likely will be negotiating, is “very well respected by the musicians. She is extremely knowledgeable and dedicated to the Symphony.”

Like Sorgi, Goree will manage day-to-day communications between musicians and management, dealing with issues as they arise, including ensuring that contract stipulations are being upheld by both sides, she said.

Goree is concerned that preparations for next season have been delayed. “You can’t just put a symphony season together at the last minute,” she said, noting that operations from marketing to development are adversely affected.

Sorgi acknowledged that he is exhausted, “physically and emotionally spent right now. This was the most difficult, complicated, bizarre term of service that I ever experienced.” He noted that 26 of his 36 years have been spent in one or another role on the orchestra committee, a period during which the Symphony has declared bankruptcy and seen many changes in leadership.

San Antonio Symphony violinist Craig Sorgi (left, at podium) speaks at a press conference in front of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in December. Credit: Nicholas Frank

“Given as exhausting as this whole experience has been, I felt like right now we’re in a good place, with a lot of forward momentum and a lot of positivity out there,” he said.

“We’ve earned the right to hand off a good-progress situation to a new group, who can bring their ideas to the next phase of the development of this story.”

Of upcoming contract negotiations, Sorgi said, “Hopefully they will have as pleasant an experience as we had with Kathleen [Vale, new Symphony Society board chair]. Collective bargaining doesn’t have to be a horrible experience, if both parties come to the table with mutual, shared interests and honesty and openness. It doesn’t have to be adversarial.”

Meanwhile, he will be grateful for time and energy to focus on his playing as first violinist, and on reading a book he’s been trying to finish for some time, Sorgi said.

The book, he said, is dystopian science fiction, set in “the aftermath of an environmental catastrophe of sorts, not completely explained.” He drew no comparisons to his recent experience as a Symphony union leader.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...