Two San Antonio residents are showing what it might take to chart a new course for the ailing San Antonio Symphony.
Aaron Hufty and Ian Thompson worked together to produce two unofficial symphony concerts at First Baptist Church on Thursday and Friday, featuring the entire orchestra performing together for the first time since going on strike in September. The two symphony fans provided the venue and raised funds independently of the musicians and the Symphony Society of San Antonio, which normally manages the orchestra.
The symphony’s board and musicians are locked in an ongoing labor dispute, in part because the board says it cannot raise enough funds to cover the orchestra’s annual budget.
“We’ve got to get the music playing,” said Thompson. A San Antonio urologist who has not previously been a symphony donor, he raised nearly $75,000 to pay the musicians their regular wages and to cover other expenses for the concerts. “I want that church to be full both nights as a message to musicians that they’re loved and cared about, and they’re a valuable part of our community, and that we should step up.”
As associate pastor of worship and music for First Baptist, Hufty regularly produces performances for the church’s First Fine Arts series. Talking with Thompson one day after a service, the two discovered they had hit upon the same idea separately: to put on independently produced symphony concerts at the church.
“I want this week to help move the needle forward,” Hufty said. “This week is to remind all of us that, first of all, these are people whose lives are really on hold. … I want to remind the city that this treasure is worth supporting.”
Hufty estimated expenses and handled logistics for the concerts while Thompson secured donations from colleagues, clients and friends.
The issue is personal for both. Hufty has hired the symphony annually for Christmas concerts and wanted to help in any way he could. Thompson’s two young daughters take music lessons with Angela Caporale, a section violinist with the symphony. He said that while he is not “partisan” on the issues that have so far prevented resolution of the strike, Thompson sympathizes with the plight of the musicians, who have gone unpaid and are without health insurance since the strike began.
“Watching the effect of all that’s been going on, it’s just kind of sad,” he said. Speaking of any one of the orchestra musicians, he said witnessing “somebody that has spent so much time as a professional honing their craft … not being able to get a fair shake” spurred him into action.
During a break between rehearsals on Wednesday, Caporale said she’s grateful for the chance to perform with her colleagues, “because it’s like a family. We’ve been through so much together for so many years.”
Caporale said it’s also important for her students to have an opportunity to see her perform onstage and to “know that the teacher has gone through the same thing that they are trying to do when they perform. … It’s a symbiotic relationship, in that way.”
Hufty said the concerts help fulfill the philosophy of the First Fine Arts series, and of the church in general.
“I believe great faith deserves great art,” he said. “This God that I love and serve was a real creative God, and every time we create something … it’s a reflection of his character. And so I just want to champion that. The church for centuries was the bastion of all great art, so I just want to be a part of supporting these musicians, because I think that is right on mission with who we are.”
Tickets for each concert are $20, but Thompson hopes concertgoers will consider additional donations to help the musicians. Any additional proceeds will go to their union group, the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony.
Mary Ellen Goree, principal second violinist for the symphony, and Corey Cowart, the orchestra’s executive director, reported little progress in negotiations so far, with a third session involving federal mediators scheduled for March 8. “The good news,” Cowart said, “is that the mediators have succeeded in leading both parties in ongoing conversations.”
While the musicians wait, Caporale said she is focused on the present. “We don’t know the future, but we do get to play again,” Caporale said. “And it feels right.”