The San Antonio Symphony performs at the Tobin Center. Photo by Scott Ball.
The San Antonio Symphony, led by conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing, performs at the Tobin Center. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio Symphony will play out its current season through June 10 under a new contract negotiated this week by the player’s union and its managing board, Craig Sorgi, negotiating chair for the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony, confirmed late Thursday afternoon.

The Symphony musicians ratified the contract at its concert rehearsal Thursday – an agreement that preserves current weekly salaries and does not cut any players through the season’s end, Sorgi said in a telephone interview.

He said the agreement preserves “almost all the entire season,” and referred the release of additional contract details to Kathleen Vale, newly appointed chairwoman of the Symphony Society of San Antonio, which manages the Symphony. She could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

However, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), wrote in a text message to the Rivard Report that under the new contract, the season will include seven classical performances, three pops concerts, and three “young persons’ concerts.”

Treviño also said the City will disburse “$368,400 throughout the rest of the season paid directly to the Tobin Center [for the Performing Arts] for the rental and use fees associated with each concert.” The city had $614,000 in its current budget dedicated to the 2017-2018 Symphony season.

Reached Thursday night, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg confirmed the tentative agreement between the Symphony and City, and said Council will vote on it next week in open session.

“Our goal is to spur the community into action to continue the Symphony’s performances through the Tricentennial, and in hopes beyond that in its current form,” he said. “A clear focus for [Bexar County] Judge [Nelson] Wolff and myself is that we have a world-class symphony … and if the community believes in that, we’ll all do what we can to support it.

“There’s a lot of work yet to do,” he continued. “The city and county can’t be the saviors for an orchestra. It will be a community rising up together in support of the arts, and that’s not just a conversation specifically about the Symphony … it’s a conversation about a vibrant arts community and an equitable one, and what role that has in the identity and the future of San Antonio.”

Sorgi praised Vale as “fantastic” during the negotiations. “She took over the leadership and has done fantastic work in a short period of time,” he said.

“I have never been in a negotiation meeting that was as pleasant as this one … It was really refreshing,” Sorgi told the Rivard Report.

“I have very high hopes where this can go,” he continued, adding, “The universe put all the right people at the table yesterday.” Sorgi, a first violinist, has been a member of the Symphony for 36 years.

Sorgi thanked the community, and city and county officials in particular, for their robust support following the orchestra’s near collapse.

The players’ ratification of a new contract comes about a week after the Symphony Society announced on Jan. 3 that it would cancel the remainder of the Symphony’s 2017-18 season after last weekend’s Tricentennial Celebration concerts.

Some 24 hours later, Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the Symphony’s musical director and conductor, surprised a packed house at last Friday night’s concert by announcing that the orchestra’s shows would go on, reversing the cancellation. At that point, however, he said he could not promise how many performances would occur.

This weekend, the Symphony will perform Beethoven’s Eroica symphony Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., and a Sunday 2 p.m. matinee.

Sorgi said the musicians were excited about one addition in the new agreement from previous attempts: an electronic media guarantee. “It’s a very shiny new object” that we have wanted for a decade, he said, one that will enable the orchestra to offer live-streaming and digital downloads of performances “like a lot of other orchestras.” The ability to offer performances online gives broader exposure to the Symphony’s performances, he said.

Sorgi credited the musicians, Vale, San Antonio City Council members, Bexar County Commissioners, and the community at large for responding to the Symphony’s precarious situation.

“Now we have a real dialogue going on in the broader community,” Sorgi said. “There’s so much hope now, so much potential for the orchestra to go in the direction we’ve wanted to go for so long.”

Sorgi said that in addition to him, the musicians’ negotiating committee included Lee Hipp, vice chair, who plays tuba; Lauren Eberhardt, trumpet; Laura Scalzo, first violinist; Patrick Montgomery, second trombone; Brian Petkovich, a bassoonist and secretary and treasurer of Local 23 of the American Federation of Musicians; Richard Oppenheim, president of Local 23; and the union’s lawyer, David Van Os.

The contract agreement ratification comes in the wake of a turbulent year for the Symphony, which has experienced decades of financial and management difficulties. A nonprofit organization organized last summer, the Symphonic Music for San Antonio (SMSA), pulled out of a planned transition agreement with the Symphony Society on Dec. 27. Representatives of three of the Symphony’s largest donors comprised the SMSA: H-E-B, the Tobin Endowment, and the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation.

It remains to be seen whether those donors will continue to provide major support to the Symphony with the Symphony Society back in charge of managing the orchestra.

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Beth Frerking

Beth Frerking is the former editor-in-chief of the Rivard Report.