San Antonio Symphony leadership announces the nonprofit's new contract agreement with the musician union at the Tobin Center on June 5, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Before Friday night’s performance and the 2014-2015 season finale of “Scheherazade and Peer Gynt” began at the Tobin Center for the o ArtsSan Antonio Symphony leadership made a special announcement to the audience. Yes, there was a silent auction for Maestro Sebastian Lang-Lessing‘s baton in the lobby – but the big news was that the San Antonio Symphony and the musician union had worked out a new, two-year contract for the musicians that includes some innovative incentive mechanisms.

“This is the first time in collective memory that we’ve agreed to a contract before the end of the season,” said David Kinder, chair of the SA Symphony Board. “But both sides were committed … it was a very cooperative, collegial discussion. We’re completely aligned on our goals for moving forward.”

The new two-year contract comes after a three-year deal but this time includes fundraising benchmarks for an existing endowment that is held and managed by the San Antonio Area Foundation – as benchmarks are met, more weeks will be added to the season and weekly salaries will be increased – so the musicians will see slightly higher compensation for more performances. In addition, as these benchmarks are met, the contract will be automatically renewed for another year for up to a total of five years. SA Symphony salaries are paid by the week. The more weeks, the better pay.

To get people in the mood to donate, Alfredo “Freddie” Cervera, a board member and president of the San Antonio Symphony League, announced a $100,000 matching-grant challenge for funds donated to the Symphony’s operating budget.

“For every dollar that’s given to the San Antonio Symphony,  the Symphony League will match your donation dollar for dollar,” Cervera said.

SA Symphony President David Gross speaks with Alfredo "Freddie" Cervera, an SA Symphony board member and president of the San Antonio Symphony League on stage at the Tobin Center. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
SA Symphony President David Gross speaks with Alfredo “Freddie” Cervera, an SA Symphony board member and president of the San Antonio Symphony League on stage at the Tobin Center. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

An online landing page for donations is still pending and will be included here when it is live, but those interested in contributing to the endowment can call the SA Symphony’s Development Office at (210) 554-1052.

Before the announcement Lauren Eberhart, second trumpet and chair of the union’s negotiation committee, said that she couldn’t say if the vote Friday afternoon by the more than 80 musicians was unanimous but that it was a very solid majority.

“This is a really important week. This week we have the end of the Symphony’s 75th anniversary and also the end of our first season in this beautiful Tobin Center,” Eberhart told the crowd. “It’s an agreement that we believe will serve our shared goal of continuing to provide and expand our service to San Antonio with artistic excellence. … We look forward to remaining a vibrant part of cultural life in San Antonio for many years to come.”

The audience at the Tobin Center heartily applauded the new contract and with that, continued on to enjoy the night’s performance.

David Kinder, chair of the SA Symphony Board, announces the new contract with Lauren Eberhart, SA Symphony second trumpet. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
David Kinder, chair of the SA Symphony Board, announces the new contract with Lauren Eberhart, SA Symphony second trumpet. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“All of the parties that negotiated the contract have an incentive for the endowment effort to be successful,” said David Gross, president of the SA Symphony earlier this week. “(It represents) out-of-the-box thinking.”

With Lang-Lessing finishing up the first year of a five-year contract and Gross and Kinder’s continued commitment, “the Symphony is in a good place as far as leadership stability,” Kinder said. The contract contributes to that long-term stability on the “labor” side of the equation.

In addition to the new pay structure and endowment, the new contract also includes new internal formats for community outreach activities that will make it easier for musicians to be available for those activities like the Young Person’s Concerts that offers free admission to concerts that tie into class curriculums about literature, science, history, and more.

In addition to its classic programming, the SA Symphony also offers H-E-B POPS concerts; a movie series; and collaborates with Opera San Antonio, Ballet San Antonio, and Youth Orchestra San Antonio (YOSA). It also plans on starting a rock n’ roll series next year that will feature music from classic rock bands.

The first year, base rate salary for a San Antonio Symphony musician is $33,300 and raises are few, small, and far between, Eberhart said. For perspective, local waitresses at mid-range restaurants can usually make more than $30,000 per year. Tenure, for the most part, is realized in job security more than wages. Most musicians supplement their income by teaching private lessons, teaching a class, joining smaller chamber groups that perform concerts and at public/private events, or all of the above.

“I think they (the musicians) feel very optimistic about the endowment aspect of the contract because they know that we have the next two years solid and if the contract goes beyond that, it’s because we’re all doing the things we need to do to (achieve) stability and long-term goals,” she said. “It gets everybody going in the same direction.”

The transition from the Majestic Theatre to the Tobin Center has had its upsides and downs, but musician salaries have not been effected. “It’s a lot more expensive to operate in the Tobin and that presents some problems,” Gross said. “But for the patrons, it’s an entirely positive (change) in terms of acoustics and (amenities).”

If the fundraising benchmark for contract renewal is not met, the union will have to renegotiate another contract.

The 2015-2016 season begins on Sept. 16 with Beethoven’s 9th and closes on June 4, 2016 with Gustav Mahler’s powerfully moving Symphony No. 1 “Titan.” Click here to learn more.

The San Antonio Symphony prepares for its final 2014-2015 season performance. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
The San Antonio Symphony prepares for its final 2014-2015 season performance. Photo by Iris Dimmick. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

*Featured/top image: San Antonio Symphony leadership announces the nonprofit’s new contract agreement with the musician union at the Tobin Center on June 5, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick. 

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org