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San Antonio Symphony to file for bankruptcy, putting end to drawn-out labor fight

Local performers say they continue to keep the music going via their own concerts.

SAN ANTONIO — After months of cancelled concerts and a prolonged strike by musicians, the San Antonio Symphony will soon be no more—making the Alamo City the biggest in the U.S. without an official symphony or philharmonic group. 

It had been in operation since 1939, operating out of multiple local venues over that time, but most recently the Tobin Center downtown. 

In a Facebook post Thursday night, the organization – beset by labor negotiations that were never able to find a middle ground – announced its "dissolution," saying the "absence of a labor contract has effectively forced the Symphony to shutter its operations." It plans to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. 

Statement from the Symphony Society of San Antonio Board of Directors June 16, 2022 With deep regret, the Board of...

Posted by San Antonio Symphony on Thursday, June 16, 2022

Mary Ellen Goree, chair of the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony (MOSAS) which started to put on its own concerts this spring, said she and her colleagues received the news the same way the public did, while also disputing that there was no existing contract. 

According to her, an existing agreement ratified by both sides in August of 2019 wasn't set to expire until later this summer. 

“For them to claim there is no collective bargaining agreement is false," Goree said. "This situation is entirely of their own making.”

“It was very clear the board was not going to take the actions that the musicians believe – and continue to believe – would have preserved the Symphony Society as a professional orchestra in San Antonio," she added, saying their focus now turns to the potential of a "successor organization" to keep the music going on a more stable basis.  

In a full statement posted to its website, MOSAS said, in part, "We have not forgotten the students of San Antonio and are also planning to continue our acclaimed educational concerts for students from every corner of the city and from every educational setting."

The impasse was declared in September between musicians and symphony board members, launching the strike following a season in which performers agreed to take an 80% pay cut to finish the scheduled performances. Symphony leaders had put forward what they called "their last, best offer," which would have reduced the group from 72 full-time musicians down to 42 while slashing their salaries by one-third. They would have been accompanied by a contingent of 26 part-time musicians. 

The musician's union rejected that offer, even as the symphony's executive director said it was part of a long-term plan to make the organization more sustainable. A stalemate ensued.  

"We send heartfelt thanks to all of the many volunteers, former board members, and donors who have served our organization and community," the symphony's board of directors said via a longer statement posted on the organization's website, which has been scrubbed of any other information. "Your powerful support over the years has meant the world to all of us."

The news was met with messages of heartbreak online, where one Facebook user replied the post saying, "There are some wonderful musicians who are great people impacted, and the cultural loss of music and art is heartbreaking." Another user said it marked "a tragic day for the arts and the San Antonio community."

Mayor Ron Nirenberg added his voice to the chorus of disappointment, while also saying a "sustainable financial foundation" is integral to having a "full-size, world-class orchestra."

"I have faith that our community is up to the challenge of determining what that structure will be," he added. 

Since September, musicians held rallies outside the Tobin Center and organized silent protests outside the homes of symphony directors, while at the same time conducting private lessons and playing with orchestras across Texas. 

Meanwhile, agreements remained elusive in recent meetings between union representatives and symphony leaders, and in May the plug was pulled on the remainder of the 2021-'22 season. 

Meanwhile, the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony plans to continue playing. 

“I’m excited for the future," Goree told KENS 5. "I’m not happy about the events of today, but I am optimistic for the future.”

   

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