Board dissolves San Antonio Symphony amidst musician strike, citing lack of labor contract
The San Antonio Symphony announced on Thursday that its board voted to dissolve the symphony. They cited stalled negotiations with the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony, with no sign of movement, and a lack of a labor contract as reasons for dissolution.
The musicians have been on strike since late September 2021.
Musician and union spokesperson Mary Ellen Goree wasn’t surprised that this was how the process ended.
“I would certainly have preferred it if they had simply dissolved the board and left room for new leadership to come forward," she said, "because there are people in San Antonio who are very much committed to keeping a professional orchestra on stage. The musicians did not have input into this decision, so our perspective was not invited and not welcome.”
Goree added: “I think that the community has made it very clear that they do want there to be a professional orchestra in San Antonio and the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony remain committed to continuing to provide music for our community.”
She also questioned the legality of the board's move. She cited a 2019 contract that specifies what needs to be done if there is a dissolution of the San Antonio Symphony Society, the board that manages the symphony.
She read an excerpt of the document to TPR: “Such transfer of assets shall be subject to the approval of the Union and the members of the orchestra, as well as the Board of Directors of the society.”
The only vote taken was within the Symphony Society.
Symphony Executive Director Corey Cowart declined TPR's request for comment.
The news reached Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the symphony's former music director, during a visit to South Korea. He said the move by management was indefensible.
“It's totally in contradiction with the mission of the San Antonio Symphony, and they need to be held accountable for that," he said. "By just dissolving now and ... to blame to the musicians is a very arrogant move.”
In a statement, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said, “The parties’ inability to reach an agreement even with a federal mediator is a disappointment for music lovers across the city."
He added: "I remain committed to the vision that San Antonio should have a full-size, world-class orchestra, but the symphony must have a sustainable financial foundation. I have faith that our community is up to the challenge of determining what that structure will be."
Looking to the future, Goree said the Musicians Performance Fund was busy planning fall concerts. She also hinted that a new organization to run the symphony may be in the works.
“We have been positioning ourselves to be part of a new organization for several months. The Performance Fund Board is a 501 C3,” she said.
The musicians just concluded a season hosted at the First Baptist Church, independent from symphony management.
TPR's Joey Palacios contributed to this report.