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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world. To listen to KPAC 88.3 FM, simply open the player in the gray ribbon at the top of this page and choose KPAC: Classical Music.

Key Players Take Hit In Symphony Shortfall

Musicians and management of the San Antonio Symphony took an unusual step recently to correct a budgetary shortfall. The cuts are part of the symphony's strategy for becoming financially stable. 

David Gross is the President of the San Antonio Symphony, and he says the problem isn't a new one. The deficit has been growing since 2008. Fundraising, ticket sales and grants just haven't paid the bills and Gross says he asked everyone involved to help find a solution.

"We entered into talks with the musicians, and ultimately they came back with what they thought was the best way to address what their portion of trying to get us back to where we need to be. And that was the three-week potential layoff."

Sarah Silver is the assistant concertmaster and member of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 23. She says the three-week furlough is about 10 percent of the musicians' annual pay. While orchestra members have agreed to take the cut, she hopes it won't be necessary.

"It's a big, big cut for us. It's really a donation to the Symphony to ensure that we continue working and the concerts are still presented," she said. "The hope on everybody's side is that fundraising will be amped up and that the additional funding will come through to ensure the minimum 30 weeks of the contract."

If those fundraising goals aren't met between now and September, the musicians aren't the only ones whose pay will be docked.

David Gross and Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing will also take pay cuts of as much as 10 percent. Gross has also identified ways unrelated to salaries to save about $300,000 on the 2016-17 season by cutting back on guest artist fees and extra musicians. Gross and Silver also agree on one of the biggest reasons for the shortfall.

"I think the first thing is, is that we need to do a better job in telling our story to the community," said Gross. "I think it's crucial that the Symphony focuses on marketing and development, but especially marketing and getting our message out there."

San Antonio isn't alone in having a symphony that's struggling to pay its bills and grow.  

Bruce Ridge, chairman of the International Conference of Symphony & Opera Musicians, says that naysayers have long predicted major symphonies were going under.

"This whole notion about orchestras being in trouble goes back a long way. We have articles from 1970 that say that in that decade America's going to lose half its orchestras. That didn't happen."

Ridge says Gross and Silver are probably right in saying the symphony needs to better promote its activities.

"Right here in your city you have one of the very, very finest orchestras. And I think the messaging needs to become about that now." 

There's the short-term problem, the shortfall, and then the long-term problem, which is the symphony's sustainability over time. Symphony president Gross has a promise.

"The guarantee that we make to the community is that by 2017-'18 [season] we've got a clean balance sheet. And our goal is to then go after an endowment campaign that will fix the symphony long-term, and address the sustainability and stability issues."

Ridge says it's about inspiring financial support by spreading the message of what the orchestra means to the city.

"What overwhelmingly is successful is the positive message. By articulating the best qualities of the orchestra, the best value of the orchestra, how they best serve the community--those things are what we should be focusing on."