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This article has been updated.
Among the casualties of the coronavirus pandemic is the San Antonio Symphony, which on Thursday announced the cancellation of the remainder of its 2019-2020 season.
“This is a heartbreaking decision for music lovers, our community, and our entire organization, but it’s the right thing to do,” said Executive Director Corey Cowart, who noted that the decision was “unfortunately almost being made for us,” given the rapidly evolving nature of the response to the pandemic.
This was to be the 10th and final season of Sebastian Lang-Lessing’s tenure as artist artistic director and conductor, culminating in the “Bronfman Plays Rachmaninoff” concert June 5-6.
The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts had canceled concerts through April 25. Other canceled concerts beyond that date include “Mozart’s Elvira Madigan,” May 15-16; “Majestic Bruckner,” May 22-23; and “Rhapsody in Blue,” May 29-30.
Lang-Lessing called the loss of his culminating concerts “a minor detail,” emphasizing the loss of income to orchestra musicians, staff, and the restaurant culture that thrives in tandem with the Symphony, as well as the loss of live orchestral music for the San Antonio community. The future of the orchestra, threatened as recently as January 2018 but followed by a renaissance of support, is again in question.
“For me, it’s more important to see that this is not the last season of the symphony. That’s the bigger issue here,” Lang-Lessing said.
“The loss of income through ticket sales is, of course, one aspect that’s threatening organizations across the country; there is no question about it,” he said, but emphasized that stock market losses and an impending recession that might result can have a major effect on donor base and philanthropic support of the arts.
The Metropolitan Opera in New York also laid off its orchestra for the remainder of the season because of the evolving pandemic.
“So we’re talking about one of the best-paid orchestras in the country and one of the worst-paid orchestras in the country sharing the exact same problem,” he said.
However, there is an important difference, he said, given the fragile condition of the San Antonio Symphony. “There’s no question that The Met will have a next season. Now we need to work [so] that we will have a next season. It’s a wake-up call for everybody to make sure that after this we don’t wake up in a society that has no arts and culture.”
Mary Ellen Goree, principal second violinist and chair of the orchestra committee, echoed Lang-Lessing’s sentiment. “When this is over and life gets back to whatever the new normal is, people are going to need art in their lives,” she said.
Goree discouraged comparisons with the Symphony’s previous difficulties. “This is not anything to be compared with other times when the Symphony has struggled to keep a season going. This is an entirely different situation, and the Symphony is reacting to world events, just like everybody else is,” she said.
Goree said she’s hopeful next season will go on as planned, and supported the Symphony Society of San Antonio’s decision to cancel the season as a matter of community health.
“A very large percentage of our audience is in risk categories. A not insignificant number of musicians on stage are also in risk categories,” Goree said, referring to CDC advice for persons most susceptible to the virus. “So, as much as we would love to be on stage playing music for our audiences, we want for our audiences and ourselves to be healthy at the end of this when we can come back on stage.”
The orchestra’s last day on stage was March 13, for the final rehearsal prior to the “Mozart and Ravel” concert, which was the first to be canceled.
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Cowart said the musicians will be paid through this week, but beyond that is uncertain. “We will be sitting down next week to look at what we can do and for how long, with the reality that we will not have any additional ticket revenue for the remainder of the current season,” he said. The board will meet to discuss how the force majeure clause in the collective bargaining agreement with the musicians, which allows for changes due to situations like the coronavirus pandemic, will affect compensation.
“We’re looking at all of the options about how that would impact our musicians, our staff, our patrons, and what’s going to be best for everybody,” Cowart said. “We have a great relationship with the musicians, and the union, and we’re always going to communicate and honor that.”
During the extended break from performances, Cowart encouraged patrons to help by donating ticket costs to help the Symphony with expenses, and rebound for an anticipated 2020-2021 season. “The Symphony and the community wants the music to … return to the stage as soon and as strongly as possible. Donating the value of tickets orders helps. Making a gift to the Symphony’s annual fund helps. Doing the same for all of San Antonio’s arts organizations helps,” he said.