San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff together took the stage before the San Antonio Symphony’s concert Saturday night to pledge leadership and support for the troubled orchestra in its current season and beyond.

“We believe there will be a long-term, sustainable plan for the symphony orchestra in this city,” Wolff told concert attendees at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. “We’ve got a great orchestra, we want to keep the orchestra.”

Nirenberg also praised the symphony, its supporters, and patrons, and called on the community to support the orchestra. The two men spoke before a near-capacity crowd of more than 1,450. The program highlighted music from Spain, a nod to the city’s early history.

But in his remarks from the stage, and, earlier, outside the Tobin Center before the concert, the mayor was frank about the challenges in developing more robust community buy-in, raising money for the current season, and developing a long-term business plan.

He also said that the release of more than $300,000 in City funds dedicated to Symphony operations depends on fundraising for the orchestra, and he declined to say whether all of this season’s remaining performances would occur.

“I wish I was coming up here to tell you that everything’s done and everything’s saved, and the work is completed – but it’s not, not by a long shot,” Nirenberg said from the stage. “The work is not done, but the judge and I believe in you, we believe in our community, and we believe in a world-class arts community.”

Earlier, when reporters asked how many of the Symphony’s remaining concerts would be performed, Nirenberg said, “That’s a work in progress as well. We are hopeful that the entire Tricentennial program can be completed through the end of the season, but that is the work that remains to be done.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg speaks about the future of the San Antonio Symphony in front of the Tobin Center of the Performing Arts before the second of two Tricentennial concerts. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Before the concert, Kathleen Weir Vale, newly appointed chairwoman of the Symphony Society of San Antonio, which governs the Symphony, reiterated Nirenberg’s call for expanded community support.

“The Symphony belongs to the whole city. The whole city has to pull together,” she said, adding that the Symphony Society, working with City and County leaders, would seek to recruit a more diverse board.

Nirenberg’s and Wolff’s joint appearance came 24 hours after Symphony Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing announced at Friday night’s concert that the orchestra’s season had been rescued. It was a reversal of a Wednesday decision to cancel the Symphony’s current season after the Friday and Saturday performances.

(From left) Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and SA Symphony Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing speak on stage at the second of two Tricentennial concerts. Credit: Monika Maeckle / Rivard Report

When Nirenberg and Wolff joined Lang-Lessing on stage Saturday night, the mayor opened his remarks by noting the importance of sustaining a symphony at any time – but especially during the city’s Tricentennial.

“We’re about to celebrate our 300th birthday, and it is a good time to reflect on the city and the city’s history … for what is a city but a handful of roads and sidewalks and buildings if not for its people and for its heritage,” he said. “That is what we face and the reason why the judge and I wanted to come out, because we do believe … that a world-class arts community in a world-class city needs a world-class symphony.”

Both officials called for broad community support, but also pointedly thanked players on all sides of what has become a family feud of sorts.

Nirenberg thanked “generations of arts patrons” who have supported the Symphony over its 78-year history, giving specific shout-outs to the three entities that have been major donors: H-E-B, the Tobin Endowment, and the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation.

Nirenberg said his thanks “includes corporations who stood there, to make sure we had a vibrant arts community when there was none. Corporations like H-E-B, Kronkosky, and Tobin – we would have no arts community if not for them.”

The three donors were behind a new nonprofit organized last summer, Symphonic Music for San Antonio (SMSA), that last month pulled out of a planned transition agreement month to take over leadership of the Symphony.

After Friday’s announcement that the Symphony concerts would continue, J. Bruce Bugg Jr., chair of the Tobin Endowment, told the Rivard Report, “I’m looking forward to hearing how [the Symphony Society] will be able to fund the resuscitation of the season, and wish them the best!”

Wolff said County and City officials are meeting Monday to begin that process, and likely will meet next summer on long-term plans to sustain the Symphony in the future.

Beth Frerking

Beth Frerking is the former editor-in-chief of the Rivard Report.

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