Nirenberg, Wolff Promise Leadership, Support for Symphony

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Mayor Ron Nirenberg (left) shakes hands with the new chairwoman of the Symphony Society of San Antonio Kathleen Weir Vale before the second of two Tricentennial concerts.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

(From left) Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and Kathleen Weir Vale, the new chairwoman of the Symphony Society of San Antonio, greet one another before the second of two Tricentennial concerts.

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.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

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.

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 Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the San Antonio Symphony's music director, speak on stage at the second of two Tricentennial concerts.

Monika Maeckle / Rivard Report

(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.

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.


10 thoughts on “Nirenberg, Wolff Promise Leadership, Support for Symphony

  1. Here’s a crazy idea – why not rather than offering $6M for USAA to locate downtown, the City/County linked USAA’s corporate support for the local arts and culture? Say, a 1:2 discount on taxes? For every $2 you donate to local arts, you get $1 off your property taxes.

    On the corporate level, what incentives were offered to attract Toyota-Mazda, and how will they benefit the community?

    Aren’t musicians also workers? Don’t they live in the community and pay taxes and support the local economy? Isn’t the Symphony also a “job-creator”?

    Or include the option of direct-giving from individuals via their property taxes, similar to public funding for elections? I would gladly directly re-route my property taxes away from City/County [futile] pursuit of major league soccer, minor league basketball, Amazon, etc, to go to the Symphony.

    C’mon “leaders,” put a $1, $2, $5 check box on the tax forms and let me directly say where my tax money goes. I’m confident we’d have a more robust arts community and fewer wild-goose chases if you gave the public a direct say in the matter.

  2. As a 43 year member of the San Antonio Symphony, I have heard musicians suggest broadening the donor base, starting a large endowment campaign and different places to play.
    Hopefully, everyone involved in planning a long range solution will listen, really listen to our musician representatives.
    In all my years I have not seen the musicians suggest something that would harm the continued existence of the orchestra.
    It would be good to fund the orchestra as our peer group is funded, for example, the Kansas City Symphony.

  3. I’m not familiar with all the different sources of financing the symphony already has in place but is there an endowment in place? Do an endowment drive but also always ask for donations at performances that will strictly go to the endowment so that it is always growing, even if slowly. Funding a symphony is too hard if all the money raised in a year is always spent at the end of the year and we start at zero each year. It’s akin to living paycheck to paycheck.

    Also, I’ve always wondered if the Spurs giving tickets to schools has been a ticket selling strategy. Give the students free tickets, parents still have to buy their own tickets and pay for parking, food, drinks and other extras. Could the symphony explore such a strategy? Set a deadline where if there are a certain number of tickets still available, then a local high school and middle school band would be offered a specific number of free tickets. If the deadline is set appropriately, then those seats were most likely going to go unsold so giving them for free does not hurt the bottom line. At the same time, hopefully parents would attend with those students, creating an avenue to sell those tickets still available and making a small profit from what would otherwise have been empty seats.

  4. So very happy Mayor Nirenberg and Judge Wolff came to the Symphony concert last evening. It was a GREAT performance.

    Very much like your idea of building an endowment fund. Even small donations add up. Everyone needs a rainy day fund. If any ticket refunds should be proposed, a choice should be given to deposit the money into an endowment fund for the orchestra.

  5. I wonder how many organizations do have an endowment fund. Most nonprofits in SA that I have come across do not have one. Sad state of affairs.

  6. From what I’ve heard, the Sym has a small endowment (less than $10M)but not nearly what they need to be sustainable ($35M is the figure I read somewhere.) Re Toyota. When they were talking about relocating here, Toyota specifically said that SA having a Sym was part of their reason for coming here. The Sym had high hopes that Toyota would become a major donor ($millions); so far as I know, they never did. My question is–what about the Santikos Foundation? What is the fund, about $650M? So a generous gift from Santikos could change the Sym’s trajectory overnight.

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