SA Symphony Says It Is Resurrecting Its Season

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Robert Rivard / Rivard Report

The San Antonio Symphony musicians stand before beginning the Tricentennial Celebration concert Friday night.

Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the San Antonio Symphony’s musical director and conductor, announced to a Tricentennial Celebration concert audience Friday night that the orchestra’s shows would go on, reversing the announced cancellation of the Symphony’s season.

“I’ve been instructed to announce … that the season is going forward,” he said to a standing ovation inside the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. “It doesn’t mean the challenge is over. But with all your support we can make it.”

The crowd at the Tobin Center was warmed up even before the announcement, giving Lang-Lessing and the orchestra two standing ovations before the concert started. At a pre-concert talk for season ticket holders, Lang-Lessing had signaled the big news, said two audience members.

“There’s an implication this may not be the last one,” Paul Gialma said of the weekend program. Both Gialma and Jean Van Gee, seated next to him, wore Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony T-shirts, in support of the orchestra’s labor union, the members of which faced losing their jobs after this weekend.

The announcement of a continued season was the latest twist in a months-long saga.

Late Wednesday night, news broke that the Symphony Society of San Antonio, which manages the 78-year-old orchestra, was canceling the remainder of the orchestra’s 2017-2018 season, which had 20 more weeks of scheduled performances after two Tricentennial-related performances this weekend. The move came after months of leadership struggles and troubled negotiations over the Symphony’s continued operations.

The concert Friday and a repeat performance Saturday night were to have been the Symphony’s last, cutting the season short by some 20 weeks. The Tricentennial concert’s guest artist, Puerto Rican-American soprano Ana María Martínez, told the crowd, “… I am sure you can feel as we feel the emotion of an evening that started out to be so sad and now has become a celebration.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but today is Maestro’s birthday.”

It was not immediately clear what factors were behind the decision to resume the Symphony’s season and how the resumption would be supported financially.

“I’m looking forward to hearing how SSSA will be able to fund the resuscitation of the season, and wish them the best!” said J. Bruce Bugg Jr., chair of the Tobin Endowment, via text message following Lang-Lessing’s announcement.

“I am delighted for the sake of all musicians and the [city of San Antonio] – in that order,” said Symphony Society board member Jim Berg. “Both deserve to be better served.”

On Thursday, the Symphony Society’s board chair, Alice Viroslav, announced her resignation, but musicians and former board members held out hope that private donors or public entities would come forward to somehow salvage the season.

A new nonprofit organized last summer, Symphonic Music for San Antonio (SMSA), pulled out of a planned transition agreement on Dec. 27, and the musicians’ labor contract expired Dec. 31. However, they reported to work this week, rehearsing in preparation for the Tricentennial concerts.

Made up of representatives of three large Symphony donors – H-E-B, the Tobin Endowment, and the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation – SMSA was the nonprofit organization positioned to take over leadership of the Symphony.

Dya Campos, director of public affairs for H-E-B, said the corporation has already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the first half of this season. She declined to comment further on Lang-Lessing’s announcement.


Rivard Report Publisher Robert Rivard contributed to this report.

6 thoughts on “SA Symphony Says It Is Resurrecting Its Season

  1. Money given to the symphony from generous donors will not conclusively address the underlying operational issues that continue to plague the symphony. While it’s wonderful to see the symphony continue in the short term, this issue will continue to emerge again and again until long term adjustments to the entire format of the symphony season are implemented.

    • I agree with you Blayne, the symphony needs leadership that focuses on growth rather than reduction.

      We disagree on how it’s gonna happen though, the city needs the donors to help out. The stock market is booming right now, everyone is getting filthy rich. It’s not like 2008 when there was an excuse not to donate.

      Museums, symphonies, and other non profits rely on generous donors for support. Can you name a major performing arts organization that doesn’t rely on donations?

      If the symphony loses funding the artists will leave for greener pastures, forcing families with gifted children to drive to Houston every week in order to get a first class music education. This will discourage people and businesses from settling here in the long run.

      • I don’t necessarily think we disagree. The symphony undoubtedly needs donors to thrive, I agree, but responsible donors are likely not compelled to give large amounts of money to an organization that’s been operating in such a dysfunctional manner. Once the institutional operation proves to be reliable, it will be far easier to persuade donors to contribute to the organization.

        Furthermore, the city and county have contributed vast amounts of money to date, including the building of a $200 million world renowned performing arts center to house the symphony. Additional spending ought to be in the form of contributions geared toward engaging younger generations, and educational institutions, in an effort to stimulate interest in the symphony for many years to come.

        Until the organization and leadership of the symphony is rehabilitated, the institution must adhere to a more realistic calendar that suits current demand, rather than aspirational demand. This could be reassessed on a year to year basis to ensure the community’s needs are adequately met.

  2. I’ll believe it when I see that each concert, each 2018 performance was successfully attended and completed. Good luck with the big-donor funding and any restructuring! I’ll still find and give my two pence to our Symphony, but with a more weary and wary eye.

  3. My understanding is that the “Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony” T-shirts are specifically in support of THE MUSICIANS OF THE SAN ANTONIO SYMPHONY.

    I’m not sure why you wrote that it was worn in support of the labor union.

    The words “labor” and “union” do not appear anywhere on the T-shirt that I can see.

  4. The City of San Antonio and Bear County need to be financial contributors to the San Antonio Symphony in addition to Business and Individual donors. World class cities need a symphony to enrich the culture of the city.Every College in the City has a music program as well as almost every High School in the City.In the case of Johnson High School which has an award winning band program. there are more student band members than there are students playing football and basketball combined.This is an example of the importance of music in our culture.

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