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San Antonio Symphony (Photo credit: Scott Ball/San Antonio Report)

San Antonio Symphony Musicians Go On Strike

The musicians went on strike after voting down managements “last, best, and final offer,” which would have reduced the orchestra’s size from 72 full-time musicians to 42


A spokesperson for the San Antonio Symphony (SAS) management told the San Antonio Report that it was willing to continue in negotiations — so as “to reach mutually agreeable revisions to the third year of the CBA.”

While it would seem that a musician strike would cause uncertainty for the start of the symphony's season, it has been reported that all concerts remain as scheduled — starting on October 29.

The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) released a call to action in support of the San Antonio Symphony's striking musicians.

The Baltimore Symphony Musicians answered that call and have pledged $10,000 in assistance.

"In response to this 'CALL TO ACTION' the @bso_musicians have unanimously approved a gift of $10,000 to support our brothers and sisters, the @musiciansofSAS," read a tweet posted by the Baltimore Symphony Musicians. "We are behind you 100% and encourage other orchestras and individuals to follow suit as they can."

The strike was initiated by a proposed contract that would have changed the orchestra in key ways. San Antonio Smphony Director Corey Cowart explained that “the full orchestra in the proposal would be 68 musicians,” he said. “Forty-two would be full-time musicians and the remaining twenty-six would be what’s called ‘per service,’ part time as needed, with a guaranteed number of performances and pay.”

“This offer changes the structure, but from what patrons and audience members would see on stage, it would still be a full symphony orchestra,” Cowart said.

“It’s the destruction of an orchestra,” stated Sebastian Lang-Lessing, Music Director Emeritus who led the SAS for 10 years. “You’re not becoming sustainable by cutting something to irrelevance,” he continued. “The whole concept is artistically not viable.”

Kathleen Weir Vale, Chair of the Symphony Society of San Antonio stated that “the Symphony live within its means” — referring to the SAS's previous and ongoing financial struggles.

More recently, she said that management “hopes we can [reach] an agreement that is acceptable to both sides, of course. That’s it. That’s our goal."

In 2018, SAS announced a cancellation of the remainder of their 2017-18 season due to a $2.5 million budget shortfall; and in 2020, the rest of their 2019-20 season was discontinued due to the pandemic.

Further, SAS musicians last month faced a proposal stating a 50% reduction in base salary and health care benefits.

“We basically cannot agree to a budget that we're going to be spending more than we can bring in,” Cowart told the Texas Public Radio as a reason for the reductions. He stated that while SAS's finances are stable for now, the future of SAS is forecasted as uncertain.

The musicians have been performing live since February of last year under renegotiated contract terms which incorporated a drastic pay cut. The current circumstance arose from management asking to renegotiate the 2021-22 season.

“Please note that the musicians voluntarily accepted a cut of just over 80% of the 2020-2021 season,” Musicians of SAS (MOSAS) stated in their response. “Not one member of senior management took a pay cut during the same time period.”

“The only reason the San Antonio Symphony still exists today is because time and time again the musicians union has stepped into the breach,” they added.

“For decades our management tried to impose a part-time orchestra structure on the San Antonio Symphony and for decades the musicians have stood against these attempts to deprive a great city of the great orchestra.”

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