This article has been updated.
After nearly nine months of a lost concert season due to a musicians’ strike and failed contract negotiations, the 83-year-old San Antonio Symphony Orchestra is no more. Still.
The board of directors of the Symphony Society of San Antonio announced Thursday that it had reached the unanimous decision to disband the orchestra and file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The board last declared bankruptcy in the summer of 2003 and the following season was canceled before the revived symphony returned for a 26-week season in 2004. Years of financial difficulties followed, with regular deficits leading to an almost canceled 2018 season.
In its Thursday announcement, the board cited the withdrawal from bargaining of the musicians’ union, American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 23, in April, and musicians’ demands for “a budget exceeding several million dollars what the Symphony can afford.
During negotiations started in 2021, the musicians and the management of the orchestra made multiple proposals to continue the 2021-2022 season with concessions including a reduced schedule and lower wages. What ended the negotiations was the refusal of the musicians to accept a two-tier salary scale imposed by management in September, which led to a strike which continued until the cancellation of the season in May.
The musicians of the San Antonio Symphony independently organized a series of public concerts with the help of city residents and funders, including the Symphony League of San Antonio, which donated $100,000 for eight concerts . Two of these concerts were conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing, who served as musical director for 10 years from 2010.
The Symphony Society terminated Lang-Lessing’s contract as Music Director Emeritus for Concert Conduct, citing breach of contract.
Lang-Lessing later called on the board to resign.
Reached for comment while conducting in Seoul with the Korea National Opera, Lang-Lessing said disbanding the orchestra is much worse than resigning from the board, which would have potentially saved the organization for a new board of directors to take over.
“If a board resigns, it gives other people the opportunity to continue the mission,” Lang-Lessing said.
“Instead of admitting failure, they are now claiming that the musicians – due to their unwillingness to negotiate on a plan that is not working – are to be blamed.”
Board chair Kathleen Weir Vale could not be reached for comment ahead of publication.
MOSAS President and Second Principal Violinist, Mary Ellen Goree, said, “It’s a very sad day. She said the orchestra has been recognized nationally for its excellence and commitment to the highest artistic quality.
“I think the Symphony Society deserved better for its leadership. I think the musicians deserved better,” Goree said.
Goree said she and other musicians have made monetary donations to the Symphony Society over the years, in addition to multiple and repeated grants made in an effort to help the orchestra continue.
She expressed her gratitude for “the many hard-working board members and the many hard-working staff members over the decades. I want to make it clear that the musicians are grateful for their efforts.
The board thanked “the hundreds of talented musicians and administrative staff who have served our organization since its founding” and closed its announcement by acknowledging “lovers of symphonic music and the generous donors and supporters who have supported the Symphony since its founding in 1939.”