“We really didn’t see that we had a choice”: San Antonio Symphony musicians on strike after negotiations stammer


The move comes after the symphony orchestra’s board of directors voted to force a previously rejected offer.

SAN ANTONIO – The union representing the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra has declared a strike after the symphony orchestra declared a stalemate during negotiations.

At the start of the pandemic, the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra adapted by creating a virtual symphonic performance. One of the other ways they adjusted was to contact the San Antonio Symphony Society and offer to reopen their contract.

“The musicians have voluntarily agreed to take an 80 percent pay cut – that’s eight to zero – percent over the past season in order to keep the San Antonio Symphony together and on stage during the pandemic” , said Mary Ellen Goree.

Goree has played classical music for most of his life.

“Well, I fell in love with orchestral music when I was maybe 11,” Goree said.

It was a long road from his hometown of Ottawa, Kansas, to becoming the second principal violin of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra. She studied, lived and worked in places like Indiana, Louisiana and even Japan.

“It has become more and more clear to me that this is what I need to do,” she said. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Among her colleagues, whom she represents as chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee, her story is not unique.

“Our auditions are not local auditions, they are advertised nationally and people come from all over the place.”

This thought worries him about the draft contract that the symphony is offering to its musicians.

The San Antonio Symphony employs 72 full-time musicians. After months of negotiations, the symphony presented what it called its latest best offer which would reduce the size of the symphony to 42 full-time musicians with a contingent of 26 part-time musicians.

“The symphony orchestra’s board of directors is committed to living within its means,” said Corey Cowart, executive director of the San Antonio Symphony. “We have to accept budgets that are always ambitious, but, more importantly, achievable.”

The musicians’ union rejected the offer.

“That’s not what people auditioned for, that’s not what people accepted, that’s not why people moved here,” Goree said. “And so I would be very surprised if a lot of people didn’t go, I mean basically anyone who could go would go.”

“We’re always worried about losing people,” Cowart said. “This must be a concern for any orchestra.”

Cowart said that although negotiations have taken place because of the pandemic, the offer is part of a long-term goal of the board of directors to make the organization more sustainable. He said they had an operating budget of around $ 8 million in a normal year, but ticket sales only brought in just under $ 3 million.

“At the end of the day, there is no way to artistic excellence, or no path to artistic excellence, if we don’t have a viable organization,” said Cowart.

The San Antonio Symphony’s board of directors voted to declare a deadlock, forcing their latest best offer. The San Antonio Musicians’ Society responded by calling a strike.

“These terms will be the destruction of the San Antonio Symphony, and the musicians will not be complicit in the destruction of the San Antonio Symphony,” Goree said. “So we really didn’t see that we had a choice. “

Cowart said no shows have been delayed or canceled yet, but it’s something they may have to consider if a deal isn’t struck for a long time.

“We have to come to a mutual agreement with the local union and with our musicians to get them back on stage,” he said. “We can’t play without them.

Goree pointed out that the quality of life offered by a full symphony is one way of attracting business to San Antonio. But in the end, it’s other 11-year-old girls – as she once was – who worry her.

“I talk to members of the audience and there is always at least one from a middle school or high school orchestra who is there in class with his teacher. And they are so excited to talk to me, ask questions and take their picture with me, ”she said. “All of this is in danger of being lost.


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