A Texas city halves its orchestra

A Texas city halves its orchestra


norman lebrecht

September 15, 2021

San Antonio, Texas, a city of 1.5 million, feels it can no longer afford a symphony orchestra.

The San Antonio Symphony, after initially demanding to cut musicians’ pay by half, now proposes to cut their numbers from 71 to 42 – barely chamber size.

The orchestra goes back to 1939. The last music director, Sebastian Lang-Lessing, left in 2020.

Report here.

The promo is unintentionally defeatist.


  • phf655 says:

    The headline should be ‘Texas City Orchestra Board Proposes to Half its Orchestra’, according to the interesting linked article.
    The article states that the orchestra was in financial trouble for at least a few years before the pandemic.
    This analysis is not politically correct, but I think it is is relevant: the so-called Metropolitan Area with 2.5 million people is the size of the state of New Jersey, and only a third of the population is considered ‘non-Hispanic white’ by the US Census Bureau. 20% of the population has lived in the area for less than ten years. All of this suggests a narrow potential base for an organization that relies on private support.

    • V. Lind says:

      What’s not politically correct is not the description of the city’s demographics but the implication that the “minoritised,” to use an appellation employed in another thread, are not interested in classical music.

      Something to think about — and if it is true (I doubt it) it changed the whole conversation about classical music. Dangerously.

    • Mary says:

      It is a breathtaking leap to go from “only a third of the population is non-Hispanic white” to “a narrow potential base…of support” and frankly I find the implication both shocking and insulting to my fellow citizens in San Antonio. it is true that our current base of support is limited, but that is due to the deliberately narrow small net cast by current and past leadership, not to any lack of potential support among the people of San Antonio. I have been hearing from countless supporters who all say the same thing: the symphony has never reached out to them asking for support. I should also add that Mexico City has several professional orchestras, so this idea of who might or might not wish to support the San Antonio symphony is completely off base.

      • phf655 says:

        It doesn’t mean that the so-called minority population (which is the majority in San Antonio) isn’t interested in what the orchestra has to offer, but the reality is that the statistics show that relatively few have the wherewithal to offer the financial support that the orchestra needs. Other commenters in this thread have indicated that this is not a wealthy city.

        • Elizabeth says:

          This city has a ton of wealth, they just throw it behind sports, science (which is also a struggle to find funding for some disciplines), and private, charter, and universities. UTSA has had multiple buildings built and several renovated, however the College of Arts is completely neglected. When the Tobin Center was built, I was excited be cause I grew up at the Kennedy Center and knew what was possible for an inclusive venue to the entire public, but after further research I found that it too was not something that was getting the proper approach. I will tell you this. In undergrad I asked the former CEO of the Symphony “what are you doing to reach your greater audience?” “Are you going into schools and having school children’s day with an instrument petting zoo?” “Are you offering outreach programs to talented students to be mentored or have the opportunity to spend their later three high school years as a student of a symphony member?” “Are you reaching out to your donors to see if they would set up endowments fir youth programs?” “How about outdoor concerts at San Pedro Park?” “What draw are you creating for the public to enjoy the music?” He scoffed and was disinterested in any of these types of programs yet they create a new generation of enthusiasts and creators. The New York Philharmonic and the National Symphony have these programs. They are surviving and enduring. Many of the symphonies who are being dismantled have poor management and a single minded development office. Most of your musicians are trying to support a family and do not want to uproot to a new location, especially when there are not as many orchestras as once before. This simple minded ideal that symphonies only play classical music is insane! There are composers who are constantly creating new works. Every time you here music in a movie or TV that was composed and used either a small group or a large ensemble. With out an orchestra in San Antonio, you lose an amenity that helps to draw businesses into the community. You aren’t going to have major player move in if their kids can’t have music instruction. They want to know that if they move their company from a more expensive location, that their employees will be able to enjoy the same opportunities they had. San Antonio is a big place, but lacking in sharing of the arts. People are over scheduled and underwhelmed, it would be nice if our city government, our city council, our policy makers, our Arts councils, our citizens, and our stakeholders (which is all of San Antonio) could put the same excitement about developing the brains of all the children instead of getting behind football and giving them brain damage. Enrichment starts at a young age. Hopefully they can find management with vision and mixup who can pull this mess out of the doldrums!

      • CA says:

        Why was it a deliberately small and narrow net that was cast? I’m having a hard time getting my head around this.

        • Mary says:

          You would have to ask a board member or manager to explain it because the musicians have been flabbergasted by this behavior for years.

        • Bill says:

          Its not complicated. When the orchestra went into bankruptcy the heads of 4 foundations got together to shut off contributions from other donors so they could force the collapse to force a downsizing for which they thought would create a “sustaining model”. Years earlier the board paid to have Henry Fogel who was manager with the NY Philharmonic and then CEO of the Chicago Symphony to come down to do a forensic analysis from top to bottom including how the board functioned. He is considered the Dean of American orchestra management. He was appalled. When he spoke to the board for his report he told them two things. 1. SA had a great orchestra that the board didn’t deserve to have. They were getting a bargain. 2. To their faces he told the board that he gad studied symphony boards across the country and that THIS one was the absolute worst of them all. Several years after that they paid for another big consultant to come who basically told them the same thing. They threw his report in the trash. Why would anyone do such a thing? Its all about “control” of wanting a small enough group so they can maintain a social clique without the influence of “outsiders.” They dont want ANYONE to tell them differently.

      • Ainslie says:

        Mexico City’s orchestra benefit from heavy government subsidies.

      • Karl says:

        I believe those Mexico City orchestras are all government funded. I heard one of them once when they came to Schenectady with Enrique Batiz conducting. They played with a lot of passion.

  • CA says:

    Sadly this orchestra has been mismanaged for what seems like forever.

  • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    San Antonio is the seventh largest US city and either can’t afford or – more likely -doesn’t want a full symphony orchestra.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    San Antonio has historically had a hard time supporting a full time symphonic orchestra. It is a shame.

    But perhaps by having a chamber orchestra that pays a living wage to the 42 musicians left, it may create a new business model that allows a living for those who remain while then allowing the management to increase the size of the orchestra for large concerts when the budget allows.

    • V. Lind says:

      It worked for Ottawa when the National Arts Centre Orchestra was founded. It was under 50 members originally, with add-ons occasionally to accommodate larger pieces. (It benefited in this in a way San Antonio perhaps cannot in that the city had long been served by a semi-professional orchestra of high quality and full size, and proximity to Montreal meant the odd musician could pop up from there).

      Mario Bernardi, the first conductor and soon Music Director, was there from 1969-1982, and said when leaving that he hoped a new conductor could find more repertoire — which they did. Mannini, Chmura, Pinnock were among the conductors who were there before Zukerman’s long term.

      But that little orchestra, which Zukerman expanded to a core 61, has made over 50 recordings, and toured massively throughout Canada and around the world. Its Summer Music Institute is one of the foremost education programmes in the world. Gustavo Dudamel made his North American debut with this orchestra. Stars like Yuja Wang and Jan Lisiecki have been nurtured there, and most major soloists and many celebrated conductors have come and gone over the years.

      So if that is San Antonio’s fate, all I am saying is that it is not a death knell. Small can be beautiful. And what a good place to test the representation theory being bruited on another thread — there is no shortage of Latin American musical talent floating around, so if they would like to employ some of it, it would be interesting to see if that 2/3 of the population that is not non-Hispanic white turns up.

      Good luck to them.

    • Mary says:

      1. Other metropolitan areas of similar or even smaller size than San Antonio manage to support full-time orchestras at a much higher level. Exhibit A: Milwaukee

      2. There is no evidence whatsoever that our audience has any enthusiasm for chamber orchestra performances. It is the big pieces that sell.

      3. Unlike places such as Chicago and New York, or even St. Louis, San Antonio has a very shallow pool of subs and extras to fill out the orchestra when we need extra musicians or when our staff musicians are not available. Does anybody really think that current full-time musicians whose jobs are cut back to very part-time are going to stay in San Antonio for the privilege of making very little money? Of course they will leave! Who are we going to put on stage in their place?

      • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

        “It is the big pieces that sell.” You’re spot on: Mahler, Strauss, Shostakovich all call for a big orchestra and audiences typically come in droves. Of course, these concerts are expensive. A small example: the Quad Cities Symphony in eastern Iowa is performing Bruckner’s monumental Eighth next February. My guess is that plenty of extra musicians will be making the trip from Chicago in order to make this happen. Maybe San Antonio can recruit extras from Houston?

        • drummerman says:

          Houston is 200 miles away, which would mean paying a lot for mileage, per diems and hotels.

          • CA says:

            Board members, trustees, donors, could be polled to see if any of them would be willing to host a musician during their stay in SA. This is a common practice among particularly the smaller/medium sized orchestras. It eliminates hotel costs, and many times the host even befriends the musicians. It’s a win win. And a huge money saver.

          • Bill says:

            After reading your comments i suspect you are a symphony board member or a big donor. We’ve heard off of this before. Trust me, while you seem really sincere, what is being proposed simply doesn’t work in the real world. Imagine the Spurs using a combination of top pros combined with local talent. A great team has to play and coordinate together over years to get the kind of synchronization and finesse se to play decent rep. It’s about being able to blend your sound and style with your stand partner.

          • Ilio says:

            So? Honolulu has brought in extras.

        • Bill says:

          Ugh. Unlike other cities San Antonio does not pay mileage for subs traveling here. Nor do they pay for accommodations. For instance, even subs in Houston who play for that orchestra lose money to come here, especially considering how much teaching they’d have to lose. Our pool here is limited to band directors and college kids for the most part and that is why we need the full time players. Even players as close as Austin lose money coming here. They make more from teaching than they can playing as a sub here.

          The board does not even want to pay extras a decent wage. The mantra from the board that there is “not enough interest here” has been a self defeating and self fulfilling prophecy of their own making.

          This is why you must have people in charge who understand how the music performance works.

      • CA says:

        There must be many talented freelance classical musicians in Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth who’d jump at the chance to supplement the orchestra when larger forces are needed/possible.

        • GraceNote says:

          Not really. Traveling 200 miles, paying for gas, food and lodging (or sacking out on a friend’s couch) for at least four days and three nights and maybe grossing $700-800 before expenses is not going to make a professional who is out of school “jump” at anything. They can stay in Houston, not have to reschedule their students, play a single church gig or wedding, and come out ahead. And that’s for the big classical programs, which only make up 14 weeks, including Messiah performances. Pops concerts might take a day or two less out of someone’s schedule, but they also take $200-300 off the pay. This is the fallacy that non-musicians like the Symphony’s board fail to understand: it’s not that attractive a job for a freelancer and if the employer gets anything like what they’re offering for a contract, it won’t be a very attractive place to move to either. We frequently can’t even get Austin Symphony players to come here for what we pay and that’s around 60-70 miles one way. The only time someone comes from Dallas is to hang out with close friends because the work makes it a free trip. The idea that an orchestra that already has trouble finding extras is going to find a couple dozen more on a regular basis and save significant money is a fantasy. It doesn’t matter how we compare to anywhere else when we know the reality here already.

          • CA says:

            It actually does save money: the organization doesn’t have to pay healthcare. True, salaries that would have been paid to the fulltime players get eaten up by paying the extras per service plus mileage. I have done this many years elsewhere. I consistently ran the numbers. The only money saved was not paying out healthcare to the freelancers.

        • Bill says:

          Nope. With no per diem, travel or accommodations they LOSE money to come here. Who does that? With respect, I’m sure you honestly don’t understand the basic workings and business of how performing musicians operate. The problem for the players is exactly the situation of putting like minded people in charge of the orchestra. They don’t have a clue but because they may have sold a lot of cars or beverages, “ they think they know.” There are people with expertise across the country but the board has fired them because it was too disruptive to their little “club.”

      • David K. Nelson says:

        I am not sure Milwaukee and its symphony are the best Exhibit A out there since it too has cut back on permanent personnel (and weeks of service) over the years, and relies on subs when wanting to do certain big pieces. The available sub list is OK (due in part to having a ballet orchestra in town), and Chicago is close enough to call on. But the Milwaukee orchestra has been able to retain and attract excellent musicians. The pay may not be great but it is an actual living wage.

        But this sort of radical slimming down is basically what the Louisville Orchestra elected to do decades ago when it was decided that the area simply could not support the full symphony orchestra but saving the orchestra was deemed important (and as I recall the city’s mayor played a leading role in the decisions). So you say goodbye to a swath of the repertoire of course, Strauss/Mahler/Wagner/Bruckner, although a solid chunk of the standard repertoire sounds just fine played by an orchestra of 45 to 60, but in the case of Louisville they began their audacious program of commissioning (and recording) new music tailored to its size. And they hired and retained first rate players, such as Paul Kling, who could have occupied the concertmaster chair in just about any orchestra.

        The combination of slimming down the size of the ensemble AND no longer offering a living wage but rather just a “side job” income is not following the Louisville model or what the Milwaukee Symphony did or the Ottawa solution. At some point what you’ve really done is substitute a civic orchestra for a genuine professional orchestra. And many cities do just fine with their civic orchestras. You just ratchet down the expectations.

        The available recordings indicates that the San Antonio Symphony was a good one and likely still is. Keeping it good is more a function of the pay than the size.

        • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

          The pay in Milwaukee is fine (thought it should still be higher to reflect quality). Minimum base pay for section string players is in between $65-70k, I believe, but the city is not at all an expensive one to live in.

        • Stanley Beemet says:

          Yup. The MSO is a fraction of what it was 25 years ago when it was touring and recording complete composer cycles. Not to mention once have significant figures like Lukas Foss as conductor.

          • fflambeau says:

            In very recent years, the MSO has had Edo de Waart and now Ken David Masur. The conductors are not to be scoffed at.

        • V. Lind says:

          Ottawa has the best-paid musicians in Canada. And I believe its subs are compensated accordingly. And having a “civic” orchestra to draw upon meant considerable familiarity with each other.

      • V. Lind says:

        NACO was not a chamber orchestra. It was a classical orchestra. Did get a bit of a rep for being “Mostly Mozart,” but, as I said, supplemented its core team often enough to vary its offerings, run a summer opera festival and work with the visiting ballet companies.

      • Anon says:

        How is it decided who stays and who leaves? That’s a big personnel cut.

      • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

        1. Other metropolitan areas of similar or even smaller size than San Antonio manage to support full-time orchestras at a much higher level. Exhibit A: Milwaukee

        Sir David says:
        Doesn’t matter if the Big Money in the city doesn’t fund the organization. Milwaukee has wonderful support from the Bradley Foundation, Johnson Controls, and some Old Money families.

        2. There is no evidence whatsoever that our audience has any enthusiasm for chamber orchestra performances. It is the big pieces that sell.

        Sir David says:
        If the big pieces sell, why is the orchestra always in the red? Perhaps its time for a new business model (like St Paul or Ottawa in Canada).

        3. Unlike places such as Chicago and New York, or even St. Louis, San Antonio has a very shallow pool of subs and extras to fill out the orchestra when we need extra musicians or when our staff musicians are not available. Does anybody really think that current full-time musicians whose jobs are cut back to very part-time are going to stay in San Antonio for the privilege of making very little money? Of course they will leave! Who are we going to put on stage in their place?

        Sir David says:
        Get students from UT Austin, Rice University, and SMU. Pay them on a smaller scale (approved by the local union) along with local members on the sub list. These students are very good and often win jobs with other orchestras or New World.

    • Guest says:

      Unfortunately, the proposal calls for both reducing the size of the orchestra to 42 and reducing player’s salaries by 50% as well. Those left behind will not be earning a living wage.

  • Stas says:

    This is also a state with some of the oldest and useless third world energy infrastructure on the planet, some of the objectively most insane public administrators and a population hell bent on killing itself in so many ways imaginable. How can something fragile, such as an orchestra, that requires conscientious management, an engaged and willing audience, musicians not having to worry about where the paycheques are coming from and (in the USA) generous donors expect to survive there?

    • Make Sense When You Talk Please says:

      This is a pretty stupid comment. This is a state people are flocking to that will gain seats in the House due to its population boom. Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth Symphony are some of the most financially solidly rooted orchestras in the country. New York City and Los Angeles have plenty of insane bigots and beyond corrupt politicians, yet it doesn’t seem to be the issue effecting their orchestras.

      • Stas says:

        This state LITERALLY had a massive failure of its power grid during a winter storm where over 700 people died due to having poorly insulated homes, has a government taking rights away from women regarding their bodies and open cary gun laws. The only reason people are flocking here are for lower taxes, and ‘freedom’ and I can guarantee you, if you’re hell bent on paying lower taxes, against abortion rights and don’t give a crap to have a 21st century energy grid, the fact that people playing classical music in San Antonio is the LAST thing on your mind. Financially sound cities support their amenities, not cut them. It’s a collective sum of bad ideas, not one. Introduce open carry laws, abortion restriction laws and lower taxes in New York City and you’ll see the Met turned into a wrestling arena in no time. Get your head out of your ass.

  • John Porter says:

    Cue the mismanagement tropes. After decades of struggling, no matter who the management was, there’s this. Perhaps, orchestras of a certain size and scale simply cannot exist in certain cities/regions. One of the execs who struggled is now running the Utah Symphony and is doing just fine.

  • drummerman says:

    San Antonio is the seventh largest metro area in the country (2,259,732 people according to one source) but ranks #318 in per capita income. You have a large military presence there – Army and Air Force – which means a somewhat transient population. You have several national corporations who either give zero or next to zero to local arts groups: USAA, Clear Channel Communications, Valero Energy, Southwestern Bell (part of A T & T.) There is a chain of supermarkets, H-E-B, which is the ninth largest privately owned corporation in America but has only very recently started giving to the arts. Not sure if they give directly to the Symphony but they funded the new arts center.

    Take it from a guy who worked in the arts in San Antonio: the city can not support a $7 million orchestra with 76 musicians on full-time salary and there is certainly not a large enough audience to justify playing 28 classical subscription concerts. Not now, not ever.

    Truly, the only way to keep classical music alive there is to have a “core” orchestra, which is what is being proposed. If they schedule things carefully, the can hire free-lancers from the Austin Symphony, about 75 miles away.)

    The Symphony has been a mess for decades, truly.

    • Mary says:


      Just because previous symphony administrators failed does not mean that it is not possible to succeed. I suppose it is easier to believe that something is impossible than to believe that one’s own efforts were insufficient.

      The audience is not our problem. It is clear that once people know we exist, they want to come hear our concerts.

      The fact that corporate support has been historically low is true but that is a shameful reflection on inadequate Symphony leadership, not on community apathy.

      • drummerman says:

        “Exist?” Everyone who lives in San Antonio knows there is a symphony, just as everyone knows the Spurs and Missions are there, whether or not they like basketball or baseball.

        “Previous symphony administrators?” I’ve lost count but, since 2003, there have been something like 10 or 11 full-time executive directors plus a few interims. No other orchestra in America has has this amount of turnover. Surely many (some?) of these 11 were highly skilled, experienced orchestra people. We can’t assume that the board made the same hiring mistake 11 times. So either the board is setting goals (ticket sales, fundraising) which are completely unrealistic and the ED is fired or else the EDs are not being given the proper support, resources, etc. to succeed.

        Forgetting the 2019-2020 season, which was covid-19, I see that in 2018-19 the Symphony finished in the RED by $2 million, on a $8 million budget. It boggles the mind.

    • Fred Funk says:

      The military people, depending on their training status, are working up to six days, with extended duties, outside of their normal jobs.

      It’s foolish to make assumptions about what they patronize.

      I’d wager that the military people do more before 9am, than this bozo management show does all day.

    • Gayle says:

      That must be why they built the Tobin Center, billed as the symphony’s home. Which is a money pit for the SAS, costing way more than anywhere else we’ve played. But you do you.

    • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

      The San Antonio metro area has ~2.5 million, which puts it at #24 in the country, not #7.

    • Ainslie says:

      Typically, symphony orchestras, opera companies and the like have flourished because of the deep pockets of wealthy, old money families. San Antonio, like most other larger cities, have them. The problem is that historically they have hated each other and refused to cooperate in sustaining the arts.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    For years this is basically what Fort Worth did in the 70s and 80s. They had the full-time Texas Chamber Orchestra, performing in Orchestra Hall and at times at the Kimball Museum and toured around the state a fair amount, and expanded a few times a year with freelance musicians for full symphony concerts at the Tarrant County Convention Center. Most also had university appointments in the Dallas-Fort Worth area…and took every available pick-up job, e.g. the opera and ballet, and church jobs (when churches could afford concerts with orchestra; an era passed, at least in Fort Worth).

    The Texas Chamber Orchestra was an estimable group.

  • Reality Check says:

    It simply doesn’t matter whether San Antonio has an orchestra, other than to the players and administrators who will lose jobs and perhaps to a handful of enthusiastic, but tapped-out older donors. This is the same story you will see in many places around the USA in years to come. San Antonio doesn’t need an orchestra. Not every middle and large sized city does; most don’t, and all have trouble supporting them. 99% of residents will not be aware it has gone or been reduced.

    More importantly, at its very best, it was merely another not very good American regional orchestra. It’s not like there is a lot to mourn here. There will be a certain amount of loud-mouthed hand-wringing and carrying on, but it makes no difference. They will go to half numbers for a year or two then shut down. People have other interests and ways to spend their money in SA, you may like it or not but that’s the reality. There had been years of saturation in this area in similar orchestras across the USA and its time the herd was thinned.

    • Mary says:

      “More importantly, at its very best, it was merely another not very good American regional orchestra.”

      Countless conductors and soloists who have performed with the San Antonio Symphony beg to differ.

      • drummerman says:

        Yes, it was a terrific orchestra. Every guest artists who came there was (pleasantly) surprised.

      • Jimmie says:

        I lived in San Antonio from 1980-1985 and knew several of the musicians including Janet Ferguson who later became principal flutist of the L. A. Phil.
        The talent in the SA Symphony has been quite good. IMO: outreach to the community was very lacking. Sadly, I remember a member of the symphony complaining about playing in a mall “I can’t believe I spent four years studying violin to play in a F****** mall”. This was the mindset of many of the younger members of the symphony who could not wait to move on to the NY Phil, Chicago Symphony, etc. The symphony has been a stepping stone for many, however there are many orchestra members who love the city and want to stay and perform. Management has been unstable and misdirected in it’s mission. Back in the 60’s as a high school student in the Rio Grande Valley, the San Antonio symphony annually toured and it was always a great experienece to see them. I have many memories of the SA Symphony and hope they are able to continue. The money in SA is there, it is not a poor city. Management needs to reach out.

      • Reality Check says:

        Yeah, like they’re going to tell you the truth.

    • Rude says:

      “Time the herd was thinned.”

      You do not like the arts very much do you?

    • BigSir says:

      Great, everyone can go into IT…snore.

    • Bill says:

      Your right. We don’t need the art museums either.

  • JoshW says:

    1) What’s more surprising is that Texas has any culture at all. 2) Has anyone ever heard of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra? Everything doesn’t have to be Mahler and Bruckner.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Texas has plenty of culture. And, yes, in the US the St. Paul Chamber orchestra is very well known and regarded. You need to get out more.

    • Jimmie says:

      Screw you and your elistist attitude. I grew up in Texas and had a great musical education. As a teen, I was introduced to the classics and was quite aware of the CSO, NYPhil, BSO, etc. and even the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. You need to expand your education and maybe spend some time in Texas. You’d be suprised to find Texas is nothing like you think. The Texas Music Educators Association is quite successful in the introduction to music and training of muscians We Texans are not as ignorant as you assume. However, with your attitude you’d probaly get your ass kicked.

  • Bill says:

    The San Antonio metro region has only recently seen the explosive growth to its present size; it doesn’t have the legacy of corporate or established wealth giving to the arts that older cities like Cleveland or Detroit still have, even in spite of those older cities difficulties. The San Antonio symphony has been having difficulties pretty much forever. Unfortunately, the history and the culture of the city don’t appear to friendly to the art form.
    But cutting the orchestra to core musicians supplemented by freelancers is problematic for them as well, because there is not a large pool of freelancers around San Antonio; they would have to be brought in from Dallas or Houston and then put up in hotels, which would obviously be almost or more expensive as maintaining the current orchestra size.
    This seems like a problem unique to San Antonio, there are other orchestras the rely on the core/freelance model, but they all have another city relatively close with a pool of qualified musicians to draw from. Not sure there is a viable way out of this. Perhaps there needs to be a greater effort to raise donations from the new corporate entities that are moving there.

    • drummerman says:

      Toyota built a factory there about 15 years. I happened to talk with someone from the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio recently and was surprised that they get nothing from Toyota. The rest of your post is absolutely correct.

    • Gayle says:

      We’ve brought in subs and extras for years, as a 72-piece orchestra must to play the big pieces. The symphony has NEVER paid for their lodging. They all stay with colleagues, and once in a while a board member.

  • bach40 says:

    To all those reading: Since you are on a classical music blog, it may be assumed that you are a lover of classical music. Our tradition has survived for so long because of passion, dedication, perseverance, and the true belief that it is a great art that people should come and hear. Let us please remember that the people of San Antonio deserve the opportunity to fall in love with classical music as well. I suggest we all support the musicians there who are so passionately defending not only their hard earned jobs, but also their mission to serve the wonderful people of San Antonio who they believe deserve great classical music. I suggest we return to our roots and support the spread of classical music, and cheer on those who are so tirelessly defending classical music in a great American city.

  • John says:

    They should consider merging with the Austin Symphony. Austin is close by and neither city seems to be able to support a full-time ensemble, just from looking at the concert schedule for the two orchestras. Some musicians would doubtless lose out, which would be unfortunate, but the market is clearly telling them something, based on how financially unstable the San Antonio Symphony has been historically.

    • Bill says:

      In Austin, the majority of players also have lucrative jobs with the university and it is in their interest to NOT go full time. They have to have their day hours free. That idea has been bantered around in Austin over the years and has been rejected repeatedly.

  • Mayflower says:

    A discussion that is long overdue is the impact of demographic changes on the classical world in the U.S. I say this as a second-generation Latina who has watched the percentage of Latinos increase in the U.S. and wondered what impact it will have on this country’s (primarily WASP) culture. This is not a judgment, merely an observation. I teach ESL and most of my immigrant students from Mexico and Central America have an 8th-grade education. A few are barely literate in their native Spanish, and for a tiny minority of indigenous people, Spanish is their 2nd language. Cultural activities are the last thing on their minds.

  • Amy Adams says:

    Can anyone name an orchestra whose board decided to slash musician salaries, positions, et cetera…

    …which then thrived from that course of action? Any orchestra which saw an increase in audience size, engagement, giving, quality of performances?

  • Guest says:

    Unfortunately, San Antonio notoriously has the one of the worst musician unions of any professional orchestra.

    Several years ago, the younger musicians in the orchestra tried to start a campaign called “MOSAS” to do strategic local outreach concerts at venues that served food and drinks. The aim was to connect with audiences (mainly younger) and as a form of grassroots marketing, and that campaign was wildly successful. But their union shut the whole thing down as it was taking off.

    When the Ballet of San Antonio had no money and started to use recordings to dance to instead of hiring the orchestra, the union organized for the musicians to picket the ballet. Several executives who are hugely philanthropic to the arts in San Antonio were turned off to this stunt. One executive has commonly told people his company would never donate to SAS as long as a certain person (who was head of the orchestra committee) retired.

    The SA union is responsible at least 50% for the orchestra to be at the point it is.

  • Larry W says:

    This is a shame. The San Antonio Symphony has many excellent and dedicated musicians. They work closely with the 400 member Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA). The 12,000 member Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) convention meets annually in San Antonio. In both the city and the state, there is strong interest in classical music. This appears to be a management or board problem.

    • drummerman says:

      YOSA is an entirely separate organization, nothing to do with the Symphony except a side-by-side concert and some players coaching the youngsters.

      • Larry W says:

        They think more of this partnership than you.
        From the YOSA website:

        YOSA and the San Antonio Symphony share a commitment to changing kids’ lives through music. Both organizations work in close partnership, including these programs and activities:
        YOSA and the San Antonio Symphony perform a side-by-side concert each year.

        San Antonio Symphony Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing and Assistant Conductor Noam Aviel have guest conducted the YOSA Philharmonic in rehearsal and in concert. YOSA Music Director Troy Peters has guest conducted the San Antonio Symphony.

        The winner of the annual YOSA Concerto Competition appears as a guest soloist with the San Antonio Symphony.

        YOSA families receive discounted tickets for San Antonio Symphony concerts.

        YOSA Symphony and Concertino Strings conductor, Kenneth Freudigman, is the principal cellist at the San Antonio Symphony.

        YOSA regularly employs dozens of San Antonio Symphony musicians as teachers, sectional coaches, and audition judges for our orchestras. San Antonio Symphony musicians also serve on the faculty for YOSA Summer Symphony Camp.

        51% of YOSA musicians study privately with San Antonio Symphony musicians.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I thought everything was bigger in Texas!

  • fflambeau says:

    Milwaukee IS a good example but also illustrates the need to have citizens who love classical music and are willing to pay for it. Milwaukee was settled primarily by Germans who loved it; and were willing to shell out money for something they love. Like San Antonio, perhaps, the wealth level isn’t that great yet music was of utmost importance to the citizens. I doubt that San Antonio can make the same claims.

    Yes, they’ve had problems in the past in Milwaukee but look at them now: a “new” concert hall (in a refurbished cinema that cost 90 million dollars) which they alone own; a big endowment; a great and youngish Maestro; solid government support; the longest running contract in history with WFMT in Chicago with national broadcasting; sold out concerts and a very, very good symphony orchestra that does a lot nationally and locally. It goes to prove that a city is more than sports teams and tourism.

  • Sidelius says:

    The idea of just giving up on having at least a reasonably good full orchestra for an area of that size seems incredibly pessimistic. The seeming indifference to that possibility is appalling, and may be self-fulfilling. It is only required that a small percent of that large a population be concertgoers to support an orchestra. Cities much smaller manage to do it. But to even have that minimal core audience, you must start by insisting on regular and meaningful exposure to classical music as a basic part of elementary and high school education. You can’t want what you don’t know. I know many people who developed a love for classical who would have much earlier if they had just been introduced in school. I don’t know what kind of music program they have there, but maybe not very much. Having an orchestra without developing that audience is like a tree without any roots. At some point, hopefully, many of these people will find that there is just no substitute for a good live performance. To just dismiss that is to dismiss a lifetime of great and profound experiences. As for the costs, remember that even in Europe the arts are heavily supported by government grants. It is just considered part of maintaining a national heritage and quality of life, like parks or museums or zoos. Both the city and it’s business community should be expected to help. Do they want their city to be a desolate wasteland where only profit matters? Is it just something about Texas that’s toxic?

  • Michael Emmerson says:

    It is always sad to see an orchestra “downsizing” but better that it down size than disappear completely. The truth is that without much greater financial support from the community a full size symphony is unlikely if not impossible to maintain.
    On the other hand, the greater Newcastle-on-Tyne area is not dissimilar in size to San Antonio and for many years, Newcastle and, indeed, the North of England have been excellent served by the Royal Northern Sinfonia. For the big repertoire, visiting Symphony Orchestras regularly fill the musical gap.

  • Jeff says:

    Why not just merge with the Austin Symphony? Create a Texas Phil with series in both towns.

  • Dennis Mallory says:

    If the city wont support a full Symphony Orchestra ( for WHATEVER reason), then reshaping it to a Chamber Orchestra may be the way to go. However, poor and/or incompetent business and marketing management will cause that to fail also.

    Hire PROFESSIONAL and PROVEN BUSINESS and MANAGEMENT staff (and not just people who ‘love classical music’) should be the start.

    • CA says:

      Agreed. Too many “classical music fans” with not enough, not the right kind, or simply no experience being hired nowadays. That may not necessarily be the case in SA but it is happening widely and it’s very scary. Especially when it comes to handling or overseeing a collective bargaining agreement. But, I see that SA has at least posted for two staff fundraising positions. Don’t know if those are new positions or not.

      • Bill says:

        Another example of the boards incompetence. On numerous occasions in my long tenure here they have done away with marketing to “save money.” So, ticket sales of course decline and then they come back to the players with “see there? There’s just no money here!” I refer back to my comments about Henry Fogel

  • Al says:

    Imagine if we were talking about football.

    Hey, let’s cut the team in half. It’s creating a new business model.

    We can just have smaller games.

    Small can be beautiful.

    There are plenty of talented players in the area who would jump at the chance to come in for the big games. If we have to bring them in from other cities, the owners or even the fans can put them up for the night.


  • Frank Flambeau says:

    There are probably a number of reasons for this situation. But I think the main one is being evaded: the background of the settlers.

    In Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Chicago there were huge numbers of German and Polish immigrants; the Twin Cities has mostly Scandinavian stock: all people familiar with classical music and lovers of it. Look at the founders of the great orchestras: Frederick Stock in Chicago; Emil Oberhoffer in the Twin Cities; Frank van der Stucken in Cincinnati; Harry John Brown in Milwaukee–all from Northern Europe. In San Antonio, you have mostly a Spanish backgrounded city: nice in its own way but Spain was NOT NOW or EVER in the forefront of classical music. So, smaller cities like Milwaukee have excellent classical music orchestras, SA doesn’t. Even Madison, Wisconsin, which is maybe 1/6th the size of SA has a very good, full symphony orchestra PLUS a chamber orchestra PLUS a fine civic orchestra PLUS a major university with a very good music school. It is no coincidence that Edo de Waart lives in a Madison suburb. It is really that simple.

    Plus, when these immigrants arrived it was part of the Zeitgeist to contribute financially towards culture; Milwaukee has had the Bradleys –Allen Bradley and now Johnson Controls, the beer barons (Pabst, Blatz, Schlitz and more: all willing and able to open their pocketbooks): that has never been an idea that took hold in Spanish culture or in SA.

    It is not a surprise that the current Maestro in Milwaukee, Ken-David Masur, was born in Leipzig and that the amazing Osmo is from Scandinavia, nor that some of the greatest leaders of the CSO have come from Northern and Central Europe. I maybe wrong but I do not believe even a single CSO conductor has come from Spain.