‘We musicians will not be complicit in our own destruction’

‘We musicians will not be complicit in our own destruction’


norman lebrecht

October 22, 2021

From an interview with Mary Ellen Goree, principal second violin of the San Antonio Symphony and chair of its striking musicians:

We’re musicians, so we’re very used to the concept of having many people working together, everybody with a slightly different role. In a symphony, you’ve got the violins, and we have a lot of notes. The tuba doesn’t have as many notes, but you wouldn’t have the complete symphony without those notes. It’s the same with what we’re doing now.

‘The symphony, on paper, is supposed to have seventy-two staff musicians. We are actually down to somewhere in the mid-sixties right now… We have graduates from some of the top music schools in the United States, and in a few cases the world. Every musician in the San Antonio Symphony won their job, and it’s horrendous to suggest taking those full-time jobs away.

‘Their proposal cuts the symphony from seventy-two full-time musicians down to forty-two… We held a vote on it, and the musicians unanimously rejected this proposal. We notified our management that it had been rejected, and they responded by declaring impasse in the negotiations. They refuse to negotiate on these intolerable terms. Just as a statement of fact, these terms will destroy the San Antonio Symphony. We will not be complicit in our own destruction. We had no choice at that point but to go on strike.’



  • J Barcelo says:

    Such is the sorry state of classical music in much of the United States. You work hard, play great music, provide an invaluable cultural asset – but if the public doesn’t care what are you to do? It’s not that Texas doesn’t have some great culture, but it’s changing quite rapidly. The demographic changes in San Antonio don’t bode well for a Euro-centric art form. If the public was clamoring for tickets like they do for the Spurs you’d be in better shape. But that’s not what’s happening. Orchestras in smaller towns need to find a way to make themselves a visible and vital part of the community or else. The solution the board proposed is not that shocking: in a couple of his books, Leonard Slatkin proposed this. Have a smaller, permanent orchestra and bring extras as needed for larger scale works. And with Houston, Dallas and Austin relatively nearby, that shouldn’t be a problem. I wish we lived in a world where the public values classical music as much as sport, but we don’t.

    • “…with Houston, Dallas and Austin relatively nearby, that shouldn’t be a problem…”

      Houston to San Antonio = about 215 miles or 350 km;
      Dallas to San Antonio = abt. 300 miles, or 475 km.

      This might be a bit of a problem. 🙂

    • Althea T-H says:

      Did the maestro suggest a smaller salary for himself?

      I do hope so, because no conductor should suggest cutting musicians’ jobs, whilst he (or she) continues to coin it, on a weekly basis.

      When will these utterly unjust pay disparities end?

    • Patrick says:

      “Orchestras in smaller towns…”

      San Antonio has a population of 1,500,500. The metropolitan area is 2, 500,000.

    • Fred Funk says:

      I wish we lived in a world where people could do the math, and READ a map.

    • Ainslie says:

      From the orchestra’s 2020 990 form:
      Gross receipts: $ 5,240,598
      Loss: $-1,629,836
      Previous year’s loss: $-2,052,020
      Net assets: $-977,827

      Clearly unsustainable, if not irrevocably catastrophic.

      Music Director’s salary: $237,373

      Outrageous? Maybe. So cut it in half and fund the salaries of maybe three or four musicians.

      This has been discussed here before. Analyze the demographics and wealth of San Antonio and there is absolutely no way they can sustain an orchestra of the size and quality that they would like to have.

      The musicians deserve better. The music lovers of San Antonio deserve better, too, but there just aren’t enough of them. This isn’t the result of administrative incompetency or greedy conductors. It’s civic unsustainability.

  • Arne Nilsson, Borås says:

    We need to treat each other in a more socialist way.
    Arne Nilsson, Borås

  • Millenial says:

    Hey Norman,
    I believe the musicians of the san antonio symphony have an instagram with photos from this millennium

  • SA Resident says:

    Appreciate the sentiment and the pride in your work but this story has been rolled out many times by the SAS in the years before Covid. Going on strike was a bad call, this will be the end game. Was a long time coming, its too bad, but SA residents don’t have a lot invested in this issue. By the way nice article in a marxist rag, not a good look when you should be garnering local support. Perhaps a part time pick up group can be organized to provide a basic season with Christmas, Pops and other popular music, the musicians as you say are wonderful but they can surely find new positions that would be more artistically fulfilling. Best of luck.

  • Dirk says:

    Sorry but the notion of musicians going on strike in this day and age displays such a profound ignorance of basic economics that they will absolutely be complicit in their own destruction.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      They need to understand that they have zero economic leverage. A powerful philanthropist is needed and that would be so unfashionable in the racism-obsessed Democratic administration. To hear them tell it you are the most racist nation on the planet; ergo, why in the world would anyone take you seriously?

      Think about how that schtick is destroying your reputations and do something about it!

  • MB says:

    Unfortunately, going on strike just lowers revenues. And lower revenues mean fewer musicians or lower pay.

  • JonM says:

    Has management considered arranging for the symphony to go on tour to increase revenue and their customer base? Isn’t that what the management of rock groups do? Another option is for musicians to all resign, join together, form smaller groups, arrange for their own tours, and create a website to sell their music online bypassing record labels, since most classical music is in the public domain.

    • drummerman says:

      As my grandmother used to say: “It’s a good idea but there’s no sense to it.” Perhaps you’re not aware of just how expensive touring is. Sure rock groups go on tour but they can play in huge stadiums, charge hundreds of dollars for tickets and also make fortune selling merchandise.

      Besides, exactly where would the SA Symphony go to on tour? Any city they’d visit already has its own orchestra. (And those orchestras are probably not doing well, either.)

      If they record their own music, they’d be subject to A.F.M. recording rates, which are very costly. Sorry JonM.

    • JoshW says:

      Touring an orchestra is one of the biggest loss leaders in the industry. Don’t you think that if “making money by touring” was an option that it would happen a lot more frequently?

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Certain communities in the USA have had a hard time supporting a professional manner and San Antonio is one of them. Others include Honolulu, New Orleans, and Syracuse.

    Not sure that the proper answer to this issue is striking as it will appear that the musicians are out of tune with their surroundings.

    But that is their only recourse outside of starting their own orchestra (similar to New Orleans) and have the players run it and raise funds to make it an ongoing entity.

    • Larry says:

      In New Orleans, they have a full-time administrative staff which does the fundraising, marketing, etc. Not sure just how much of that the players actually do, despite the fact that they call themselves “collaboratively operated.” No disrespect to them, it’s just that fundraising and marketing for an orchestra that size is very much a full-time job.

  • Migraines R Us says:

    If the Democrats weren’t so busy handing our tax money away to their wealthy cronies, millions of illegal immigrants, BLM real estate tycoons, and inmates’ “transgender surgeries,” we just might have some money left over for things that don’t necessarily benefit them politically but are just good and right to have, like the symphony.

    • Ainslie says:

      Does your ignorance have any limits?

      In case you haven’t noticed, San Antonio is in Texas, which is firmly locked in Republican control.
      And the orchestra’s latest woes have accumulated during Donald Trump’s four years of prosperity, tax cuts to the wealthy, crackdown on illegal immigrants — and what the hell are you talking about with BLM real estate tycoons and inmate’s transgender surgeries?

      Maybe it’s the Jewish space lasers, or the Dominion voting machines.

  • Nightowl says:

    Maybe the San Antonio Symphony can ask David Robinson for help and support their cause?

    I am sure he is a fan!