The San Antonio Symphony season may end before the 6-month strike is resolved

More than six months after the San Antonio Symphony Musicians’ strike, it seems the possibility that the orchestra’s 2021-2022 season will end before the strike seems increasingly plausible.

The musicians have been on strike since Sept. 27 as part of a labor dispute with the San Antonio Symphony Society, the nonprofit council that runs the orchestra. While negotiations continued, the musicians planned their own series of three concerts. And Oprah San Antonio, which usually engages with the symphony for its productions, was forced to invent Plan B because of the strike.

The Symphony has not performed since a free September 18 concert at the Main Plaza. No concert tickets were played for the 2021-22 season at the Center for the Performing Arts, where the Symphony is one of the resident companies. Five performances have been postponed so far and 10 have been canceled.

Three classical concerts and one Pops program remain in the season, which is scheduled to last until June 4th.

The controversial contract runs until August 31. If no deal is reached by then, the strike will continue during the contract negotiations.

“As is the case when any (collective agreement) is about to expire, an heir agreement must be struck,” said Richard Oppenheim, president of Local 23 of the American Federation of Musicians, the union negotiating on behalf of the musicians. “It’s always better for that to happen while the current CBA is in effect, but it’s still so even if the current agreement expires.”

It is still possible that at least some of the concerts planned for the season will take place, said Corey Quartet, director of the symphony.

“There are orchestras in other cities and in other markets that have had similar timing of contract decisions that went back to concerts in late April or May for a shortened season,” Quart said.

The musicians and board of directors began working with federal mediators on Feb. 14 and have met three times so far. Both parties are working to set a date for a fourth meeting.

At the March 8 meeting, the board proposed a contract that if the musicians agree to it, it will resume performances for the current season and last until 2026. The base salary will be set at $ 30,650 for 30 working weeks and will include raises. The average salary will be $ 35,400. The contract also includes 52 weeks of health and insurance benefits. But it will reduce the number of musicians from 72 to 50 through attrition.

The salary in the current contract offer is similar to what the musicians were originally supposed to receive for the 2021-22 season, before the contract reopened due to the financial impact of the plague.

The musicians have already received an 80 percent pay cut for the 2020-2021 season, which has been greatly reduced by the plague.

Following controversial negotiations last year, the Symphony Association forced the musicians in September on a contract that cut full pay to $ 24,000 a year and reduced the number of full-time musicians to 40. So the musicians went on strike.

The union has not made an official counter-proposal to the March 8 board proposal, Oppenheim said.

Abolishing positions through grinding opens the door to the possibility that entire pieces of musical instruments may be lost, said Sea of ​​Galilee Mary Allen Guri, chair of the Symphony Musicians’ Negotiating Committee.

“I do not think it will work for artistic reasons and also because there is nothing that says they will not come back to us in a year or two and say, ‘We said a minimum of 50, and in fact, more than 60 of you stayed and we can not afford it, so we have to reopen The contract, “she said. “There’s nothing that says they can not do it or will not do it.”

14 of the 72 symphony stands are currently open. Five musicians left in 2020, Quart said, and the orchestra was unable to audition to replace them because of the plague. Three retired in August 2021. and six requested a sabbatical for the 2022-23 season. Their roles will be kept open to which they will be able to return during the 2023-24 season.

During the strike, the board canceled the musicians’ health insurance and other benefits, and both sides filed indictments with the National Labor Council accusing each other of not bargaining in good faith.

The complaints process continues.

“Right now, what’s going on is a bit of a procedural dispute,” Oppenheim said. “There were some points in the exam. The question now is whether they want to treat them as a group unit or do they want to harass them separately.”

Meanwhile, the musicians have started playing together, but they do not do it as part of the San Antonio Symphony. They performed in March for the first time since the strike began as part of the Baptist Church’s first fine arts series, playing as the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony. And they will launch a new three-show series on Thursday.

“Let’s be clear. These are not symphony concerts,” Gore said. “I actually had people say, ‘Didn’t you go back to work?’ I work, but I do not work for the Symphony Association. “

The musicians will perform on Thursday and April 22, conducted by conductor Stephen Sanders, musical director of the Texas Central Philharmonic and the Fateville Symphony Orchestra in North Carolina. The next concerts on May 12-13 and June 2-3 will be rested by former symphony music directors Sebastian Lang-Lessing and Christopher Wilkins.

The musicians will also perform free family concerts on April 23 and June 4.

All concerts will be at the First Baptist.

The performances were meant to put some money in the musicians’ pockets and to keep their fight in the public eye, said bassoon Brian Petkovic, president of the San Antonio Symphony Performers Foundation, a new association founded by musicians to present performances and educational programming.

“Playing music to people is why we do it in the first place,” Petkovic said. “It’s really important that people know we’re here and remember what it’s about.

The concert series is funded in part by a $ 100,000 grant from the San Antonio Symphony League, an organization that provides volunteer and financial support to the symphony and musicians. The musicians raise an additional $ 100,000 to cover the expenses.

Education, including concerts for school-age children, is a big part of the Symphony League mission. The organization has been in talks with musicians about producing a concert for young people last fall at the Goods Center, but the arrival of the Omicron variant is crushing those plans, said Vicky Kinder, the league’s president. They still wanted to find a way to set up this kind of programming, which had been absent since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

“When Brian Petkovic approached us with it, and we were at a March show, we thought it was a way to do it,” Kinder said.

In addition to concerts at First Baptist, some of the musicians were required to perform as part of the Rigoletto Opera Opera’s San Antonio Orchestra on May 5th and 7th. Normally, the symphony would be a contract, but the opera had to go in a different direction because of the strike.

The production invites 52 musicians, which is the number that would have been used if the San Antonio Symphony had played, A. said. Lauren Meeker, general and artistic director of the company.

“It will allow us to do the full opera as Vardy intended,” Micker said. “For the first time in two years, we have a full orchestra, full sets and costumes, a full cast, a full chorus, and we’m really, really excited to be back at the big opera.”

Micker said she will continue to monitor the situation with the symphony so she can plan accordingly.

“We hope for a quick solution,” she said. “In the meantime, I’m so glad we were privileged to create amazing art with amazing talent.”

dlmartin@express-news.net | Twitter: @DeborahMartinEN

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