A good read for anyone who loves thrillers is the San Antonio Express-News’ detailed financial history of the San Antonio Symphony. And, as in any situation where a narrow span of facts is presented, you could read the narrative in any number of ways. So much is left to the imagination and interpretation. What is one to make of the twenty-plus years of short leadership tenures, the cancelled and foreshortened seasons, the repeated deficits, and the many make-ups and breakups with musicians?
Here is one exciting excerpt from the recent history of the 76-year-old organization, as compiled by news researcher Michael Knoop, among others:
- 1994: The symphony board approves a mayoral task force’s suggestion to use $5 million of a $6 million endowment to pay off long-term debt. The 65-member board also approved cutting non-orchestra expenses 10 percent over the next two fiscal years.
- 1998: Facing debt of more than $1.5 million, the symphony board asks for more than $617,000 in wage and benefits concessions from the musicians. The executive director resigns in December.
- 1999: Two anonymous donors give nearly $1.2 million to the symphony to help stabilize its finances and directly aid its musicians. The symphony later receives an anonymous endowment gift of $500,000 to meet the matching requirement for a grans from the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation.
- 2000: Symphony ends the fiscal year with a projected deficit of $375,000 and another executive director resigns.
The story continues right through the present day in the same way; believe me, there is a lot of similar stuff in between these excerpts.
- 2003: Symphony closes its season a month early and files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In October, musicians and management agree to a four-year contract with a minimum of 26 weeks of performances. The fourth executive director since the 1987 rebirth resigns.
- 2004: Symphony officials announce the appointment of Bruce Johnson, with the new title of president/CEO. Johnson leads the symphony between February and November 2004.
- 2005: Symphony is in the black after SBC Foundation gives $250,000 to teach symphony executives how to run their nonprofit organizations like businesses.
- 2006: David Green, a veteran beverage industry executive, is appointed symphony’s president and chief executive officer.
The story continues in this way until, on February 14th of 2017, it was reported that computer hackers broke into the San Antonio Symphony’s network, stealing the names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses, and W-2 tax forms of about 250 employees. In July of that year, a new nonprofit led by funders, Symphonic Music for San Antonio, declared it would take over the symphony’s operations. But, it should come as no surprise that the group later pulled out of the deal when it found $8.9 million in possible pension liabilities, whereupon the symphony board decided to close on January 3, 2018.
However, if you think that’s where the story ends, you haven’t been paying attention:
- January 5, 2018: New board chairwoman Kathleen Vale calls a meeting of current and past board members of the Symphony Society of San Antonio to gauge support and map paths to move forward. Following the meeting, she reports the symphony is without debt and that new funding had been pledged to resurrect at least part of the remaining season, but declines to identify the sources of new funding. The orchestra performs the first of the Tricentennial Celebration concerts, attended by about 1,120 people.
- January 6, 2018: Board chairwoman Kathleen Vale says the symphony had received $400,000 in verbal pledges. At the second Tricentennial Celebration concert, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff spoke words of support for a major orchestra in the city to a near-capacity audience of almost 1,450 people at the Tobin Center. The City of San Antonio, which awarded the symphony $614,000 for the 2017–18 season through its public funding process, still held about $350,000 that would be available to the orchestra for concerts this winter and spring.
To some, this story might be summarized as a casebook model of cycles of mismanagement—financial and otherwise—or as a torturously long farewell to a fatally injured thing that should be put out of its misery. But, clearly, this is also a love story—a fraught relationship that should be mended post-haste so that city and art form can more harmoniously exist in their lifelong devotion to one another, odd as it may sometimes look to others.
So, let’s place this in the category of romantic thriller and claim it as our own kind of story with its own kind of persistence. Passions are not always so very neat, after all. Still, maybe it’s time to end the drama? And kudos to the San Antonio Express-News for its excellent presentation of the facts.