A new symphonic group will go ahead with or without the Tobin Center

A new organization created by the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra (MOSAS) would seem to be the natural heir to the San Antonio Symphony’s position as the resident company of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

However, in the face of resistance from the Tobin Center, the way forward might not be so clear.

Representatives of the Tobin Center have not spoken publicly about the loss of their main tenant, who, in a typical pre-pandemic concert season, would have appeared in the HEB Performance Hall for up to 28 weeks, including rehearsals and concerts.

While on strike and unwilling to perform at the Tobin since last September, a group of orchestral musicians formed the non-profit MOSAS Performance Fund to independently produce a spring concert series at First Baptist Church with the help of community donors. The non-profit organization is now working to put together a concert season starting in the fall.

Although musicians have praised First Baptist as an available venue, MOSAS has expressed a desire to return home to the Tobin Center, purpose-built in 2014 as a permanent home for the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra with significant public and private investments.

“It was a lot of money that the city gave, the county gave, the taxpayers gave,” said MOSAS President Brian Petkovich. “It kind of raises the question of who benefits from this huge public investment in the performing arts centre. What are the priorities for the performing arts centre? I think that’s the big question.

The Tobin Center of the Performing Arts was opened in 2014 with public and private funding. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier/San Antonio report

Resident Benefits

So far, the Tobin Center has resisted hosting MOSAS as a resident society, which would bestow the special status previously granted to the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra.

In an email to the San Antonio Report, the Tobin Center said of the MOSAS Performance Fund, “This organization is not a resident arts organization at the Tobin Center. Offering resident benefits and rates to non-residents would not be fair to our other resident arts organizations who have gone through the proper rigorous steps to become a resident arts organization.

What those appropriate steps would be were not specified, other than to say, “Decisions regarding any new resident businesses are made by Tobin Center management after consultation with a range of community arts professionals as well as the Board of Directors. administration of the Tobin Center.

As for the possibility of MOSAS receiving resident company status on a temporary basis, the Tobin replied: “We do not have temporary resident companies, with regard to our current resident arts organizations which have proven for a long time to be the best in town.”

Since MOSAS is a new organization that essentially raises funds from scratch, MOSAS would benefit greatly from residency status, Petkovich said.

Resident companies benefit from a right of first refusal for the scheduling of performance dates and reduced performance hall rental rates for rehearsals and concert weekends, costs that are not negligible.

For example, in April 2018, the San Antonio Symphony, with an annual budget of $8 million, was charged $15,000 rent for a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, including two days of rehearsal. and two days of concerts on weekends.

However, if MOSAS attempted to perform at the Tobin Center in a future concert season, the organization would be charged regular nonprofit rates, rather than resident rates. The equivalent of two rehearsal days at $7,000 each and two concert days at $6,000 each would amount to at least $26,000, not including other expenses.

In contrast, the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera, led by David Green, former CEO of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra and former acting general manager of the Tobin Center, will enjoy resident rates at their home in Abravanel Hall in $460 per rehearsal day and $1,620 per performance day. The combined Salt Lake City nonprofit has an annual budget of $24 million.

Although former musicians of the San Antonio Symphony have performed in the hall of the Tobin Center since its inception to a level of quality widely recognized as excellent, the question of whether MOSAS should be considered a resident company of the Tobin Center is not as simple as it sounds.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who was instrumental in awarding $100 million in county funding for the renovation of the old municipal auditorium through a 2008 bond to create the new venue, stated that any new orchestra must prove fiscal and organizational stability before residency status. , and more public funding, would be considered.

“When the city and county make a decision about what to support, what we’re looking for is sustainability, credibility, [and] an achievable plan,” Wolff said. “At this point, I think the Tobin Center is also waiting to see which group emerges that has the best opportunity for sustainability. … I think they just don’t want to create another resident company that’s going to have problems.

Two musicians from the San Antonio Symphony talk before the opening ceremony at the Tobin Center.  Photo by Scott Ball.
Two members of the San Antonio Symphony talk before their performance at the opening ceremony at the Tobin Center in 2014. Credit: Scott Ball/San Antonio Report

Potential losses

Wherever MOSAS continues to perform, it faces logistical challenges due to the Symphony Society’s abrupt June 16 declaration of bankruptcy, which put the status of the orchestra’s equipment and music library in jeopardy. limbo.

Basic items such as the chairs on which the musicians sit and the desks containing their musical scores – with an approximate combined value of $25,000 – are currently locked inside the Tobin Center, along with $165,000 worth of musical equipment, including cymbals, timpani and a ship’s whistle. , and many other instruments and accessories obtained during the 83-year history of the symphony.

Randolph Osherow, the case’s trustee for the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, did not respond to questions about how assets owned by the Symphony Society would be handled, or a potential timeline. for the resolution of the bankruptcy proceedings.

Auctioneer John Fisher of Killeen was ordered to liquidate the musical equipment. Fisher said it was too early in the process to provide specific details or a timeline on the next auction, but he understands the items up for sale will include sheet music, horns, strings and instruments owned by at the Symphony Society. The auction will be simulcast online, allowing bidders around the world to tune in for a chance to buy the items.

“Our job is to disperse the goods and get the best possible return on behalf of the bankruptcy court,” Fisher said.

Petkovich said MOSAS did not expect to have to fundraise to buy all the equipment, in addition to planning a concert season and securing concert halls.

“Frankly, we didn’t expect bankruptcy, and we didn’t expect to have to raise money to buy all of this,” Petkovich said. “I don’t know what we can do in such a short time.”

faith and support

One thing that MOSAS benefits from is the support of the First Baptist Church. Aaron Hufty, associate minister of worship and music and now a board member of the MOSAS Performance Fund, said dates for upcoming concerts are already being planned.

The shape and scope of a concert season remains to be determined, he said, in part to keep a close eye on costs. “One of the things we’re dogmatic about is that we’re funded, and so we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” Hufty said.

The church charges MOSAS a rental rate, but at a fraction of what the Tobin Center would charge.

Hufty acknowledged that while First Baptist is not a purpose-built and acoustically tuned concert hall for a full orchestra, it does provide an adequate stage, chairs, booths and lighting, and even offers some advantages, including proximity to the audience and sound quality.

“I was impressed with how smooth the orchestra could play while maintaining integrity in tone,” Hufty said. “Woodwinds sound particularly good in our bedroom. Good to hear world class musicians in this space to assess the sound [quality].”

As the leader of a faith-based organization, Hufty said he firmly believed MOSAS would succeed in its attempt to carry on the symphonic tradition in San Antonio.

“It won’t be for lack of effort,” he said, from Petkovich and his team of musicians who set out to build a new organization in addition to continuing to perform. “I think what will be revealed in the next two months is the incredible Herculean effort that has gone on behind the scenes over the past four months.”

Hufty said the musicians “are very convinced that they want to play in San Antonio, they feel like San Antonio deserves it. So if – no, I’m not going to say ‘if’ – it will survive and it will thrive,” he said. “We’ll look back on this in 20 years, and no one will know the effort these people put in, but we’ll all reap the rewards.”

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