San Antonio Symphony cellists David Mollenauer (front) and Giovanni DiGiosia perform during a recent free public concert held at Trinity Baptist Church. Donations received from concert-goers benefited the struggling orchestra. Photo by Mark Greenberg
Three months ago, there was a sense of great optimism surrounding the San Antonio Symphony. A public push for donations seemed to be working, the City Council made a symbolic show of support, and the announcement of the symphony's fall season promised to provide a fiscal boost to the perennially cash-strapped organization. There was reason to hope that a crisis had been averted.

But the symphony's June 11 announcement that it planned to file for bankruptcy protection - on the heels of 11 staff layoffs last month - delivered a sobering reality check to orchestra backers. The symphony is in the hole to the tune of $1.5 million and will run out of money by the end of the month. There is no simple solution around the corner.

Steven Brosvik, the symphony's executive director, describes the Chapter 11 move as a dose of bitter, but essential medicine for an ailing organization. "It never feels like a positive to file for Chapter 11, but this offers us a window of protection on our restructuring effort," Brosvik says. "We're trying to help the organization to come back stronger."

The Chapter 11 filing will allow the symphony a 120-day reprieve from its creditors, while the orchestra continues with a comprehensive, zero-based restructuring plan. "Every aspect of the symphony is fair game," Brosvik says. "We're looking at staffing levels, compensation levels, use of computers, symphony halls, and everything else."

The symphony's budget crisis reflects an instability affecting orchestras throughout the country. Musicians

The symphony made major budget cuts last fall, and Brosvik says the orchestra's board of directors "hoped it would be enough, but it wasn't."
in Houston went on strike over staff and salary cuts, symphonies in Savannah, Georgia, and Colorado Springs, Colorado, cut short their seasons; the Colorado Springs Symphony later filed for bankruptcy.

"Funding is down throughout the country," Brosvik says. "You're seeing reductions in single-ticket purchases. Holiday sales with the Nutcracker were down everywhere.

"We're also fighting some history here. This orchestra hasn't had a major endowment to get it through our difficult budget years. And when we go to people asking them for donations to help us through this, some of them are saying, 'We've been doing it for years, and we can't do it anymore.'"

The symphony made major budget cuts last fall and Brosvik says the orchestra's board of directors "hoped it would be enough, but it wasn't."

In February, the symphony was temporarily unable to meet its payroll, but the season continued unabated when its musicians agreed to keep working. Last month, the symphony cut short its spring season. In light of the Chapter 11 announcement, it's easy to wonder whether the fall season will actually happen.

"We have always held that we would re-open next year as a more viable organization," Brosvik says, "and that hasn't changed." •

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