S.A.’s Classical Music Institute on union unfair list

S.A.'s Classical Music Institute on union unfair list

The drama in Opera San Antonio’s staging of “Pagliacci” this week isn’t contained to the stage.

The Classical Music Institute, an educational and performance group based at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, has been placed on the American Federation of Musicians’ International Unfair List at the request of the union’s San Antonio chapter. That means that union members are advised against working for Classical Music Institute, which is providing an orchestra for the Opera San Antonio performance.

The move represents an escalation of a dispute between the American Federation of Musicians’ Local 23 and CMI that first became public at a Commissioners Court meeting last month. At the meeting, union representatives spoke out against a grant that CMI received from the county to enable it to provide music for performances by the opera and Ballet San Antonio. 

“The wages and conditions offered for the work by CMI to professional musicians are substandard and therefore unacceptable to the union in San Antonio,” said Raymond Hair, president of the national union. “Furthermore they do not pay any benefits — they don’t pay into the AFM  pension fund, which is a feature of that kind of work.”

READ MORE: CMI receives $300,000 grant from Bexar County during contentious meeting

Classical Music Institute officials did not respond to specific questions about the impact of being placed on the unfair list, but they did release a statement.

“The Classical Music Institute’s $300,000 grant from the Bexar County Commissioners Court to provide classical music for Ballet San Antonio and Operal San Antonio allows these valuable organizations and artists to showcase their passion and talent, enriching our city,” the statement reads. “Let the curtain rise for the performing arts this season. Let’s work together, not separate, to elevate our classical musicians.” 

Rehearsals are taking place this week for “Pagliacci,” which is to open Thursday at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

The union sent musicians who had contracted to play for CMI an email Sunday notifying them of its concerns. It warned them that if they played “Pagliacci,” they might face picket lines as well as financial penalties from their local unions.

Union members picketed outside the Tobin Center Tuesday night.

Richard Oppenheim, president of Local 23, said some musicians pulled out of the production after they learned that CMI was on the union’s unfair list.

E. Loren Meeker, general and artistic director for Opera San Antonio, said in a statement that the opera will go on.

“We are very pleased that CMI, a fellow resident company of the Tobin Center, has made an incremental step to become a full orchestra, and hopeful that the attempts to keep it from playing for (Opera San Antonio) are not successful,” she said. “We don’t want the performing arts in our city to be dictated by one group trying to have a monopoly. We are resolved that these efforts will not prevent Opera San Antonio … from bringing the great music and theater of Pagliacci to our community.”

RELATED: SA Philharmonic buys assets of defunct San Antonio Symphony

The San Antonio Symphony, which folded in June following a strike by musicians and decades of financial turmoil, had played in many productions by the opera and the ballet in the past. The former symphony musicians have resumed performing independently as the San Antonio Philharmonic.

Staff writer Jacob Beltran contributed to this report.

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

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