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Baltimore Symphony Cancels Summer Concerts--Update

May 30, 2019 | By Susan Elliott, Musical America

Without comment or input from its musicians, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has announced that it will change its season from 52 to 40 weeks. As such, all summer 2019 concerts have been cancelled.The final program will be the live-with-film performance of West Side Story, June 13-16.

Reached by phone, Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the players’ committee, said he was only just hearing the news now; the players, just out of rehearsal, had not been informed. He called the announcement “unconscionable, shocking, and irresponsible.”

The statement from the BSO: “The Board and management of the BSO made these decisions, including the proposed change to 40 weeks, as part of efforts to address financial challenges that have existed for many years, including over $16 million in losses in the past decade alone.”

Several proposals for supplemental state funding—one of them even approved--have not come to fruition, and even if they do, according to management, the amounts are not sufficient to fix the problems long term.

The musicians’ last contract expired in September and was extended to January; talks since then have been ongoing. They have said that the change will turn the BSO “from a full-time, world-class symphony orchestra into a part-time regional orchestra.”

They will be paid for their work through June 16, but not after.

Another negotiating session is scheduled for Tuesday.

According to The Baltimore Sun, “Because contract negotiations with the musicians’ union are continuing…it was unclear whether BSO management could unilaterally shorten the season.” But management can legally lock the players out—a tactic used by other U.S. orchestra administrators in labor crises such as this one.  

Trimming the season to 40 weeks, the players say, “amounts to a 23 percent cut in work weeks” and “a minimum of a 17 percent cut in salary. Other increased costs to musicians in benefits and workload changes would bring the total cuts to 25 percent in real world value.”

May 31, 2019, BSO Musicians statement:

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra management abruptly cancelled the 2019 summer season yesterday without consulting the BSO musicians and will not pay the musicians past June 16, 2019. This decision defies the good will of the Maryland legislature, Governor Hogan, the citizens of Maryland, and our patrons and donors. The musicians were caught completely off-guard that their paychecks will end in less than a month. These draconian cuts are even more shocking, as they come on the heels of the BSO receiving a $3.2 million allocation in state funding just last week.

The Baltimore Symphony has been a cornerstone of the arts community for over one hundred years. Generations of Baltimore families have been entertained and educated at our performances. It is a hallmark of truly great cities to have institutions that enrich the cultural landscape and keep the arts alive and flourishing for generations to come. A vital orchestra is just as essential to a thriving metropolitan area as museums, aquariums, theaters and stadiums.

Maryland has shown that it wants a great orchestra.  The State of Maryland has been incredibly generous in supporting the BSO historically. Just this summer, the State of Maryland was one of the largest supporters of our recent tour to the United Kingdom and Ireland. After BSO management first proposed reducing the scope of the organization, including musicians’ salaries by 20% on October 30, 2018, the musicians led an appeal to the State legislature to restore public funding to pre- recession levels. We generated over 15,000 letters to elected officials to bring this initiative to fruition. Delegate Maggie McIntosh and her colleagues in the House of Delegates responded by forging HB 1404 to bring $3.2 million in additional funding over the next two fiscal years to the BSO, and to establish a “work group” to take a comprehensive look at how the organization functions, serves diverse audiences and meets the needs of Baltimore and Maryland communities. The Senate passed it almost unanimously and the bill became law on May 24, 2019.

The timing of this decision to cut the orchestra by 20% by BSO board and management is the most disturbing aspect of this development. The summer season had just recently been announced. HB 1404 had just become law. Musicians have turned down work in other places so we could stay in Baltimore and play for the city and state we love. Now we will be unemployed while the management that caused this debacle will go on collecting their paychecks. The BSO’s president and CEO Peter Kjome and board chair Barbara Bozzuto have done all of this after stating publicly that they would not lock out the musicians. We find this disingenuous, unconscionable and irresponsible.

We urge Governor Hogan to release the funds allocated in HB 1404 with a provision that the BSO cannot lockout or impose cuts on the musicians and that senior management will not be paid if the musicians are not paid. The musicians on the stage are the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. This is evident to all who sit in our audiences and hear the magnificent sounds of this civic treasure. This vital institution has been built by musicians, patrons and civic leaders over the last 103 years. We have worked tirelessly to maintain what has been built here through our legislative efforts, and we will continue working to preserve this gem for the City of Baltimore, the citizens of Montgomery County, and the State of Maryland.

Greg Mulligan, Brian Prechtl, Co-Chairs Baltimore Symphony Musicians

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