BSO board chair responds to musicians' concerns

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
BSO players will get more opportunities to be heard, board chair promises.

After an unusual public airing of concerns by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians, BSO board of directors chair Barbara Bozzuto said Monday that channels of communication within the organization would be increased.

"Let's learn some lessons here," Bozzuto said. "Do we need more communication with the musicians, and do we need to let them know how we feel about them? Absolutely. Let's all sit down and talk more often and for longer periods."

As reported in The Baltimore Sun on Monday, the players' committee, which is elected by the musicians, expressed disappointment with the slow pace of filling vacancies, increased reliance on substitute players, compensation and increased workloads.

Bozzuto, who has already had several lunch meetings with the players' committee this season, said all those issues would be discussed in the future. But the timing of the musicians' comments surprised management and the board, coming so close to Wednesday's scheduled announcement of details of the BSO's centennial season.

"This was a little nerve-racking," Bozzuto said. "But we have heard these complaints before. Has every orchestra board chair in the country heard the same thing? Sure. That doesn't mean I don't take it seriously."

On Monday afternoon, musicians said their intention was not to detract from the centennial announcement.

"We obviously fully support the 100th-season launch and everything associated with it," said players committee co-chair Greg Mulligan.

Bozzuto said that everyone in the organization is "on the same side. We want the best possible orchestra we can have, and we want to make the Baltimore Symphony relevant to everyone. We have an extraordinary music director [Marin Alsop], fabulous musicians and an audience that seems to like us. But we also want to be fiscally solvent."

Alsop declined to comment for this article.

Vacancies remaina particular concern for players. Mulligan pointed to the successful filling of only two of four openings in the violin section, after auditions last fall, as one of the causes for that concern.

The BSO has 79 of the 83 musicians (including two librarians) required by contract.

BSO President and CEO Paul Meecham said in an email that management is "committed to living up to that agreement, and the musicians are very much part of the process."

As for complaints about the BSO's increased educational activities, which can add considerably to the musicians' workloads, Mulligan said the committee was not "anti-education," but focused on the issue of scheduling.

"It's about finding the right combination, the right amount and the right way to do it," he said. "BSO musicians support Marin Alsop's and the board's vision to reach out and touch all members of the community through their various [educational] initiatives. When Marin speaks about education, and how music can touch everybody, I really believe it."

The musicians' long-standing aspiration for salary increases — base pay ($71,214) remains below what BSO members earned six years ago and below that of several orchestras of comparable size — would require a expansion of the budget.

"Fundraising is the key," Bozzuto said. "That's what I tell my musician friends. Give us some time. It's very difficult raising money in this climate. We need to educate the musicians more about the reality."

One potential source of funding for expanding the size of the orchestra — the players' committee wants to see a return to the 98-musician total the BSO had 15 years ago — is increasing the endowment. It's currently valued at $65.5 million ($11 million of that is earmarked for a refurbishment fund for the orchestra's home base, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall).

The BSO is now in what is known as a "quiet phase" of a campaign to double the endowment.

"My husband and I wouldn't have agreed to be co-chairs of the endowment campaign if I thought it wouldn't work," Bozzuto said. "This would put us on the way to solving some of the [musicians'] issues. I am not a Pollyanna. I know when the future looks bleak and when it looks good. Our donors are stepping up."

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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