BSO musicians OK three-year contract

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians ratified a new three-year contract Friday that will include the restoration of salary cuts that were made in the wake of the economic downturn.

By the 2015-2016 season, annual base salary for tenured musicians will reach $75,024, an 11 percent increase over the base of $67,600 under the previous contract, which expired Sept. 8. Players will also receive a benefit in the form of increased employer contributions to medical insurance plans and pension plans.


"We certainly appreciate the effort from our management and board to make some real improvements for our orchestra," said violinist Gregory Mulligan, head of the players' committee. "We have recovered a good bit of the financial concessions that we made, repeatedly, several years ago. We're glad financial resources are flowing our way."

Mulligan said the vote to ratify the new contract was "overwhelming."

The deal still leaves the musicians behind a base pay level of around $78,000 that they briefly reached during the 2008-2009 season. When the recession struck, the collective bargaining agreement in effect at that time was reopened in search of cost savings.

"We are working our way back, but doing it responsibly," said BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham.

The orchestra, which has a $27 million budget for the 2013-2014 season, encountered an $823,000 deficit for fiscal year 2012. That was covered by reserves. Another deficit is expected after final figures of the just-closed fiscal year 2013 are tallied, but "it will be considerably smaller," Meecham said.

A balanced budget is projected for the new fiscal year, even with the obligations from the new agreement with the musicians. The contract includes flexibility in travel and related work rules for the players that will enable the BSO to start a Sunday matinee concert series next season at its second home, the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.

"We're very excited about that," Meecham said. "It will be a source of new revenue and help us pay for the new contract."

A campaign is also being rolled out, in advance of the BSO's centennial in 2016, to increase the orchestra's endowment fund, currently valued at about $50 million. Income from a larger endowment will also help pay for new contractual obligations.

The contact maintains the BSO's status as a 52-week orchestra, one of 17 in the United States. BSO musicians' salaries are on the low end of those other orchestras; at the high end, in such ensembles as the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic, base pay ranges from about $125,000 to more than $140,000.

The size of the BSO, now at 82 musicians, will rise to 83 under the new deal. A dozen or so vacancies will remain unfilled, unless revenues increase to cover the extra hires.

"Of course, we would like to hire more musicians," Mulligan said. "But, with the chaos that has affected a few other orchestras, we are happy to be joining their ranks of orchestras that have seen stable contracts and slight increases in compensation."

The successful negotiation of the musicians' contract follows recent news that BSO music director Marin Alsop's contract has been extended through 2021.