After five at-times controversial years as chairwoman of the BSO's board of directors, Barbara Bozzuto is stepping aside.
After five at-times controversial years as chairwoman of the BSO's board of directors, Barbara Bozzuto is stepping aside. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Days after the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra resolved a bitter labor dispute, the organization announced a critical change in its leadership.

At a meeting Wednesday night, Barbara Bozzuto concluded her five-year tenure as chairwoman of the board of directors, including controversy the past 11 months. Health care lawyer Barry F. Rosen — who was instrumental in forging the agreement ending a 14-week work stoppage — was elected as the new board chairman, effective immediately, according to a news release issued Thursday by the BSO.

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Barry F. Rosen is the new board chair of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Barry F. Rosen is the new board chair of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. (HANDOUT)

Bozzuto, who previously was president of a special events and sports marketing company, became the first female BSO board chairwoman when she was elected to the post in 2014. Wednesday night, the board named her the chairwoman laureate; she will also continue as co-chair of a fundraising campaign seeking to bolster the BSO’s endowment.

Peter Kjome, the BSO’s president and CEO, said that the date for the annual meeting was set long ago. It’s a coincidence, he said, that the board of directors met just two days after the BSO signed a contract that will allow it to open its 2019-20 performing season. Symphony insiders had known for at least six months that Rosen had been designated as Bozzuto’s successor, Rosen said Thursday.

Kjome said, “Barbara’s commitment to the BSO is extraordinary and her accomplishments have been significant. She has devoted countless hours to helping sustain the organization.”

Rosen takes over as the BSO attempts to forge a path forward after a tumultuous year and find solutions to the problems that have caused the organization to incur $16 million in deficits during the past decade.

Brian Prechtl, co-chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians Players Committee, said that Rosen possesses a key trait common to effective leaders.

"Barry has shown an interest in welcoming the musicians and other constituents into the decision-making processes of the BSO,” Prechtl said. “The musicians hope for a new era of cooperation.”

Rosen said that practicing law for four decades taught him how to bring people together to work toward a common goal. It taught him “that I represent the deal and not any particular side of the deal," he said.

He added: “I don’t have a silver wand or a magic bullet. It’s not me — it has to be an effort by the board, the management, the community and the players. We all have to pitch in and come together to solve these problems.”

Bozzuto was known as a tireless worker who steered the BSO through the eight-month gap when the organization was temporarily without its chief executive. Paul Meecham left as president and CEO in June 2016; Kjome took over that job in February 2017.

During that period, Bozzuto not only ran the BSO’s daily operations and guided the board but also oversaw the selection process for a new president and co-chaired the symphony’s most ambitious fundraising campaign. She and her husband, Bozzuto Group Chairman Thomas S. Bozzuto, have donated more than $1 million to the orchestra.

Kjome said that once Bozzuto finished her second, two-year term as board chairwoman in the summer of 2018, he asked her to remain in the job for one more year. As he put it:

”I went to Barbara and said, ‘Will you please serve one more year so we don’t have another change right now?' She agreed to provide the stability and continuity that the symphony needed."

He lauded Bozzuto’s efforts in raising nearly $50 million for a campaign primarily aimed at bolstering the organization’s endowment.

In addition, the BSO embarked on a trip to England and Scotland in 2018 during Bozzuto’s tenure. It was its first international tour in more than a decade, and its first with music director Marin Alsop.

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“I worked very hard for this organization,” Bozzuto said in a telephone interview. “Now that we have a new contract, it is time for me to exit my leadership role so that others can take the orchestra to new heights.”

But as board chairwoman, Bozzuto also came in for her share of criticism.

Within weeks of returning from that international tour, the board presented a contract proposal to the musicians that would have shortened the BSO’s season from 52 weeks to 40, and cut the performers’ pay by about 20 percent. (Under the contract ratified Monday, the musicians will take a roughly 1.6 percent pay cut for this year. The length of the season remains to be determined.)

The BSO said that the tour of the U.K. was funded separately by donations that could not have been used for any other purpose. But the musicians wondered publicly why there was sufficient money to send the orchestra to Europe, but not to pay the performers the wages they’d earned the previous year.

Then on May 30, the BSO abruptly canceled the summer season after legislators had worked for weeks to put together $3.2 million in bridge funding aimed at keeping the organization performing year-round until a more permanent solution could be identified for its financial problems. (Gov. Larry Hogan later withheld the first year’s allotment.)

Lawmakers felt they’d been left in the dark — and weren’t happy about it. Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Democrat from Baltimore, said during an interview in June:

"Everybody was shocked that as of July 1, they [the BSO] had run out of money. That was never a part of any discussion.”

Bozzuto said Thursday that BSO management was “fully transparent” during those spring discussions with lawmakers about the orchestra’s finances.

“We expressed our situation as thoroughly and succinctly and clearly as we were obligated to do,” she said.

The crisis worsened June 16 after the BSO board voted to lock the musicians out of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, igniting a firestorm of negative publicity. The lockout was a decision that Bozzuto described as “agonizing" but said was necessary to safeguard the institution’s future.

Prechtl and Players Committee co-chairman Greg Mulligan wrote a letter to the editor claiming that under Bozzuto’s leadership, the board was making decisions that caused “unnecessary damage to the institution.”

But Rosen said Bozzuto was unfairly singled out for blame.

“The chair of the board is the personification of the board,” he said. "The lockout was a unanimous decision, but Barbara took the heat for it.

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“In contrast, I’m benefiting from coming on board when we have a signed contract and everyone is calm and happy and looking towards the future.”

The BSO’s financial struggles have mirrored those of orchestras around the country contending with rising costs, imbalanced budgets and existential peril. In the face of such forces, some observers say, Bozzuto and her peers often have made painful choices in the hopes of keeping their symphonies playing — sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

In the news release, Bozzuto said that decisions made by the board under her tenure “have placed the BSO in the best possible position to move forward to a sustainable future.”

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