Noontime passersby in cars and on foot were greeted Monday by with the sight of four brass players from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performing in the median 29 at the intersection of North Charles and Centre streets. The musicians’ aim was to draw attention to a lack of progress in contract negotiations with BSO management.
“We want the public to be aware that we’ve been playing without a contract since Sept. 9,” said percussionist Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the players’ committee. “This makes a lot of people in the orchestra uneasy. We are resuming talks on Tuesday, and we return hopeful that management can bring a credible offer to the table.”
Prechtl and his colleagues did not pass out leaflets about the contract issue on this occasion, but did so while greeting audience members arriving for the opening concerts of the season at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in mid-September.
The recently expired collective bargaining agreement was the second of two one-year contract extensions agreed to during transitional periods in the organization. Those transitions included the arrival of Peter Kjome in early 2017 as president and CEO; that post had been vacant for more than six months.
Three days before the current agreement expired, Kjome offered a four-month extension through Jan. 15, 2019.
“As we explained to our musicians at that time,” Kjome said in an email to The Baltimore Sun, “this proposal was put forth to provide more time for the organization to strengthen its financial position and engage in negotiations. The extension proposal was rejected by representatives of the BSO musicians.”
Management requested the Oct. 30 meeting, Kjome said.
“We are not discussing any details of our ongoing negotiations at this time,” he added.
The BSO has an annual operating budget of around $28 million.
The players are seeking a multi-year agreement that, in addition to a boost in compensation (the one-year extensions included cost-of-living increases), will implement previously negotiated terms regarding the number of full-time musicians in the BSO. The twice-extended contract called for a total of 83. (In 2000, the total was 96, plus two librarians.)
“They always say they can’t afford it,” said violinist Greg Mulligan, also co-chair of the players’ committee. “We are down to 77. Two more just won auditions elsewhere and will be leaving soon. To this point, all management has offered is a four-month extension, with no effort to meet the current contract’s minimum of 83 players. One side is not living up to the agreement they’ve already made.”
The uncertainty over a contract took some of the bloom off the BSO’s successful tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland in August, their first overseas trip in 13 years and first with music director Marin Alsop.
“What I find objectionable is that after this wonderful tour, we came back to a four-month offer,” Mulligan said. “And when we asked what [Kjome] envisioned after the four months, his answer was, ‘I’m not ready to discuss that.’ We know the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is important to Baltimore and Maryland. We would like it to continue to be.”