Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians hold a silent picket, dressed in black, at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in protest of management's latest contract
A long and arduous bargaining session between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its 77 musicians ended Monday without an agreement — increasing the likelihood that at least part of next season will be canceled or postponed.
“This is a dark day in the history of Baltimore,” read the news release issued by the Baltimore Symphony Musicians, which was signed by Greg Mulligan and Brian Prechtl, the co-chairmen of the Players’ Committee.
”Over the past three months, the musicians have each lost over $20,000 in salary, with more to come.”
The news release was headlined: “Baltimore Symphony management intent on cutting season despite offer of $1 million from generous donors.”
In contrast, Peter Kjome, the BSO’s president and CEO, advocated a plan that would still reduce the season to 40 weeks, but that he said would put more money into the performers’ pockets during the warm-weather months when no concerts were being performed.
“We urge our musicians to accept the offer of our board and management,” Kjome wrote in the news release. ”We worked to address concerns about compensation and benefits and the size of the orchestra, while helping us to move forward together.”
Though the clock is ticking, it’s not impossible that a deal could still be reached allowing the musicians to return to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in time to perform the free public concert scheduled for Saturday.
The musicians will vote Tuesday night by electronic ballot whether to accept or reject what the union is terming a “take it or leave it” proposal by BSO management. The results of that vote won’t be known until Wednesday afternoon.
Prechtl said the performers won’t attend the rehearsal scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday. They’ll be picketing in front of the Meyerhoff instead.
The musicians are actually scheduled to perform in two free public concerts Saturday, both conducted by Music Director Marin Alsop.
At 4 p.m., the performers will appear at New Shiloh Baptist Church for a “celebration of Baltimore” that they organized. That concert will be held regardless of the outcome of the labor dispute.
At 8 p.m., the BSO is slated to open its 2019-20 season at the Meyerhoff. Whether that concert goes on as scheduled depends on how the musicians vote Tuesday.
The chief barrier to a new contract is management’s demand to shorten the season from 52 weeks to 40, accompanied by a roughly 20 percent pay cut for the performers.
The BSO has been a 52-week orchestra since 1984, a point of considerable pride for the performers. The orchestra hasn’t performed as few as 40 weeks since 1973, according to Michael Lisicky, an oboist and author of the 2015 book “Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: A Century of Sound."
The BSO presented a revised offer to musicians Monday consisting of two options. Both options would leave the season length at 40 weeks.
One option calls for a one-year contract that would include the creation of a restricted fund of $1 million to $1.3 million. The monies would be used to compensate the musicians during the 12-week summer season when no concerts were being performed.
If the total size of the orchestra remained at its current level of 77, that would mean that the players were guaranteed somewhere from $13,000 to $17,000 apiece. Now, the musicians’ base salary is about $83,000 — or roughly $20,750 for the 13 weeks of summer — though most performers are paid more.
Management’s proposal also attempts to involve the musicians more in decision-making by including them as members of a new “Vision Committee” that would have, Kjome wrote, “a broad mandate to plan for the future of the BSO.”
The second option would be to extend all the provisions of the expired contract through Dec. 31. That’s the deadline for a task force appointed by the Maryland General Assembly to present recommendations for fixing the structural financial problems that have hindered the orchestra — and that, Kjome said, have contributed to losses of $16 million during the past decade.
But the musicians say it was they — not management —who secured promises of $1 million for the performers from private benefactors.
”We organized prominent donors,” the musicians’ news release said. “These generous donors brought $1 million designated specifically for musician compensation to help secure a contract. ... It is incredibly disheartening that BSO leadership would fail to embrace this offer of help from some of Baltimore’s leading philanthropists.”
The BSO was founded in 1916 and is by far the largest arts group in Maryland, with an annual budget of about $28 million.
The musicians have been working without a contract since January, and the orchestra’s supporters have worried all summer that the organization might not be around to celebrate its 104th birthday.
Then in June, the BSO’s board of directors voted to lock the performers out of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, giving the musicians little notice they would lose their paychecks until September. That lockout is scheduled to be lifted this week.
The crisis escalated in July, when an audit of the BSO’s finances reached the conclusion there was “substantial doubt” that the orchestra had sufficient financial resources to remain in business for an additional year.
The work group created to come up with a plan for restoring the BSO to solvency held its first meeting Aug. 23 but had difficulty in agreeing on a path forward — largely because of the unresolved nature of the labor dispute.