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Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to play free concert series to expand reach amid financial struggles

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will host four concerts honoring composer Ludwig van Beethoven at venues throughout the city in 2020.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will host four concerts honoring composer Ludwig van Beethoven at venues throughout the city in 2020. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun / Baltimore Sun)

Looking to expand its audience to all corners of Baltimore City as it strives to find its financial footing, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced it will host four concerts honoring composer Ludwig van Beethoven at venues throughout the city in 2020.

According to a news release, the orchestra will perform at four locations from January through May, including at Morgan State University and Patterson Park.

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Peter Kjome, the BSO’s president and CEO, said the series is part of a larger effort to expand the orchestra’s audience by reaching out directly to communities “who might not otherwise know about the BSO."

“Part of the work that’s going on right now is to envision and enable a successful and long-term path for the BSO,” he added.

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The free concert series comes at a turning point in the orchestra’s history after the BSO ended a 14-week work stoppage when the players reached a one-year collective bargaining agreement with the orchestra’s management in September to launch the 2019-2020 season.

Those involved in negotiations say the agreement is a temporary fix, in large part due to a $1.6 million infusion of philanthropic donations that stemmed the group’s longstanding financial issues for the current season.

Brian Prechtl, co-chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians Players Committee, said the series is part of a larger effort to build the orchestra’s brand outside of performances at the group’s two performing halls in Baltimore and North Bethesda.

He said the group has performed outside the city, citing performances on the Eastern Shore and in Montgomery County over the summer.

He added that management and the players have been meeting with various community leaders and stakeholders in the state’s arts community, such as the Maryland State Arts Council, to make the orchestra’s brand more Maryland-centric.

“The management is realizing its really important that we break down some of the barriers that are keeping us from some members of the community,” Prechtl said.

“I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” he added.

Prechtl and Kjome said the series will be important in establishing the orchestra’s long-term goals, as the current collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 7, 2020.

Prechtl said, “[the series is] not necessarily focused on contract negotiations. I think there’s just a realization on everyone’s part [that] ... we’re not doing as much as we could be doing.”

Barry Rosen, who became chairman of the symphony’s board of directors in September, said in October the board’s “goal is to reach a multi-year agreement with the musicians.”

While Kjome wouldn’t say the series is about courting public support ahead of next year’s contract talks, he said the concert series is part of a broader initiative to “perform more often outside of the Meyerhoff” as the orchestra continues to chart a path forward for continued success.

Yuri Temirkanov returns to conduct the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the first time in 10 years as part of the BSO's 100th anniversary celebration. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

“Part of the goal that we’ve set for ourselves [is to] ... enhance Baltimore and the state of Maryland as a cultural center of vitality and importance,” he said, adding that tackling that goal has required the group to “think about ‘What does that mean?’”

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The series — which will honor Beethoven’s 250th birthday by playing a selection of his music alongside other pieces — begins on Jan. 15 when the orchestra will perform at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

The orchestra will follow that performance with another at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in West Baltimore on Feb. 21 before moving on to the Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University and in Patterson Park on Feb. 26 and May 20, respectively.

The free concert series is underwritten by PNC Bank, according to the news release.

“We are excited to partner with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to offer communities in Baltimore the opportunity to experience the Symphony in the City concert series,” Laura Gamble, PNC’s Regional President for Greater Maryland, said in a release. “This sponsorship is one of the ways PNC reinforces its philanthropic commitment to the arts."

Free “Symphony in the City” Concerts

Jan. 15, 2020, 7 p.m. - Baltimore Museum of Industry, 1415 Key Highway, Baltimore, Maryland 21230

Feb. 21, 2020, 8 p.m. - New Psalmist Baptist Church, 6020 Marian Dr., Baltimore, Maryland 21215

Feb. 26, 2020, 7 p.m. - Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University, 2201 Argonne Dr., Baltimore, Maryland 21218

May, 20, 2020, 7 p.m. - Patterson Park

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