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Citing labor dispute, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra postpones fundraising gala; Renee Fleming won’t appear

Citing labor dispute, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra postpones fundraising gala; Renee Fleming won’t appear
Instead of throwing a gala on Sept. 14, the BSO will present a free, public concert at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall that previews the upcoming season. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced Monday that a tense labor dispute with the organization’s 75 musicians has caused it to delay its gala fundraiser by nearly eight months.

The gala has been postponed from Sept. 14 until May 9, according to a BSO news release.

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“The BSO determined that the spring was a more appropriate time to host this event,” Peter Kjome, the symphony’s president and CEO, wrote in an email. “The ongoing contract negotiations with our musicians were a key factor that contributed to the decision to postpone the gala.”

The most recent bargaining session last Wednesday ended without apparent progress according to both sides, and no new negotiating dates have been scheduled.

The gala is the orchestra’s biggest fundraiser and includes a black-tie dinner, a concert at which tickets are sold for premium prices and a post-concert reception. The previously-announced headliner, opera singer Renee Fleming, is unavailable in May, according to the release. Instead, the violinist Itzhak Perlman will be the gala’s star guest artist.

Kjome said that since the gala will still fall within the symphony’s 2019-20 fiscal year, the delay won’t hurt the orchestra’s bottom line.

“The BSO is grateful that fundraising for the gala is in line with previous years,” he wrote. “While we do have concerns about fundraising overall ... we are also inspired by and deeply appreciative of those who have stepped up to provide support at a critical time for our organization.”

Instead of throwing a gala on Sept. 14, the BSO will present a free, public concert at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall that previews the upcoming season.

“We certainly understand management’s decision to postpone the gala,” said Mary Plaine, secretary-treasurer of the union representing the performers during contract negotiations.

“They keep telling the public the orchestra is coming back to work on Sept. 9. But, I don’t believe the orchestra will go back to work until they have a ratified contract. That’s the way to hold the gala in September — end the lockout.”

The key disagreement between management and the players is a proposal to shorten the orchestra’s season from 52 weeks to 40, accompanied by a roughly 20 percent pay cut for the performers.

The musicians have been locked out of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall since June 17. Most received their last paycheck of the summer three days earlier.

Kjome has said that the performers are welcome back at work the week of Sept. 9.

He said in the release that he is “grateful” to those who have already promised donations to the gala and added that he looks forward “to expressing our gratitude to our community by launching our new season with free concerts featuring our extraordinary musicians.”

Postponing the gala also involves rescheduling the concert initially planned for May 9, a concert and film screening of “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.” The movie/music event has been moved up two days, to Thursday, May 7. In addition, the release said that the BSO is attempting to reschedule Fleming’s performance to a later date.

Ticket holders for the “Star Wars” concert will be contacted soon, the release said, as will donors and patrons who already have purchased tickets for the Sept. 14 gala.

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Tickets for the May 9 gala will go on sale Tuesday.

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