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‘Nothing short of miraculous’: BSO and musicians sign contract guaranteeing performances through 2025

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its musicians announced that they have reached a five year contract agreement.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced Friday that it has reached a five-year contract with its musicians, guaranteeing that performances can continue through 2025.

The contract significantly cuts the players’ pay — 26% of their existing base salary of $81,438 — for the first year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But future years will restore the lost pay and include raises. For the final year of the contract ending Sept. 6, 2025, the musicians will receive a base salary of $90,100.

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Administrators also are taking large pay cuts this year, ranging from 5% for the lowest-paid staff members to 30% for BSO president and CEO Peter Kjome. Music director Marin Alsop, who makes more than two-thirds of her BSO pay from conducting concerts, made an even greater financial sacrifice as live performances ended abruptly in mid-March.

Nonetheless, the mood at Friday‘s socially distanced news conference outside Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall was jubilant, beginning with a live trumpet fanfare by Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach. About two dozen musicians attended the news conference to express their support for the new contract.

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“This is wonderful,” said oboe player Jane Marvine. “I am so optimistic.”

BSO players (left to right) Matt Barker, Andy Balio and Rene Shapiro perform at a press conference during which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its musicians announced that they have reached a five year contract agreement. August 28, 2020
BSO players (left to right) Matt Barker, Andy Balio and Rene Shapiro perform at a press conference during which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its musicians announced that they have reached a five year contract agreement. August 28, 2020 (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

The players voted “overwhelmingly” Wednesday night to accept the contract, said Brian Prechtl, chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians Players Committee.

The symphony’s board ratified the agreement Thursday.

Kjome said that signing a multi-year agreement will end what has been four years of nearly nonstop contract negotiations. For the next few years, at least, performers and staff can focus exclusively on music-making.

”We are delighted to have reached this point,” Kjome said. “This contract will provide the BSO with unprecedented stability.“

Prechtl said that the tenor of this year’s talks couldn’t have been more different than contract negotiations in 2019, which were among the bitterest in the organization’s 104-year history. Tensions culminated in the musicians being locked out of their performing home for most of the summer.

“I think we are on the cusp of a golden age for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,” he said.

BSO Players' Committee Chair Brian Prechtl, left, BSO President and CEO Peter Kjome,center, and BSO Board Chair Barry Rosen, right, smile as they take part in an announcement that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its musicians have reached a five year contract agreement. August 28, 2020
BSO Players' Committee Chair Brian Prechtl, left, BSO President and CEO Peter Kjome,center, and BSO Board Chair Barry Rosen, right, smile as they take part in an announcement that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its musicians have reached a five year contract agreement. August 28, 2020 (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Bargaining sessions began in late March and continued via Zoom calls through last week. Barry Rosen, chairman of the BSO’s board of directors, thinks the creation earlier this year of a “Vision Committee” that includes administrators, musicians and community members was instrumental in avoiding the rancor of past negotiations.

He added that the pandemic might have benefited the bargaining process.

“COVID-19 has brought people down to earth,” Rosen said. “It encouraged us to focus on what was really important. I’m not sure we would have accomplished this agreement when we did if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.”

Highlights of the multi-year contract include:

  • A big pay cut the first year, followed by a restoration of the lost salary the second year, plus raises. The musicians are paid a base salary of $81,438 for the contract ending Sept. 6. Next year, they will be paid a base salary of $63,880. That will jump back up to $87,187 for the 2021-2022 performing year. By the 2024-2025 season, they will receive a base salary of $90,100, or a 10.6% increase above their current pay.
  • The major sticking point in previous negotiations — whether the BSO would be a full-time orchestra that performs 52 weeks a year, or cut back to 40 weeks of paid performances — was resolved as the musicians had wished, with a full year of salaried work.
  • The number of musicians employed by the orchestra will increase from the current 75 to 85 by the 2024-2025 season, allowing the orchestra to tackle some works it is unable to perform now.

The news conference included more good news for Baltimore’s classical music lovers.

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Thanks to “extraordinary community support,” Kjome said, the BSO will end its fiscal year on Aug. 31 with a balanced budget — despite the pandemic.

And in two weeks, musicians will begin socially distanced rehearsals on the Meyerhoff stage that will culminate in a new digital concert series that will be available to patrons in the fall.

“What’s happened at the Baltimore Symphony in the past year is nothing short of miraculous,” said Prechtl, who then gestured towards the walkway outside Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

”One year ago today, we were walking on these bricks. A bright vision for the future of this organization was the farthest thing from our minds. It is clear that the BSO will be Baltimore’s hometown orchestra for years to come.”

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