The BSO and its musicians reach an agreement on a new one-year contract.
On Friday night, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will take the stage at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The first oboe player will play the note A — and Maryland’s 2019-20 classical music season will officially be underway.
Below are seven questions you might have about the new one-year contract that was jointly announced Monday by the BSO and its unionized musicians. The bargaining agreement brings to an end a summerlong showdown that mesmerized much of Maryland.
Are the musicians taking a pay cut?
Yes, but it will be small. They will receive a base salary of $81,438 for the current season — or slightly less than the $82,742 they received under their previous contract, which expired in January.
It’s important to note that the musicians aren’t being paid for the two weeks of the current season from Sept. 9 through Sept. 22 that they refused to rehearse or perform. If the musicians were being paid for a full, 52-week year (as they have been paid in the past) their base salary would be $84,696, a 2.4% increase over their most recent contract.
What did the musicians give up?
Between last season and this season, the performers have lost more than a quarter of their annual salary. Under the agreement, they also will not be reimbursed for the final 12 weeks of the 2018-19 season that they were locked out of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall from June 17 through Sept. 8.
All told, the work stoppage lasted 14 weeks. The performers aren’t being paid for any of it.
Will the current season be reduced to 40 weeks, as management had been demanding, or will there be performances year-round?
That’s still up in the air. The contract guarantees a 38-week season from the fall through the spring, plus a two-week summer season.
However, the contract also provides for the creation of a new board committee called the “Vision Committee” that will have a broad mandate to plan for the BSO’s future. That committee will include several musicians and will be involved in determining the length of the performing season, according to Peter Kjome, the BSO’s president and CEO.
That committee could decide to cap the number of weeks the musicians perform at 40, or extend it by half a dozen weeks or more.
But isn’t the organization in grave financial straits?
Yes. Practically every speaker at Monday’s news conference emphasized that though the immediate crisis is over, the organization has yet to resolve its most serious challenge — the dire financial problems that have caused the BSO to incur deficits averaging about $1.6 million each year.
A task force created this spring by the Maryland General Assembly has been charged with making recommendations to restore the BSO to solvency by the end of the year.
As Kjome put it: “We need to come up with a robust and achievable plan for the future.”
If the BSO is so strapped for cash, how can it afford to leave the musicians’ salaries virtually unchanged?
Over the summer, the locked-out musicians organized a group of local philanthropists to raise enough money to make up the difference between what the BSO has said it can afford and a sum representing one year’s salary for the musicians under the previous contract.
That effort was spearheaded by Fred Lazarus, the former president of the Maryland Institute College of Art.
“Brian and Jane wouldn’t let me say no,” Lazarus said. (He was referring to Brian Prechtl, co-chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians Players Committee, and Jane Marvine, a member of the committee who represented the musicians in contract talks. ) “They said, ‘C’mon, you have to do this. ’ ”
Lazarus began fundraising in midsummer. He anticipates that he will have secured $1.6 million in pledges within the next month. That money will be placed into a restricted fund and used solely for the musicians’ pay. The performers will receive those funds regardless of the length of the performing season.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that people in Baltimore support the orchestra and really want it to do well,” Lazarus said.
Isn’t that $1.6 million just promised so far? What will happen if the donors change their minds? Won’t the BSO be left in the lurch?
Barry Rosen, vice chairman of the BSO’s board of directors, said the organization is protected because the pledges aren’t just verbal, but are written down in legal documents.
“They’re contractual obligations like any other,” he said.
Where does the new agreement leave music director Marin Alsop?
Alsop has two years remaining on her current contract. She said after the news conference that she’s “cautiously optimistic” that the Vision Committee will come up with creative solutions to tighten the BSO’s bonds to the community and increase donor support.
For instance, she’d like to see the BSO hold concerts in city neighborhoods similar to the free, star-studded event mounted recently at New Shiloh Baptist Church. (That Sept. 14 concert was organized by the Players Committee. It was not a BSO event.)
“That concert was an example of how music can unite us as a people,” she said.