BSO cancels Saturday’s concert as contract negotiations continue

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has canceled its season preview concert scheduled for Sept. 21.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has canceled its season preview concert scheduled for Sept. 21. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra again canceled its preview concert scheduled for Saturday amid a new round of bargaining talks aimed at putting the musicians back on the stage of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Negotiations resumed Thursday and “continue to make progress“ in ending the 13-week work stoppage, according to a statement released Friday morning by the BSO.


“The BSO is making every effort to bring our concerts back to the stage as quickly as possible,” the symphony management said in the release. ”As negotiations continue, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is hopeful that an agreement will be reached soon.”

But the release added that “unfortunately the season preview concert scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 21 at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall has been canceled.”


BSO Associate Conductor Nicholas Hersh was to have presided over a program that included works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler, among others.

It was the second time in as many weeks that the ongoing work stoppage forced the rescheduling of musical programming. Originally, this weekend was to have featured the music of “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” Those three concerts have been pushed back to an as-yet undetermined date next spring.

The symphony’s board of trustees voted June 16 to lock the performers out. The lock-out was lifted on Sept. 9; two days later, instead of showing up for rehearsal, the musicians were on the picket line.

The players have said they won’t return to work without a contract.

The labor dispute has been exacerbated by the BSO’s longstanding financial problems, reflected in an audit released this summer that concluded the organization may lack the fiscal resources necessary to remain in business for another year.

The biggest stumbling block in contract talks has been management’s demand that the season be shortened from 52 weeks to 40. In management’s initial contract proposal, that shorter season would have been accompanied by a 20 percent pay cut for the performers.

Other knotty issues included the musicians’ contributions for health insurance and the number of performers the BSO must employ, according to Greg Mulligan, co-chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians Players Committee.

A previous round of contract talks broke down Sept. 9. Management had presented two contract offers that it said would have guaranteed the musicians’ base salary at somewhere between $81,415 and $85,071 for a 40-week season — or roughly equivalent to the $82,742 base salary the performers received under their most recent contract, which expired in January.

The musicians “overwhelmingly” rejected both contract proposals one day later.

Brian Prechtl, co-chairman of the Players Committee, said the union’s attorney had advised members that the contract offers were phrased in such a way that salaries offered by management weren’t written in stone. If the performers accepted management’s offer, their attorney advised, they could be certain of receiving base pay of just $70,600.

“That was too big a risk to take,” Prechtl said.

Formal negotiations ceased for the next 10 days. Nonetheless, management and the players continued to communicate informally through intermediaries and by midweek, it became apparent that it could be beneficial to resume official talks on Thursday.


“We had a productive (but by no means conclusive) day at the bargaining table,” Prechtl said Friday. “We’re back today.”

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