Peter Kjome capped a roller-coaster five years as president and CEO of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra by announcing Monday that he will leave the organization when his contract expires in January 2022.
Combined with the departure of music director Marin Alsop in August, that means the BSO will embark on its first season of live post-pandemic concerts with a complete turnover of leadership on both the organization’s administrative and artistic sides.
The board of directors will launch a national search for Kjome’s successor and expects to appoint a new president and CEO later this year.
”Peter Kjome has made outstanding contributions during a time of important progress for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,” said Barry Rosen, chairman of the board of directors. “He should take great pride and credit in what he has accomplished.
“But we understand his decision and will now begin the process of searching for his successor. We will not be in a rush. Could we have someone by Thanksgiving? That’s certainly possible. We think that a five- or ten-month search process is doable.”
The BSO board learned Thursday that Kjome was leaving the organization, and the staff was notified Monday.
If a replacement is appointed later this year, Kjome will put aside the BSO’s presidency and work instead as a consultant to aid in the transition until his contract ends.
Kjome said that it has been “a true privilege” to guide the BSO since he assumed the top management job on Feb. 1, 2017.
“When I joined the BSO family, we were widely renowned for artistic excellence and for doing important work in the community,” he said. “We were beloved by a loyal family of patrons and supporters.
“That said, we were also facing significant challenges. We have come together in extraordinary ways since then. I am proud of how we have all begun working together. It has been inspirational.”
As recently as two years ago, the BSO was on the precipice.
The organization had been losing an average of $1.6 million annually for more than a decade. Over the Memorial Day weekend in 2019, the BSO ran out of money and locked its musicians out of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall for the summer. An audit raised doubts that the symphony had the financial resources to remain in business for another year.
Kjome and the board of trustees were embroiled in a bitter dispute with the musicians over the length of the performing season. During the lockout, the musicians picketed outside the Meyerhoff nearly every day.
The BSO’s financial problems preceded Kjome’s tenure with the organization. The orchestra’s recovery began when the state legislature created a work group helmed by former state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer to come up with a plan for stabilizing the organization’s finances.
Within months, the work group had adopted a five-year plan. The work stoppage ended, and last August, musicians and management signed a five-year contract. Perhaps most crucially, in the months before the pandemic shuttered venues statewide, generous donors contributed $10 million for a new, transformation fund.
“The difference in the environment now as compared to two years ago is amazing to me,” said Brian Prechtl, chairman of the BSO Players’ Committee.
“The voice that the musicians have in the decision-making process is dramatically different, and I am very grateful to Peter Kjome and Barry Rosen for supporting that paradigm shift. It is a great legacy to leave behind.”
Other accomplishments during Kjome’s tenure include the BSO’s visit to England, Scotland and Ireland in 2018, its first international tour in 13 years. The occasion marked the BSO’s debut at the prestigious BBC Proms and the Edinburgh International Festival under Alsop’s baton.
“Peter leaves the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a far stronger position than when he arrived,” Alsop said in a news release.
Kjome said he thought carefully about the timing of his departure.
“I have been reflecting for some time where we are as an organization,” he said. “I decided that now that we have adopted the five-year plan and now that we are in such a strong financial position, that this would be a good time for a transition.”
Kjome said his top priority for now is focusing on the BSO. Then, he’ll start thinking about what his own next step might be.
“I care very deeply about classical music and the role that orchestras play in their communities,” he said. “I think about possibly helping another organization serve its community through music, not only in terms of the concerts but also through educational programs.”
Rosen thinks that as soon as word gets out that Kjome is leaving, “people will start seeking us out.”
“This is now a plum job,” he said.
“We’re in a much improved financial situation. We have achieved stability with the musicians by signing a five-year contract and we have established very nice working relationships with them. We are in the midst of a search for a new music director. The person we hire will be at the helm of that search, and that is attractive and exciting.”
Rosen said he expects the board to hire a headhunter who will put together a diverse pool of candidates.
“We will be looking for a leader. A great CEO should be inspirational, someone who can listen to the community and not just talk at them,” he said. “It should be someone who has great appreciation for classical music, top-notch organizational skills, and who is good at fundraising and likes doing it.
“I really do think we are entering a golden age for the BSO. The next president and CEO will have an impact on the future of this organization. That is why we should take our time and make sure we select someone who is really good.”