Baltimore County to host free July concert featuring BSO musicians; Hogan unlikely to release BSO funds

The show will go on at Oregon Ridge Park in July.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians have struck a deal with Baltimore County government to hold the popular Independence Day concert despite the BSO’s previous cancellation of the event, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced Thursday. But with the orchestra’s finances deeply troubled, members rallied in Annapolis to call upon Gov. Larry Hogan to release state funding for the institution, warning that their future is in jeopardy.

Hogan, appearing at an event in East Baltimore, said he would most likely not release to the BSO $1.6 million in funds the General Assembly granted to the orchestra, saying it has already received millions of dollars in state assistance.

Olszewski held a news conference in Towson to reveal plans for the July 3 concert, saying the county wanted to continue the longstanding tradition at the Cockeysville park. Unlike past years, the show will be free.

“We know that there are challenges this year with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,” said Olszewski, a Democrat. “But I also know how important this event at Oregon Ridge is to our residents in Baltimore County.”

The symphony’s traditional Star-Spangled Spectacular at Oregon Ridge was among the summer concerts the BSO abruptly canceled last month, citing serious financial problems. The new event, dubbed the Independence Day Extravaganza, will feature fireworks and food trucks.

The BSO musicians secured a grant from the Music Performance Trust Fund to cover their costs, said Mary Plaine, secretary-treasurer of the Musicians’ Association of Metropolitan Baltimore. The mission of the New York-based trust fund is to provide free, high-quality live music.

Officials did not provide a total price tag for the event, but said that other event expenses would be covered by a portion of county grant funds already allocated for the BSO through the Baltimore County Commission on Arts and Sciences, which supports the region’s cultural institutions. The county appropriated $600,000 for the BSO in the fiscal year that begins in July, so the concert will be no additional cost to county taxpayers.

The BSO has performed outdoor concerts at Oregon Ridge since the 1970s, officials said.

The musicians were determined to continue the summer tradition, said Brian Prechtl, a percussionist and co-chair of the BSO Players’ Committee. He said he reached out to Olszewski on social media the day after the orchestra canceled its summer series, when he saw Olszewski express support for proceeding with the show.

“We’re going to be there for Baltimore County,” Prechtl said.

About 75 Baltimore Symphony musicians will perform, which is typical for the event, according to Prechtl and Plaine.

“We’ll have a full orchestra on stage,” Prechtl said. “It will not look any different to all of you out there.”

Student performers from the Lutherville Music School will kick off the show at 6 p.m. with the main program beginning at 8 p.m.

Jacomo Bairos, music director and conductor of the Amarillo Symphony, will lead the program.

The event will require tickets, which officials said will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets are now available on the county’s web site. Attendance will be capped at about 5,000 people.

The BSO holiday concert is not usually free. Last year, adult tickets cost $25 at the gate.

Meanwhile, a group of symphony musicians traveled to Annapolis to play an impromptu protest performance to call on Hogan to release state funds for the orchestra. Lawmakers set aside $1.6 million this year to help the BSO settle a labor dispute with its musicians, who say they will not be paid after Sunday.

The money is part of more than $200 million the Democratic-controlled legislature restricted this session for its priorities. Hogan, a Republican, has discretion to either spend that money or keep it in state coffers.

“Gov. Hogan, we are the Baltimore Symphony Musicians,” BSO oboist Michael Lisicky shouted into a bullhorn at the State House as the musicians stood outside. “We urge you to release the funds.”

A small cadre of musicians broke into a version of ragtime classic, "That's a Plenty."

“We go silent on Monday,” said Lisicky, who has been with the orchestra since 2003. “This Monday, we lose the Baltimore Symphony potentially as we know it.”

Violinist Ivan Stefanovic, who has three kids including two in college, said he doesn't know how he's going to make ends meet, paying for college bills and his family's mortgage and other responsibilities.

“Our paychecks are being cut off as of this coming Monday for the following 12 weeks,” he said. “We just found this out. ... People making these decisions, I don't think they're aware of the position we're in. ... We need compassion.”

Hogan, at the East Baltimore event, said he would “probably not” release the money. He said the orchestra already has received plenty of state assistance, the most of any arts group in the state.

“We continually pour millions and millions of dollars into the BSO, but they’ve got real serious issues and problems with the management, with losing the support of their donor base and the legislature took the money out of the budget and fenced it off,” he said. “So I don’t know what the resolution is going to be.”

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