In an effort to avoid debt and to shore up its finances, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra has canceled its last two concerts of the season and asked its musicians to donate their services for a Jan. 25 concert. The canceled concerts, of the orchestra's 26th season, were scheduled in February and May.
"We need to be build up our coffers again," Jeffrey Penza, BCO board president, said yesterday. "Our hope is that we will be able to come back next season in a much stronger position."
Like other arts organizations, notably the Baltimore Opera Company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month, the BCO experienced a decline in ticket sales and contributions when the national economy began its decline.
"We realized at the beginning of November that the income we had projected wasn't there," said Lockwood Hoehl, BCO executive director. "The board did not want to take on substantial debt. We don't want to see the whole thing collapse."
Fundraising efforts will continue. "I feel that what happened to the opera is a wake-up call to the community," said BCO music director Markand Thakar, who has donated his salary to the orchestra. "My sense is that this community will respond."
The BCO, founded in 1984 and led for two decades by conductor Anne Harrigan, has about 40 musicians, drawn primarily from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Baltimore Opera Orchestra. Most performances are held at Goucher College.
The BCO has an annual operating budget of $350,000 and an endowment of about $225,000.
In November, the ensemble made its well-received New York debut, and two compact discs recorded for the prominent Naxos label are due for release this year. But such positive developments have not brightened the BCO's financial picture.
"There has been an erosion of corporate support for two or three years," Penza said. "We've been talking to foundations about more support, but they've been suffering, too."
There are 208 subscribers to the 2008-2009 season; that figure was over 500 before 9/11, Penza said.
Ted Jones, who has played trumpet in the orchestra since its founding, said there is "a good chance" that the musicians will agree to rehearse and play the January concert without pay. "Some players came up with that idea on their own before it was suggested," Jones said. "I would do it. I hope the orchestra will come back."
Musicians have been asked to decide on the play-for-free proposal by tonight.
No policy has been set on any ticket refunds for the canceled February and May concerts.