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BSO board members: Responsible decisions will save the symphony

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians protest after concerts were canceled abruptly which shortened their schedule. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

As members of the Executive Committee of the Board of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, we are very committed to the organization, which is why we give our dedication, our time and financial support. The BSO stands at a crossroads. After over a century of producing the finest classical music, financial realities are significantly affecting our organization. We must change in order to survive.

The decision to cancel summer concerts and the board’s reaffirming a decision to shorten the season — similar to an approach taken by other major orchestras — have drawn attention to the BSO’s longstanding financial hardships. The intensity of our discussions shows that people care deeply about our institution. This is why we are doing everything possible to save the orchestra.

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The BSO has lost more than $16 million over the last decade alone. Our musicians are well aware of our financial situation, as we have been very transparent at monthly Finance Committee meetings, which members of the orchestra attend.

The challenges confronting the Baltimore symphony are similar to those others have faced. In his book, “The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras: Artistic Triumphs and Economic Challenges,” Stanford economist Robert Flanagan offers a sobering analysis of the largest 50 orchestras, concluding that even orchestras that consistently play to capacity crowds will not eliminate their structural deficits.

The BSO has implemented many strategies to close the gap between revenue and expenses. Data-driven pricing has resulted in increased ticket sales. The groundbreaking Pulse Series has made significant inroads with younger, non-traditional markets. We have been steadfastly focused on increasing contributed revenue, including launching a $65 million campaign to grow our endowment. With the support of our community, we have made significant strides, yet more assistance is needed. Between Fiscal Year ‘16 and FY ‘18, we cut nearly $3.9 million in costs.

Legislation to award the orchestra an additional $3.2 million in state funding for the next two fiscal years was a welcome acknowledgment of the BSO’s beloved position in our community and tough fiscal challenges. Unfortunately, the bill’s anticipated funding remains in question.

The ripple effects of this development have placed additional urgency on current conversations. Without this funding, the BSO is unable to pay for this summer’s performances, and, as a result, had to cancel concerts. Even if this funding is released in full or in part — and we certainly hope it will be — it is not sufficient to resolve our formidable structural deficit and longstanding financial challenges.

We need to change our business model. For this reason, in October our board proposed reducing the 52-week schedule to 40 weeks. While operating as a 52-week orchestra for many years, the BSO has never had a 52-week performance season. Proposed changes will have minimal impact on our audiences — the primary reduction is in summer weeks, along with reduction of paid vacation for musicians from nine weeks to four weeks.

The proposal upholds a 52-week benefits schedule for our orchestra. The musicians would receive a stipend for each non-working week along with comprehensive insurance (health, dental and life), long-term disability and pension benefits that would be maintained year-round. The BSO is proposing a reduction in the 120 paid sick days that each musician receives annually.

Pay for our musicians would be approximately $79,000 on average, with the package worth an average of just over $100,000 annually including benefits.

We appreciate the members of our orchestra and admire their musical excellence, and the current proposal will maintain the BSO’s status as a major orchestra. Of the 21 major orchestras across the country as defined by budget size, one third have seasons less than 52 weeks, and those that have reduced paid weeks have continued to present performances at extremely high artistic levels, make recordings and tour internationally.

The officers and Executive Committee of the BSO, on behalf of the Board of Directors, unanimously support Peter Kjome and his management team in negotiations with orchestra members and have faith in their ability to continue to build on the excellence of this organization.

We have asked our musicians to come back to the bargaining table and hope that they will do so soon. These decisions aren’t easy to make, but they are responsible, and they will save the BSO.

Barbara M. Bozzuto (boardchair@bsomusic.org) is chair of the Baltimore Symphony Board. Executive Committee members Barry F. Rosen, Kathleen Chagnon, Lainy Lebow-Sachs, Marshall Levine, Michael G. Hansen, Solomon H. Snyder, Stephen D. Shawe and Terry M. Rubenstein join in this op-ed.

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