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Meyerhoff: To survive in its current form, the BSO needs a much bigger endowment — now

BSO endowment board member Joseph Meyerhoff II says if to the symphony as it is, Baltimore needs to support it much more heavily.

The issues facing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are daunting. Typical of large orchestras in the U.S., ticket sales cover only one-third of all operating costs. The BSO’s classical music concerts have an average attendance of less than 60 percent over the last three years. Low attendance is a significant contributor to annual losses of between $1.5 million and $3 million a year. These figures take into account the maximum annual support allowed by law from the Baltimore Symphony Endowment Trust, of which I am a member.

I have been deeply involved with the BSO for many years. The current management is the best the BSO has had in a long time. Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets. Summer classical concert series lost millions of dollars and were poorly attended, which is why there are no longer summer concerts. Even so, the BSO has done an excellent marketing job in the last two years. It has made a difference, as can be seen at Pulse and movie night concerts, which sell out. The fact remains, however, that average attendance is still less than 60 percent for classical concerts. Just ask the musicians. They see it every night from their seats on the stage.

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The musicians are right. They have sacrificed and so has management. Nothing can bridge the annual BSO deficit except a much larger endowment. If our city, state, corporations and citizens wish the BSO to survive in its current form, the endowment needs an additional $40 million … now. That is right — $40 million. To former Gov. Martin O’Malley and to Save the BSO, thank you for your efforts to raise funds and to bring attention to the BSO’s plight

The Meyerhoff family offered a $4 million challenge grant in 2017-2018 to raise funds for the endowment. We met with or called every large foundation in Baltimore and at least two dozen of Baltimore’s wealthiest citizens. We came away empty-handed. No one was interested in investing more than $250,000 in the BSO, when it needs multi-million-dollar gifts.

If Baltimore and Maryland want to see its largest cultural arts institution remain in its current form, (and support the musicians at their current pay levels), Baltimore’s corporate citizens, wealthy individuals and philanthropists need to step up. They must demonstrate that the BSO is important and make a real investment in the BSO and Baltimore’s future.

Unless significant new financial commitments are received shortly ($40 million), management will be forced to follow the only course left to stem the annual losses. Recently on WYPR, Brian Prechtl and Jane Marvine (player representatives for the musicians) asked the Baltimore community, the city and the state to support the BSO. I can tell you so far, they have not.

The BSO’s house is on fire. Who is going to come to the rescue?

Joseph Meyerhoff II, Baltimore

The writer is a member of the BSO endowment board.

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