BSO management should stop blaming musicians for financial problems
Jun 26, 2019 | 4:10 PM
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians protest after concerts were canceled abruptly which shortened their schedule. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)
I have been a subscriber and donor to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since 1995 (“Many American orchestras have emerged stronger from lockouts and strikes; the BSO can too,” June 17). The current BSO company line is that the organization has had operating deficits of $1.6 million per year for the past decade. Unfortunately, the city of Baltimore has no Fortune 500 companies, nor has a benefactor yet been identified who can or will bail out the orchestra.
The truth is that the BSO has been financially starved by its own endowment trust for years. The endowment has been insufficiently developed because management has failed to develop a healthy donor base, especially in Montgomery County, home of the Strathmore Music Center, the BSO’s other performance venue for the last 13 years.
Why should the consequences of inept handling of finances unfortunately fall on the musicians and not on the personnel charged with financially operating the orchestra? At the back of “Overture,” the program magazine available at every concert, is a roster of BSO board, endowment trust and staff. Members of the BSO board and endowment trust board are not compensated, but staff are paid a regular salary and benefits — all 71 of them.
When my husband and I moved to Baltimore in 1994, there were fewer than 60 staff members and 98 musicians. The increase in staff and decrease in full-time musicians shows dramatically how management has mishandled the potential of the orchestra. The 75 full-time musicians have been working since mid-January without a contract. During ongoing negotiations, the most recent contract offered to the musicians would be unacceptable to any of us. The most egregious elements are a 20 percent salary reduction and drastic cuts in benefits. The abrupt cancellation of the 2019 summer schedule last month and the June 17th lockout of the musicians have resulted in complete loss of salary and all benefits, including medical and long term disability coverage from July 1 until the start of the 2019 to 2020 season in September.
Imagine you and your family surviving such a financial crisis. I can guarantee that none of the 71 salaried staff employees has seen their paychecks shrink a penny, nor are their benefits negatively modified. The BSO is saving $250,000, a quarter of a million dollars per week, by starving the musicians. Management seems to have overlooked a critical element of the equation. Without the musicians, there is no BSO. A complete reorganization of the staff and the board of the symphony is the only way to find a final solution.
I hope the citizens of Baltimore and Maryland will see to it.