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Fault poor endowment decisions, not musicians, for BSO's woes

There can be no doubt that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is in dire straits, and while that has been well-reported, less has been reported about management’s role is creating the crisis (“How the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra found itself in trouble,” June 17).

In 2006, tens of millions of dollars were taken from the BSO and placed into a newly created entity, the Baltimore Symphony Endowment Trust. Although the Endowment Trust’s beneficiary is the BSO — named in the trust agreement as the “Supported Organization” — the Endowment Trust’s governing board repeatedly has refused to support the BSO, choosing instead to pursue further growth of the Endowment Trust.

As a result of its divided loyalties — seeking to grow the endowment at the expense of the BSO — the Endowment Trust historically has failed to pay annual draws in amounts authorized by the trust’s agreement. Thus, while the Endowment Trust has grown over the years, the BSO systematically has been starved of cash.

BSO management often ignores the Endowment Trust and makes bald assertions that the BSO has no money. The BSO’s auditors, however, take a different approach. The BSO’s audited financial statements are consolidated to include both the BSO and the Endowment Trust and they reflect an entity with ample assets. Thus, the most recent audited financial statements showed an increase in net assets from $77.38 million in fiscal year 2016, to $79.77 million in fiscal year 2017, an increase of $2.4 million.

In spite of management’s finely parsed statements to the contrary, the BSO has the money to avoid a shutdown of operations and to treat its musicians — its most important asset — fairly. BSO management and the Endowment Trust board should be honest about their approach, at the very least, and defend their being more responsive to calls to grow the endowment fund than supporting the BSO’s mission.

As a result of their making concessions over the years — seven times since 2003 — the musicians in the BSO received the same amounts last season as they were paid a decade ago. The BSO is not experiencing financial hardship because its musicians have failed to get a pay raise in a decade. Rather, the BSO’s condition is the product of decisions made by BSO management and the Endowment Trust board. Sadly, the BSO’s situation will not be righted until new management takes charge and demonstrates that it is truly committed to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

John Warshawsky, Baltimore

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