Baltimore Symphony needs new leadership

We have been fans of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since we came to this city. We have felt very fortunate to have settled within easy driving distance of a world-class orchestra. We look forward to the concerts with gorgeous renditions of great musical works by a top-notch group of artists.

At first, we were just university students without much money, so we would buy discounted “student rush” tickets so we could enjoy concerts without breaking our budget. Once we started earning better incomes, we increased the number of concerts we attended and became subscribers. Later, we took the additional step of becoming BSO donors. It is a source of pride for us that we have been able to support such an important cultural institution in our beloved Baltimore. Unfortunately, the attitudes and actions of the BSO’s executive team and board of directors has greatly diminished the joy we get out of attending concerts (“Musicians play on after Baltimore Symphony Orchestra cancels concerts, shortens season because of fiscal woes,” May 30).

In our personal interactions, they have not seemed to be entirely honest with us. At times, they have been downright rude. We put aside our difficulties with the leadership because we believe in the players and the mission of the orchestra. But our unpleasant interactions with the BSO leadership must pale in comparison to the suffering they have inflicted on the artists who are the heart and soul of the BSO. Just on the heels of a successful tour of the British Isles last summer, the BSO leadership proposed a disastrous set of cuts to the orchestra’s season and the musicians’ pay. If that wasn’t enough, in January, the BSO refused to extend their agreement with the musicians while they negotiated future terms, forcing the artists to work without a contract for the last four months. And now, just five days after the Maryland General Assembly’s bill attempting to provide additional funding for the BSO became law, the BSO leadership cut the summer season they had announced only weeks before and declared that going forward they will seek to impose draconian cuts to the musicians’ pay and the orchestra’s season.

Many orchestra players found out about the latest shock through news organizations and social media rather than directly from the BSO’s leadership. We cannot imagine how deeply disturbing and insulting it must feel to play your heart out week after week, only to be treated shabbily by your leadership. As we stated before, we have not felt the leadership of the BSO has been entirely honest or considerate to us when we have tried to discuss the fiscal issues with them. We are left with two alternatives: either the leadership is exaggerating the fiscal crisis to try to extract concessions from the players, or they have neglected the financial stability of the orchestra for years and allowed this crisis to occur. We are not sure which is worse and strongly suspect both are true.

While we intend to support the orchestra by continuing to attend concerts, we have decided that, until the players have a contract, we will no longer provide funding as donors to the BSO. Our conversations with other patrons have suggested that they also have lost faith in the BSO’s leadership and are pulling back their support as well. We feel that the board of directors and president of the BSO have so poorly managed the past and current state of the orchestra that it is clear they are unfit to continue serving in those roles. We have no faith that they have the vision to lead such an important cultural organization and we have no sense that they respect the artists or patrons. Their continued association with the BSO threatens the future of the orchestra even more than the recent fiscal crisis. We demand they immediately resign and make way for a team that has the vision, integrity and compassion necessary to allow the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to flourish in the decades to come.

Mark Phillips and Samira Saliba Phillips, Baltimore

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