My husband, Leo Le Page, was a percussionist with the BSO for more than 30 years, from 1967 to 2000, and played under David Zinman during his entire tenure in Baltimore. He greatly admired Maestro Zinman and if he were here he would be expressing the same sentiments. I too am "shocked, mortified and horrified" and like Mr. Zinman, I am desperately sad to witness this unnecessary devastation of an extraordinary musical organization by a CEO and board of directors who either don't know what they are doing or just don't care. Their meaningless platitudes to the contrary are totally unconvincing.
Does Peter Kjome, a former symphony musician himself, imagine that after a summer without rehearsals, without a paycheck and without medical care the BSO will be able to magically appear on Sept. 1, ready and willing to begin a new concert season? Or that they will ever again be able to trust Mr. Kjome and this board to provide the kind of intelligent, supportive leadership they need? As my son, Bill Le Page, also a musician, said in a recent email on this issue,"A symphony orchestra is a rare thing in the United States. They should be treated as a national treasure not as a commodity that has to turn a profit every quarter. You can't compare the BSO to Heinz Ketchup or Philip Morris. There should be some kind of national discussion going on about this."
Anyone familiar with the history of the BSO labor disputes knows that this phony drama is routine and unnecessary. Management as usual is using coercive techniques to scare the musicians into signing a ruinous contract. Similar tactics were used in 1981 and 1988, but both times, with the help of good legal counsel, the orchestra was able to improve both wages and benefits — and for 30 years they have kept on playing.
Recently, other orchestras have been able to negotiate good contracts (e.g. Atlanta, Milwaukee, Oregon, Florida as well as the NYC Ballet Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra). So the mythical idea that all symphony orchestras are fighting for their artistic lives is just not persuasive. Something else is wrong here, and I would ask Maryland's cultural leadership to stand behind the BSO to make sure they are offered a contract that reflects their musical worth and their artistic value to the community. The BSO desperately needs new leadership with vision, enthusiasm and a love of great music that will enable them to understand both the value and the needs of a symphony orchestra.
I hope that there is the possibility of such leadership on the horizon because without it Baltimore risks losing its last major cultural institution. Baltimore can be a great city once again and a vibrant symphony orchestra can be a pillar of that new city. Let's all rise to support it.