Even as he sought more state funding, the CEO of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra asked Gov. Larry Hogan to deliver the money with a scripted message calling on BSO management to quickly take steps to fix the orchestra’s finances, emails obtained by The Baltimore Sun show.
Even as he sought more state funding, the CEO of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra asked Gov. Larry Hogan to deliver the money with a scripted message calling on BSO management to quickly take steps to fix the orchestra’s finances, emails obtained by The Baltimore Sun show. (Kenneth Lam / The Baltimore Sun)

Even as he sought more state funding, the CEO of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra asked Gov. Larry Hogan to deliver the money with a scripted message calling on BSO management to quickly take steps to fix the orchestra’s finances, emails obtained by The Baltimore Sun show.

With the BSO in dire fiscal straits, CEO Peter Kjome had proposed cutting musicians’ salaries roughly 20 percent and the length of the season from a year to 40 weeks. The management locked out the 75 players on June 17 as both sides attempt to negotiate a new contract.

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The Democrat-controlled legislature authorized $1.6 million from the state this spring to help the BSO, along with additional funds for school construction, a Baltimore summer jobs program and other projects they favored. The Republican governor declined July 3 to release any of the funds, citing a need for fiscal restraint because of a possible future state budget shortfall.

In a May 23 letter forwarded to Hogan’s chief of staff, Kjome suggested the governor release the funds to the BSO with specific language, according to the records released through a Maryland Public Information Act request.

“If approved, we would understand if a message accompanying this support included something along the lines of: ‘This special one-time financial support is being provided, contingent on the BSO Board of Directors and senior management making a commitment to move as quickly as possible to preserve the BSO by eliminating the structural deficit and addressing the organization’s longstanding financial problems,'" Kjome wrote in the letter sent to the BSO’s lobbyist, who forwarded it to Hogan’s chief of staff.

The BSO musicians’ union says the emails show Kjome was determined to make cutbacks regardless of any state aid.

“He’s suggesting language the governor might use to give him cover to cut the orchestra. It’s really troubling,” said Brian Prechtl, co-chairman of the Players’ Committee.

But Kjome says that wasn’t his intent and the suggested script was a last-ditch effort to try to get Hogan to release the funding for the orchestra.

“Any unbiased reading of this email clearly shows that the BSO was doing everything possible to convince the Governor that the situation was dire, and that additional State support was essential in helping the organization regain solid financial footing following years of substantial losses,” Kjome said.

The emails show the lobbyist, John C. “JR” Reith, was in frequent contact with top officials in the Hogan administration, arranging meetings, forwarding emails and providing briefings on the orchestra’s fiscal health before Hogan’s decision to withhold the money.

The emails show that more than a month before the governor announced his decision, Kjome believed Hogan wouldn’t release the money. In the May 23 letter, the CEO wrote: “Due to the critical financial issues we are facing, the BSO must now respond very quickly given that the expenditure of funds in the legislation will not be authorized.”

In a statement to The Sun, Kjome said he’s consistently argued that the orchestra needs to be restructured.

Kjome said it became clear to him by late May that Hogan was likely not going to release the money.

“It had been made extremely clear to us that it was very unlikely that the funds in question would be released," Kjome said. "The May 23 email you are referencing reflects the necessary position the organization had to take given the improbability of the funding being released along with the continuing hope that we could still receive additional funding from state government.”

John Warshawsky, a donor who heads the advocacy group Save Our BSO, said the emails indicate Kjome was trying to undermine the very funding bill he testified for in March. In the communications, Kjome and Reith repeatedly describe the orchestra as on the verge of running out of money.

“What were they doing trying to poison the well with the governor?” Warshawsky asked. “I don’t think it’s the CEO’s job to be calling to governor and trying to tank the bill. What he’s done is giving the governor reason to have second thoughts about the bill in the first place."

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He said it also seemed to him as though the BSO was “trying to enlist the governor to help them with their labor negotiations.”

“Peter Kjome owes a duty of fidelity to the orchestra," Warshawsky said. "They shouldn’t be out there trying to get somebody to beat down the musicians.”

But Kjome said he felt it was his duty to make sure Hogan knew the dire state of the orchestra’s finances.

“Pretending that the BSO wasn’t in the midst of a fiscal crisis would not have been prudent, ethical, or wise. Hope is not a strategy. If a situation is critical, it is important and necessary to take action and address the issues,” he said.

In an email separately obtained by The Sun, Joseph Meyerhoff II, a trustee of the Baltimore Symphony Endowment Trust, urged management to come clean with the governor while lobbying. Meyerhoff was concerned that otherwise, orchestra officials could be accused of “potentially misleading" the state and obtaining the funds under false pretenses.

Meyerhoff wrote that he did “not think it is wise for the BSO to accept the funding" without fully disclosing "the state of the BSO’s financial condition.”

Although he is advocating for the 40-week performance season going forward, Kjome said he did not make the decision to cancel the 2019 summer season until it became clear to him Hogan wouldn’t release the funds. The summer concerts were announced April 24, then canceled May 30.

“With the organization being left without sufficient resources to cover the expenses of its summer season (which has consistently performed at a deficit), the BSO was left with no choice but to adjust course,” Kjome said. “BSO management sought to find solutions that would allow for the summer season to proceed despite the longstanding financial challenges — obviously this was unsuccessful.”

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