Baltimore musicians issue an SOS

Baltimore musicians issue an SOS


norman lebrecht

May 31, 2019

The following statement from the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony illustrates their parlous situation after their bosses cancelled the rest of the season without pay. The orchestra, deep in debt, is run by a hardline board and manager. The musicians can neither strike nor make a public protest without risking further loss of jobs. One-fifth are about to be cut. All they can do is appeal to the public conscience. Here’s what they sent out today:

Musicians’ Statement on Summer Season Cancellation

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra management abruptly cancelled the 2019 summer season yesterday without consulting the BSO musicians and will not pay the musicians past June 16, 2019. This decision defies the good will of the Maryland legislature, Governor Hogan, the citizens of Maryland, and our patrons and donors. The musicians were caught completely off-guard that their paychecks will end in less than a month. These draconian cuts are even more shocking, as they come on the heels of the BSO receiving a $3.2 million allocation in state funding just last week.

The Baltimore Symphony has been a cornerstone of the arts community for over one hundred years. Generations of Baltimore families have been entertained and educated at our performances. It is a hallmark of truly great cities to have institutions that enrich the cultural landscape and keep the arts alive and flourishing for generations to come. A vital orchestra is just as essential to a
thriving metropolitan area as museums, aquariums, theaters and stadiums. Maryland has shown that it wants a great orchestra. The State of Maryland has been incredibly generous in supporting the BSO historically. Just this summer, the State of Maryland was one of the largest supporters of our recent
tour to the United Kingdom and Ireland. After BSO management first proposed reducing the scope of the organization, including musicians’ salaries by 20% on October 30, 2018, the musicians led an appeal to the State legislature to restore public funding to pre-recession levels. We generated over 15,000 letters to elected officials to bring this initiative to fruition. Delegate Maggie McIntosh and her colleagues in the House of Delegates responded by forging HB 1404 to bring $3.2 million in additional funding over the next two fiscal years to the BSO, and to establish a “work group” to take a
comprehensive look at how the organization functions, serves diverse audiences and meets the needs of Baltimore and Maryland communities. The Senate passed it almost unanimously and the bill became law on May 24, 2019.

The timing of this decision to cut the orchestra by 20% by BSO board and management is the most disturbing aspect of this development. The summer season had just recently been announced. HB 1404 had just become law. Musicians have turned down work in other places so we could stay in Baltimore and play for the city and state we love. Now we will be unemployed while the management that caused this debacle will go on collecting their paychecks. The BSO’s president and CEO Peter Kjome and board chair Barbara Bozzuto have done all of this after stating publicly that they would not lock out the musicians. We find this disingenuous, unconscionable and irresponsible.

We urge Governor Hogan to release the funds allocated in HB 1404 with a provision that the BSO cannot lockout or impose cuts on the musicians and that senior management will not be paid if the musicians are not paid. The musicians on the stage are the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. This is evident to all who sit in our audiences and hear the magnificent sounds of this civic treasure. This vital institution has been built by musicians, patrons and civic leaders over the last 103 years. We have worked tirelessly to maintain what has been built here through our legislative efforts, and we will continue working to preserve this gem for the City of Baltimore, the citizens of Montgomery County, and the State of Maryland.

No word yet from the music director.


  • Ken Rochester says:

    Surely the state of the BSO cannot be separated from the sad fate of the city itself, where the millenial base is fleeing the out-of-control murder rate (topping 300 per year), the opioid/heroin epidemic, and the most extensive wealth inequality in the country.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Just incredible.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Very sad state of affairs. Great orchestra, great legacy. So many great recordings. I’m really surprised how much money Maryland provides – not many states do that. But Baltimore has a lot of troubles and for many residents having a top-notch orchestra is way down on the list of priorities. The crime is very high and tourist areas are terrible compared to what they were 40 years ago. Good luck to the musicians; I hope things turn around.

  • anon says:

    “No word yet from the music director.”

    And how did that go with Muti and the CSO?

  • Kelly says:

    No orchestra paychecks, then there should NEVER be upper management paychecks. If there is a financial crisis, upper management surely needs to reap what they sow regarding the suffering

  • Stringfellow says:

    Statements like this are soon to fall on deaf ears after the educational institutions have all but given up the cultivation of cultural values (especially musical values). Kids are no longer taught to believe there is a better and a best, but only that each individual is free to decide for oneself what is best. Decadence is considered profundity and that which has been considered excellence for hundreds of years is considered quint by the young now.

  • Ivan says:

    Just to clarify your comment of “one fifth are about to be cut”:

    What management is asking actually asking for amounts to at least a 20% pay cut on average for each musician, not for 20% of the positions in the orchestra to be eliminated.

  • Chrissie says:

    Pretty interesting editorial from the Baltimore Sun on this. Little more background and solid analysis.

  • fflambeau says:

    This appears to be part of the GOP’s “cultural wars” and related ideologically to their attacks on science; climate change; women’s rights (linked her because many feel they want Marin Alsop out as conductor); public education; public transportation; immigrant policies; “regime change”; gun control legislation and more.

    From the Baltimore Sun:

    “House Republican leaders wrote a letter Friday to Hogan (Republican Governor of Maryland), arguing he should withhold the funding until the BSO gets its fiscal house in order.

    “While we all appreciated the history and importance of the BSO, and want to see it thrive, the state cannot throw taxpayer money at the problem,” said House Minority Leader Del. Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County. “There is clearly a serious problem within the BSO and that needs to be addressed before any more funding is provided by the state.”

    The GOP would much rather throw money at “regime change”, tax “reforms” (which always seem to help the wealthy), the NRA and the Pentagon.

    Arts are out; these problems are all interlinked.

  • MacroV says:

    I really feel for the musicians and am curious how the management could just impose this, unless they are out of contract right now. I have also seen enough of these “let’s reduce the scope of the organization” proposals over the years – not just Minnesota recently but St. Louis about 20 years ago and even Seattle in the early 1980s. Most bounced back quite well – St. Louis now has one of the largest endowments. I believe it’s Michael Kaiser who said “you can’t cut your way to greatness.” I can’t think of any orchestra that has.

    That said, I do understand the problem in Baltimore: It’s a troubled city, and it could well be that there isn’t enough interest to support a 52-week orchestra. I’m also puzzled that they cut some pops-ish programs and a Harry Potter film, things that would seem likely to at least break even. It doesn’t seem as though they have a very ambitious board or management.

  • fflambeau says:

    “No word yet from the music director.”

    I believe she is leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a European tour from Finland to Russia. See

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    Nobody is denying the beauty or splendor or magnificence or virtuosity or worthiness of the Baltimore Symphony. The point is that if you keep buying nothing but expensive gowns for your princess, you will run out of money sooner or later. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

  • Österreichische Geige says:

    Marin Alsop is the most overrated female conductor of this era. It’s about time she steps down and let those female conductors who can actually use their ears, can conduct well and have a good sense of musicianship (and personality) do the work. I truly hope I will never have to play under her again.

    • A.G. says:

      So true… She would have been nothing without her PR army. It’s such a pity that social media appearance and connections mean much more than actual talent and skills.

      • Cendrillon says:

        Well said! I played under her about 5 years ago. Never understood how she got to where she is today. It’s indeed sad that that’s how things work in our profession ):

      • The View from America says:

        Her PR flacks are shameless.

        “First female music director of a major American orchestra” — my *ss.

    • anon says:

      An Austrian expressing contempt for a woman conductor. What a shock.

      • Martin says:

        Well, I think he was actually referring specifically to MA and her being super overrated (which I definitely agree with!). It doesn’t look like our Austrian friend here is against female conductors in general (nor are the rest of the readers who replayed to his comment). I would suggest you read first and only then comment.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Er…she is widely regarded as reasonably competent, although not a top notch conductor. About the level of the orchestras that she conducts. This is nevertheless a good achievement, and I don’t know why people would denigrate her.

  • Bill Gross says:

    Sounds like the Board would like nothing more than to bust the union. Stupid Board such acts only tend to make unions stronger.

  • Anon says:

    This is hannibal lector’s orchestra

  • Karl says:

    Maybe the players could form their own musician owned orchestra. Didn’t Louisiana do that?

  • Sanda Schuldmann says:

    So why are you guys playing this weekend’s concerts? Walk off the stage!

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    Seems like fraud to me. It seems likely the governor would withhold the payment in these conditions.

  • Sisko24 says:

    When I read management said they weren’t going to pay the orchestra after June 16th, I read that as a devious way of their stating they intend to reconsider the upcoming season UNLESS management got everything they wanted without consultation with the union. So to clarify for me, the Baltimore Symphony’s summer 2019 season has been cancelled, but the 2019-2020 season is still scheduled, correct?