Musicians were told an hour before Baltimore ended season

If this is going to be a new era for the Baltimore Symphony, as its CEO Peter Kjome proclaims, it is going to be short, sharp and inhuman.

Musicians in the orchestra were given less than an hour’s notice yesterday to reorganise their lives before Kjome called off the rest of the season on cost grounds.

He waited just long enough to squeeze extra money from the state legislature, then – chop.

This is not going to have a happy ending.

Kjome dances while Baltimore drowns

 

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  • The real news isn’t so much cancelling a summer, as it is, going forward, reducing the season from 52 to 40 weeks (achieved primarily through fewer paid weeks during the summer), including a reduction from 9 weeks to 4 weeks of paid vacation.

    In other words, the real news is a massive pay cut.

    (Sure, not in terms of weekly salary, but in terms of how many weeks you get paid.)

    Whether it came as a total surprise to musicians is another issue (just as much as CSO musicians knew that changes were coming to their pension as early as 2 years ago), but the shock to the system is nonetheless real.

    Will BSO strike? Have a deep and soul searching talk with your colleagues from the CSO, Pittsburg…!

  • Misleading headline: only three members of the Player’s Committee were told an hour ahead of time, called into an emergency meeting. The rest of the musicians were left to find out as the news broke publicly before the end of that meeting, as those members pleaded to prolong the announcement until the next negotiation session was completed. Many musicians found out on Facebook, or from people who are on Facebook. Kjome sent an email to musicians many hours later apologizing that he “did not have an opportunity to convey this news to you in person.” This is disingenuous as they had a dress rehearsal for this week’s program that morning, and the BSO had apparently been planning this for over a week. He had the opportunity, but not the strength of character to stand in front of the orchestra and make an announcement.

    The photo you shared here is not nearly so descriptive or timely as the one with Kjome pressing his fingers into his ears at the brilliantly executed musician-run program of brass stars from throughout the US supporting the BSO earlier this year that he was embarrassed into attending.

    Kjome is a failed musician with disdain and jealously for those who have made it. His experience running a regional orchestra has inspired him to destroy this bigger orchestra, to cut it down to something he has experience managing. The general manager, Tonya Robles, is also a failed musician who previously led Concert Artists of Baltimore, a wonderful organization that ceased to exist.

    Sharing the blame are the rich board members who are just there for social and political reasons.

    • You have some nerve to label others as failed musicians. They might have gone into management because they had higher standards for behavior than musicians do. It’s easy to imagine the management being disgusted by the controversies and behavior within the orchestra to want to try and induce certain “key players” to leave. Technical perfectionism is not music, either.

    • Extremely well-said. As a passionate and informed patron of the BSO, I didn’t know all the details about yesterday that you have related. Thanks also for your insights about Kjome and Robles. Couldn’t agree more about the motives of the Board. ALL have to go.

    • Having watched and worked in this industry a while… I don’t think calling people “failed musicians” is helpful. It’s a common insult in situations like this, but it sends a very negative signal to anyone who works in arts administration. And I’m not talking about the C-suite or VP types. I mean the peons in the marketing or development offices who are often way over educated and incredibly underpaid, but who were willing to work for less in the non-profit sector because of their love of the arts. At times like this, they might have less love for top admin brass than you do, have been getting screwed by them for years because it’s easier to squeeze the non-unions first, and they are also freaking out about what will happen to their jobs. The failed musician line has friendly fire and makes them feel like the orchestra doesn’t respect them or their stories and just see them as failures at least by the only metric that matters to them. And trust me, it’s easy to see a bad situation get worse as all those low- and mid-level administrative employees flee (particularly those with experience and institutional knowledge), dragging down the competency of the people trying to raise money and sell tickets.

  • Their key players have been jumping ship for a year or two now. The BSO Board is really below contempt.

  • With a homicide rate “well above that of any other large American metropolis”, Baltimore would appear to have more severe problems than an orchestra missing out a season.

    -“fallout of the opioid epidemic”
    -“Baltimore’s longstanding status as a heroin market”
    -“systemic failures like segregated neighborhoods”
    -“unequal justice and a scarcity of decent opportunities for many citizens”.

    Play on, play on.

    https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/09/25/baltimore-homicide-murder-rate-fbi-statistics-death-crime-killings/1426739002/

    • The BSO under Alsop has started a lot of community out reach programs aimed at schools in lower income areas. Such programs can influence things like crime rates which is far better than post crime enforcement.

      It also says a lot about a city to have an investment in such things as a symphony.

  • I am absolutely sure I am in the tiny, tiny minority who agrees with the cost cutting. Most arts organizations are profligate and irresponsible spenders. More often than not, belt tightening is a necessary evil. Don’t heap abuse on the cost cutters – blame all the spenders who came before them and had a good time while Rome was burning. We are simply witnessing the hangover. The party was last night.

    • No, there’s a lot more going on, Jaime.
      Consider how management pulled the rug out from under the musicians right on the heels of obtaining money from the state legislature.
      This is duplicitous maneuvering on the part of management, and it stinks.

    • I think it would be very interesting, artistically, if they were a large chamber orchestra, smaller but diverse, including harp, which opens up a vast literature that goes unheard except on recordings. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra did extremely well with that approach for a number of years. Maybe they need to bring in Dennis Russell Davies (although he had pretty bad taste in contemporary music.) But there is something odd about a decline in orchestras as soon as you cross the Mason-Dixon line. Is it the weather? Soul rot in the community?

    • But I think the problem here is that the management cancelled the concerts just three weeks before, without informing the musicians in advance. I imagine someone tells me, ” You know? Your boss abruptly cancelled your project and you will not be paid.”……I will be in battle immediately.

    • Your certainty is wholly justified. The very first cost cuts should be dismissal of the entire board and its management team, and an investigation as to who in that shower agreed to accept 3.2M of public funds whilst obviously intending that the orchestra should not give value for such funds . The stench is overpowering

    • There is a lot of truth in what you said. I don’t think there’s a city anywhere in the USA which can fully support a 52 week orchestra.

    • If “[m]ost arts organizations are profligate and irresponsible spenders” then this is the fault of, and the responsibility of, the board and upper management. It’s always the performers who bear the brunt of these fiscal “corrections.” It’s easy enough to “blame the spenders who came before them,” but that doesn’t address the unfairness of dumping the correction the backs the musicians.

      In the musicians’ statement, they say, “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.” I wholeheartedly agree with this — if the board and senior management cannot manage the organization effectively enough to sustain it in good financial health, then THEY should also take the cuts.

      The sole job of the board is STEWARDSHIP — that is to support the organization and its artistic mission, not only now, not only for the next season, but for the future. The sole job of the staff is to execute that vision efficiently and effectively. When both fail to the degree that they have to curtail or cancel seasons, that means that they have not gauged correctly or executed effectively. It is not the fault of, or the responsibility of, the musicians whose sole job it is to present the art, yet it is always the musicians who bear the brunt of the cuts.

      If the board and staff leaders had accompanied their decision with announcements that every board member would increase his or her donation, and that senior staff would take annual pay cuts equivalent to the annual reduction to the players’ salaries, that would have gone a long way to making things right. How can donors feel right about continuing to give to an organization that obviously can’t manage itself?

      I speak with various experience as a professional musician, as board member and president of a professional ensemble (that survived and thrived after a financial crisis) and as a paid staff member at a performing organization (different organizations at different times!)

  • First of all, the money was allocated in the state budget as discretionary spending. Nothing was squeezed and the symphony probably won’t see a dime without the governor’s authorization, of which there is no guarantee.

    The change from 52-40 weeks had been a talking point since January, so it’s not like the idea came from nowhere.

    Finally, your site claims not to tolerate defamation and to delivery timely and accurate news. Which part of this terse editorial was accurate? And how exactly is using a picture of the guy dancing at a wedding and captioning it with “Kjome Dances while Baltimore Drowns” mean to inspire anything but comparisons to Nero and his apocryphal fiddling? Shame on you. You could have at least included the press release, then at least some of the information would be correct.

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