What Baltimore’s president thinks of his musicians

What Baltimore’s president thinks of his musicians


norman lebrecht

June 01, 2019

The man with his fingers in his ears is Peter Kjome, the Baltimore Symphony president who is presently slashing his orchestra by one-fifth.

The photograph was taken at a fundraiser put on by Baltimore Symphony musicians.



  • Bone says:

    Talk about a picture being worth 1,000 words…this is not a good look.

  • Mike R. says:

    The administration of arts organizations make me sick. Yes, I realize it’s a business and like most businesses, the CEO will make an obscene amount of money while there is total disregard for the musicians. What a shame.

  • Disgusted says:

    He deserves to be fired based merely on this photo. God forbid he have to listen to his musicians plead for their livelihoods.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    A good ship’s captain will throw everything overboard that can be thrown in order to save his sinking ship. I admire this guy. Steady as she goes. He did not cause the problem – he is trying to solve it. The fact that the Baltimore bunch is a virtuosic, resplendent orchestra is totally irrelevant.

  • We are very appreciative of your support of orchestral musicians and of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians. However the picture you have posted of our CEO Peter Kjome puts us in a difficult position. Peter suffers from a serious medical case of Tinnitus and the brass concert at which this picture was taken was very loud.

    Throughout this protracted negotiation process we have done our utmost to maintain professional and respectful interaction personally and in the press. We feel that this picture is not in line with these principles.

    Brian Prechtl
    Baltimore Symphony Musicians Players’ Committee

    • Larry says:

      Thank you, sir, for having the decency to write this. Norman’s title for this posting is very unfair and totally uncalled for.

    • David Gooding says:

      Thank you, Brian. As a former orchestral musician and a graduate of a conservatory, I don’t think Peter has a problem in terms of his love for orchestral music.

      The BSO management is, however, seriously misguided in how it seeks solutions to the problems it faces, and the proposed cuts seem like the start of a death spiral for the orchestra. As I look at the financials of the orchestra, I see things that are deeply disturbing, like the debt incurred in 2016, when the combined income from programs and contributions increased by nearly the same amount as salaries, yet debt ballooned to $4.67 million. Only two years earlier, the orchestra was in the black by about $1.63 million. And although it is not a big line item in the budget, I have to question the hiring of an outside fundraising organization that consistently sees fundraising losing money in the budget.

      To insist on draconian cuts in the season absent a thorough disclosure of what is going on financially seems to beg the public to doubt the bona fides of the board and management.

    • Sara says:

      Thank you for the candid and authentic response—not fake us -Uk« news ».

    • Brian, kudos to you for the professionalism, courtesy, and decency you have exhibited in posting this comment. All best wishes to you.

    • Anonanon says:

      You’re a class act, Brian.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Brian, you are absolutely right on!
      I am afflicted with tinnitus as well, and loud sounds can certainly set off the ringing and buzzing in my ears.
      I carry professional-grade frequency-equalized amplitude-reducing earplugs everywhere I go to help prevent this from happening to me (not just for concerts, but also for street noise, public transit noise, construction noise, etc.). Perhaps Mr. Kjome forgot his on that occasion, or does not own them.
      The pair cost about $20 USD.
      Before I owned my plugs, I’ve stuck my fingers in my ears too, or stuck little wads of tissues in, on many occasions – it is most certainly not a comment on the performance.
      You should be ashamed, Norman, for posting this bogus and sensationalist headline. You disrespect all us tinnitus sufferers.
      (BTW, NL, look at the upvotes and downvotes for Brian’s comment. Say no more, nudge nudge….)

  • Kelly says:

    Cut this JACKA$$ loose!

  • Pacho Hererra says:

    A picture is worth a thousand words, and this one maybe worth Kjome’s head. He shouldn’t be CEO.

  • fflambeau says:

    In addition to the man stopping up his ears, what’s noticeable in this picture is that he is surrounded by very old white men. Not a person of color in the whole photo; and likely no one under 65.

    • Enquiring Mind says:

      If you wrote “…he is surrounded by very young black men. Not a white person in the whole photo…”. There would be charges of racism yet you feel free to flaunt your racist and and ageist BS.

      • MacroV says:

        Oh give it a rest! He’s making the point that many have made before: The classical music audience isn’t very diverse – tends to be fairly old and quite white.

        • Enquiring Mind says:

          That is an irrelevant point. The point was not demographics. Rather it was made to further sideline the manager and show that he is “out of touch”. Read for comprehension, please.

    • Ellen Pendleton Troyer says:

      This photo was a small snapshot, and does not portray the capacity crowd at that concert. Many commented on the diversity of age groups and races who turned out for this concert. It was standing room only, with students and families standing next to older people. One of the most diverse audiences I’ve seen in my 28 years with the BSO.

      Ellen Pendleton Troyer, First Violinist in the Baltimore Symphony since 1991.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    There is obviously a problem with BSO management but I have to wonder, with such poor fundraising, if a new music director is also needed.

  • fflambeau says:

    Who exactly is Mr. Peter Kjome, whose title is President and CEO of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra? Here’s what I found:

    1) It appears he was Second Oboist and then Principal Oboist with the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Symphony Orchestra; he worked in this positions for 8 years;

    2) His educational background in the arts is weak. He has a High School Diploma from the Interlochen Academy of the Arts (something his website boasts about, for some reason); he has a BM from the Cleveland Institute of Music;

    3) his top degree is in business rather than the arts: an MBA from Northwestern U.;

    4) his sole prior executive experience with arts institutions appears to be as President and CEO of the
    Grand Rapids Symphony (Michigan) where he worked for 8.5 years;

    5) He has been with the BSO for a very short period of time (since February 2017);

    All in all, I would say this is a very weak background for the BSO.

    Here’s an interesting assessment of the man:

    “The new executive director, Peter T. Kjome, is clearly a carpetbagger. He pulled a stunt exactly like this at the Grand Rapids Symphony before Baltimore hired him. And just in case his character was in doubt, at the exact same time that he made this offer, the principal oboist made a public sexual harassment claim against the concertmaster. However one judges the veracity of that claim, the fact remains that Mr. Kjome waited until the the musicians’ weakest public relations moment in their history to tell them that he was gutting their jobs. It is a double belittlement for the musicians. Their bosses deliberately waited for the people who work for them to be at their most humiliated so that they can bleed the futures of their employees, who have to negotiate from their weakest possible position.
    Leeches like this are not promoted in the orchestral world unless the board of directors wants to hire a leech. Moreso even than Kjome, the fault lies with the board of directors… .” https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/humiliation-for-baltimores-jews-at-the-symphony/

    Source for other biographical info: https://www.linkedin.com/in/peterkjome

    • V says:

      So what’s your point? He’s not educated enough?

      From Wikipedia:

      If by your logic Joseph Volpe (GM 1990-2006) should have retired as a carpenter at the Met.

      “Volpe was born in Brooklyn, New York, to an Italian family. While living in Long Island, he opened his own auto mechanic business in high school. After a fire at the auto garage, he worked as a theatrical carpenter on Broadway. In lieu of college, Volpe joined the Metropolitan Opera in August 1964 as an apprentice carpenter.”

  • fflambeau says:

    Does this sound familiar? From Mr. Kjome’s last position in Grand Rapids, Michigan:

    “Grand Rapids Symphony musicians reject ‘last, best and final offer’ contract, call it ‘insulting’
    by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk | The Grand Rapids Press
    Friday September 04, 2009, 7:10 PM

    Grand Rapids Symphony musicians, calling a proposed contact “insulting,” have overwhelmingly rejected a collective bargaining agreement for the orchestra’s 2009-10 season.

    Musicians informed management Friday they had voted 63-2 Thursday evening to reject a two-year pact that would have cut three weeks from their 42-week season, transformed two weeks of paid vacation into unpaid furlough, suspended 401k pension contributions, and raised employee contributions to medical insurance to 25 percent.

    “What they proposed as their ‘last, best and final offer’ is insulting to the musicians,” said Dan Mattson, co-lead negotiator for the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians.

    Symphony president Peter Kjome said the proposed 2009-10 budget reflects to the 15-year average of spending 44.5 percent of the budget on the musicians.

    “The challenge is, it’s the same percentage of the pie, but the pie is smaller,” Kjome said.

    The orchestra finished its 2008-09 season with a deficit “in excess of $850,000, driven primarily by the market decline and the impact on our endowment.”

    Kjome said he also anticipates losing the $215,000 the orchestra received in state funding last season, but he’s obligated to present a balanced budget to the board of directors on Sept. 17.

    “The proposal we have made will help allow the Grand Rapids Symphony to balance our budget and proceed with the 2009-10 season,” Kjome said.
    The contract would keep the upcoming season’s ticketed concerts in place and retain the jobs of all 50 full-time and 30 part-time musicians under contract at last year’s weekly salaries.

    But musicians say the loss of five weeks of pay and other adjustments still add up to an effective pay cut of 20 percent and more for veterans players, and the contract also included provisions to reopen it after the first season.

    “We’ve faced nothing like this in our history,” said Mattson, assistant principal trombonist since 1997. “It’s surprising to us and disappointing.”

    Source: https://doublebassblog.org/2009/09/grand-rapids-symphony-in-peril.html

  • Tinnitus says:

    He has Tinnitus that is related to his years as a orchestra musician. This concert featured all brass players and was both great and extremely loud. He had not planned to sit up in front but was asked to do so. This is an example of why sound protection is so important.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Sort of begs the question of why you would want somebody who has extreme tinnitus to be President and CEO of a major symphony orchestra. Also, I have tinnitus and volume has nothing to do with it.

      • Sanity says:

        Very well said, Barry!

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        I’ll presume that many of the ‘thumbs down’ are from those who don’t want to aggravate this guy any further. Sorry, but it appears that the die has already been cast.

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        . . . sort of goes with an old saying, “if you can’t stand the heat, stay of the kitchen”. Big volume happens with large symphony orchestras. Perhaps a chamber orchestra would be more of Kjome’s forte, so to speak.

        • Sara says:

          Barry—you’re spot on with reality. Most USians had a bizarre form of reality avoidance ; hence, the down clicks.

        • Barry Guerrero says:

          Thumbs down all you want – I wear them like a badge of honor. I’d be suspicious if everyone liked what I said.

          • Greg Bottini says:

            Lighten up, Barry. Tinnitus is a real thing, and if you don’t have it yet, you’re lucky, being a brass player. I guess you don’t have to listen to yourself that much.
            And I say “YET” because tinnitus often comes with old age, not just lifetime experiences with loud sounds.

          • Barry Guerrero says:

            Greg, I so have tinnitus. From my experience, it is not triggered to be any greater in intensity due to noise around me. Most of the time, it’s a background noise that I pay no attention to. It is occasionally quite loud, but then subsides. Others may have a different experience with it. Yes, I play tuba and I DO like hearing myself. If I didn’t, I would play something else. I’m also a hack-amateur percussionist. Obviously, they, the BSO, were playing a piece of music that called for big dynamics and had lots of brass and – possibly – percussion. I’m blaming this person for having tinnitus. I’m just asking the question, is this who want as your Pres and CEO (?).

          • Barry Guerrero says:

            Greg, I left out the word “not”, obviously. I hate it that you can’t edit your posts here, because you can most any place else.

          • Greg Bottini says:

            Thanks for the reply, Barry.
            As you are no doubt aware, tinnitus is different things (and sounds) to different people.
            My own personal tinnitus sound is a very high-pitched sine wave. Others have “hissing”, “rushing”, “chirping”, or outright musical pitch and timbre distortion. It can appear on it’s own, or be triggered by noise(s), either loud or merely sudden.
            But it – currently (touch wood) – never gets loud enough to the point where it interferes with my listening to music. And you yourself, also a tinnitus sufferer, continue to perform on tuba and percussion. I don’t see why Mr. Kjome can’t do a perfectly fine job as Pres. and CEO: he’s not conducting or playing in the orchestra.
            That unfortunate picture of him triggered NL’s absurd and sensationalist headline, which itself triggered a lot of overheated and emotional comments from people ignorant of his tinnitus. I hope those who called for his head on a platter will rethink their position.
            An aside: I hope you’re doing well, Barry – may many more gigs come your way!

      • MacroV says:

        The 99 thumbs down should probably be the indicator, but tinnitus is an injury/disability. In America employers cannot discriminate on the basis of disability, and if he’s otherwise qualified for the job, his disability shouldn’t be an issue.

        • Barry Guerrero says:

          That’s like saying that a restaurant should go ahead make a Pres. and CEO out of someone who is sensitive to heat, yet his job requirement includes having that person stand and observe what’s going on in a hot kitchen. It might be legally correct but it’s also just dumb.

  • Nick says:

    Looks like it’s HIS time to go into permanent retirement!!

  • Una says:

    Obviously very, very loud and he’s taking care of his hearing as any wise person would. Amazing how much you can still hear with your fingers in your ears.

  • anon says:

    Management with tin ears.

  • John Russell says:

    Maybe, suffer a little for the sake of appearances if you’re the Pres. of a symphony and caught at a concert of said symphony without the earplugs you OUGHT to have with you at all times if you have a hearing condition? Lots of people have tinnitus.

    Or, don’t put yourself in this position in the first place!

  • Bonboni John says:

    Can we please remember that Kjome is only the middle man, and is being told what to do by a board of directors chaired by Barbara Bozzuto! Say her name!

  • Anon says:

    Anyone with legitimate gripes about this man and his position should state them. For those who use that photo as THE reason he should be fired…..you’re all a bunch of morons. Grow up and stop thinking like 10 yr. olds.

    • Anonx2 says:

      Yes, indeed, calling everyone a bunch of morons is the epitome of maturity.

      • Anon says:

        If you think such a displays of childish gang mentality is mature behavior, then you are also a moron. I call it as I see it. Has nothing to do with MY maturity. I suppose you think that the fact that most orchestral musicians sitting directly in front of brass players wear ear plugs is also basis for immediate dismissal? Wake up and smell some reality, sir. Hearing loss is real. Ignoring that possibility is foolishness. Passing judgment one way or the other based on a photo is moronic.

  • Concerned Baltimorean says:

    Please respect the request of Brian Prechtl (he is a key representative of the BSO Musicians) and remove this post. It does not help their position or the future of the BSO.

  • Anon! A Moose! says:

    Thank you Mr. Prechtl and others for providing important context.

    I find it amazing and indicative of illness in our orchestral culture that people see someone in the audience protecting their hearing and instead of thinking, hmmm, if *audience* members are covering their ears maybe the brass could dial it down a notch, they think the issue is with the person protecting their hearing. Unbelievable.

    Some of the criticisms here are a little ridiculous. He’s handled this incredibly poorly to say the least and wow glad he’s not my CEO, but his background was a perfectly strong combination of a top conservatory, a good playing job and business school and experience. It’s just a fact of life that resumes don’t reflect everything needed for an excellent CEO, and sometimes you guess wrong. Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s just so frustrating how our art form and livelihood is so dependent on finding the right individual personalities for the right positions.

  • Monsoon says:

    Devil’s advocate: The orchestra has run a several million dollar deficit every year since 2014 (and their budget is much smaller than peers). That problem pre-dates Kjome. Maybe the city can no longer support a 52-week orchestra? The city’s population has dropped by 18 percent since 1990. Consider this: Cities throughout the United States are experience population booms after decades of decline — except for Baltimore. It’s one of only three cities with populations over 500,000 that continue to lose citizens.

  • Minerva says:

    Philistines !!

  • Larry W says:

    In the interest of preserving classical music, our colleges and conservatories need to educate arts administrators. There are more highly skilled and excellently trained musicians than the market can absorb, but an apparent dearth of comparably skilled managers. A generic business degree alone cannot bridge the gap between the realities of finance and the idealism of art. Done well, both domains require creativity and discipline. Courses in entrepreneurship and fundraising would broaden the inherently self-focused training of music students. This could lead to a less adversarial and mutually beneficial outcome in contract negotiations.

    • Robert Freeman says:

      Exactly what Larry suggests has been going on for several years at the Eastman School as part of the Institute for Music Leadership there, a program in which more than 50% of the current students are voluntarily enrolled.

      • Larry W says:

        Thanks, Robert. Not all music students can or do go to Eastman (my first music school). A few schools, such as NEC, have some innovative programs, but exposure is limited. I would like to see a shift from a liberal arts education to a liberal education in the arts.

  • Puzzled says:

    You realize many musicians on stage do this any time the music ascends over mf dynamic? Maybe they should be fired too

  • Wai Kit Leung says:

    Has anyone noticed the unusually large numbers of thumb-ups/thumb-downs on the comments? Lopsided in every case, I may add.

  • Philip Whitney says:

    Fire the #$%^@!^!