It’s crunch week in Baltimore

It’s crunch week in Baltimore


norman lebrecht

February 17, 2020

The orchestra has until February 23 to convince the Maryland General Assembly that it is returning to solvency.

The five points of its latest ‘grand plan’ do not ignite automatic confidence. They are (according to the Baltimore Sun):

– The issue of season length to be resolved in the next collective bargaining agreement. Negotiations to begin in March.

– High-profile concerts featuring as-yet unnamed international stars when the 2020-21 season is announced in early March. Next year’s season also is likely to feature mini-festivals organized around a specific theme. Under consideration: gospel and/or hip-hop festivals.

– This month, a wine bar that also sells a selection of food including hot paninis and warm desserts had a soft launch at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. In the past, customers were limited to alcoholic beverages and soft drinks. Patrons who attend BSO concerts at The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda already can dine at the Allegro Kitchen cafe located inside the venue. Expect other changes aimed at enhancing patrons’ experience.

– Beginning next season, the BSO will begin live-streaming at least some concerts — a practice adopted by other highly-ranked orchestras nationwide from Los Angeles to Detroit to New York. Live-streaming makes “BSO performances accessible to audiences around the world,” the release said. It also will potentially create new sources of revenue.

– The BSO will attempt to demonstrate its importance statewide by performing more concerts in rural areas of Maryland and in under-served communities. The BSO has begun a “Symphony in the City” series of four free concerts in Baltimore neighborhoods. The initial concert at the Baltimore Museum of Industry Jan. 15 was standing room only. 

More here.


  • Larry says:

    They’re going to have to sell a heck of a lot of paninis to become “solvent.”

  • Larry W says:

    The Baltimore Symphony is an excellent orchestra and a great asset to Baltimore. Best of luck for future success!

  • Bill says:

    It’s too bad there’s already a per-service orchestra in Hagerstown called the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, because the BSO is probably going to have to look beyond the borders of the city of Baltimore to keep themselves relevant and afloat.

    Nonetheless, even with the current name, they should be concentrating on statewide as well as city performances and engagement to keep being relevant to the State of Maryland and the city of Baltimore.

    There are other successful orchestras in distressed cities such as Cleveland and the Detroit symphony appears to be doing better nowadays. The big difference is that Baltimore is unlucky in that they are a only 45 minute drive to Washington DC and the National Symphony, where the money lives.

    The model they should be looking at might be the New Jersey Symphony, which has its home base in a similarly distressed city, Newark, but also spends a lot of time touring the state. The good news is, this is more easily done in a relatively small state like New Jersey or Maryland.

    • Anon says:

      The NJ Symphony performs much less often and gets paid much less.
      Exactly the direction that the Baltimore musicians are trying to AVOID.

      • Bill says:

        Unfortunately, they may have to face the reality that will be the new model. Cleveland and Detroit are at an advantage in that they both have some of the wealthiest suburbs in the country surrounding them from which they can still tap a donor base, and neither has another world class orchestra nearby.

        Baltimore essentially shares its suburbs with Washington DC now, and has to compete for much of the same donor pool.
        That’s pretty much the same situation as the New Jersey Symphony.
        At this point, I don’t see how Baltimore survives as an old school inner city symphony orchestra given the current reality in Baltimore. They need to expand out and make their case to the whole rate of Maryland.

    • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

      The Baltimore Symphony started as more of a community orchestra and then grew to be a full blown professional orchestra.

      In addition to being near the National Symphony (to the south), they have the Philadelphia Orchestra (to the north) as well as many per service orchestras (as you have mentioned) in the immediate area. And as we all know, these per service orchestras can provide great music for more convenience and less financial investment.

      The New Jersey model (as also used by North Carolina) where the orchestra services the entire state in return for funds from the state government may work. But there are so many pressing financial needs for money in Baltimore, it will hard to argue that public money should support “high class” entertainment.

      Unless a large donor or two steps up and commits to a long term vision for the BSO, it will be hard to keep this orchestra going on the scale that it has become accustomed to. A shorter season, lower pay, and decreased benefits will be the only way to maintain a sustainable entity moving forward.

    • Larry says:

      Annapolis also has a per-service orchestra plus there’s the excellent Baltimore Chamber Orchestra.

  • Fred Funk says:

    The WHINE Bar should be a hit with the Violas….

  • Dave says:

    If I were a member of the Baltimore Symphony I would be brushing up my resume.

  • WiseGuy says:

    Wait, did they say panini? That’s it, I’m going to go to the BSO now.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Sounds like:

    More movies, more pops, more hip hop, more “outreach”, more school concerts, more bus trip run outs, and of course, more paninnis.

    And throw in Beethoven 5, Vivaldi Seasons, and Planets every year.

    Less Mahler, less modern music, fewer soloists, fewer subscription concerts, lower quality of guest conductors (who are cheaper), overworked administrative staff.

    Doesn’t sound like fun if you love what orchestras are meant to do.