As of 8 a.m. this morning, nearly 2,000 people have sent emails to Gov. Larry Hogan requesting that he release $3.2 million earmarked for the financially struggling Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, according to the musicians.
Percussionist Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians players’ committee, said 1,813 emails have been sent to the governor since the call for support went out late Friday–1,339 of which came from Maryland representing, Prechtl noted, all six of the state’s Congressional districts.
“It is important that he hears each and every Marylander’s voice if we are to preserve our Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for generations to come,” the committee’s updated plea said on Sunday.
Reached for comment, Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, pointed out the BSO already receives more grant money than any other arts organization in the state.
“In addition, we provided a bonus grant to the BSO last year, we are currently in active discussions about a bridge loan and we are reviewing the funding that was fenced off by the legislature,” he said.
Locked in a labor dispute since last fall, the musicians and management are battling over whether or not the orchestra can remain a year-round institution. The BSO’s board has asked for the schedule to be cut down from 52 weeks so the orchestra can sustain itself, while the players have said such a move would damage the orchestra’s reputation when they’re already making less than peer organizations.
With those financial struggles in mind, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill to give the BSO an additional $3.2 million over the next two years and form a working group to make recommendations on the future.
But last Thursday, BSO President and CEO Peter Kjome announced the orchestra would cancel its summer season, reportedly as the ensemble faced the possibility of not making payroll. Kjome said the orchestra has lost $16 million over the last decade.
“If the BSO is going to survive, our business model needs to change, and that change begins in earnest today,” he said. “In our view, moving from 52 weeks to 40 weeks is necessary. We look forward to working with our musicians as we navigate this change and prepare for a future that is strong and vibrant.”
The players described the move as a “lock-out” and said it was an affront to the orchestra’s subscribers and to the legislature just days after their bill had become law. There was just one problem: Hogan hadn’t released the money yet.
The Sun learned it had been “fenced off,” and still awaited Hogan’s approval to be dispersed. Leaders of the House Republican Caucus had asked for just that. On May 31, Dels. Nic Kipke and Kathy Szeliga sent a letter to Hogan asking for the money to be withheld until a sustainable financial plan is produced, or until the BSO work group released its report.
The letter seized on one particular item from the BSO’s contract dispute: musicians have nine weeks of vacation, which Kjome has proposed be cut down to four. The taxpayers of Maryland, they wrote, “should not be on the hook for these extravagant expenses.”
Prechtl said it’s common for 52-week orchestras to have nine weeks of vacation, citing groups in Boston, Dallas, Houston, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as examples. And many musicians are gone for no more than a few days or a week at a time to not have their skills diminish. He likened it to the rest and practice of a professional athlete.
“No one questions football teams or baseball teams for being off almost half the year,” he said. “They are continuing to train and practice and recover. Musicians are small muscle athletes and need similar recovery periods and time to hone their craft outside of the ‘regular season.’”
Prechtl also challenged the idea that cuts would help restore the orchestra’s finances, saying management has not used the BSO to its full potential.
“We believe the BSO can and should do a better job with earning revenue and serving audiences,” he said. “The summertime is a perfect time to schedule performances out in the community.”