Campaign raises $2,300 for meal fund to support BSO players

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Still via video from Baltimore Symphony Musicians/Twitter

With a lockout taking effect earlier this week, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians are facing a paycheck-less summer as they remain in a deadlock with management over proposed schedule reductions.

A supporter has stepped in to start a meal fund for the players, raising more than $2,300 on GoFundMe in one day. Organizer Tee Mitchell wrote she wanted to support the musicians as they protest and fight “to raise awareness of the egregious management problems that led to this.”

“It is hot and tiring work, so I’m starting this Go Fund Me to raise money for food and drinks for the duration of their lockout,” Mitchell wrote.

Mithcell is a musician herself, serving as a second violinist with the Columbia Orchestra. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Percussionist Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the players’ organization Baltimore Symphony Musicians, told Baltimore Fishbowl, “It’s incredibly gratifying to see people step up to support us in this difficult moment.”

The lockout took effect on Monday after BSO management and the players failed to reach an agreement on a new contract by the end of the current season. Citing a decade of losses, President and CEO Peter Kjome has called for reducing the orchestra’s schedule from 52 weeks to 40 weeks, a fundamental change to the BSO’s business plan. He’s previously said the orchestra has lost $16 million over the last 10 years.

It was for those same reasons the BSO announced the cancellation of the summer season last month.

“The BSO is a beloved and important cultural anchor for Maryland and our region, and it is vital that our community is home to an exceptional orchestra for generations to come,” he said in a statement late Sunday. “The BSO remains focused on resuming negotiations and working with our musicians and Local 40-543 to reach agreement on a new contract as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, the musicians have argued the BSO’s reputation would be hurt by losing its year-round status, and that the group has already made sacrifices both in their ranks and pay scale. They called off a bargaining session scheduled for June 4, the orchestra said, days after the summer season news came out.

On Monday, dozens appeared outside the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to protest the lockout.

“Public pressure is absolutely one of the most important things right now,” Prechtl said then. “They need to relent from cutting off our salaries and our health care so that we can negotiate in good faith. These kinds of scare tactics and undue pressure are coercive.”

A Baltimore Sun investigation into the orchestra’s finances found that fundraising has lagged, with the slated to finish this fiscal year with a $1.5 million deficit. Leaders now await the results of an audit to determine if the BSO is a “going concern.”

During the legislative session, as tensions between musicians and management rose and their last agreement expired, the General Assembly passed a bill, sponsored by Baltimore Del. Maggie McIntosh, to extend $1.6 million to help the orchestra. One of the conditions was that the two sides form a work group to devise a sustainable path forward.

But Gov. Larry Hogan has not yet released the funds, and indicated he would “probably not” allot the money to the orchestra, pointing to numerous state contributions the BSO already receives.

Thousands have asked him to reconsider.

Brandon Weigel

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