Michael Lisicky recalls the satisfaction he and the other musicians from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra felt after their inaugural pop-up performance at Penn Station last year, when they played classics and carols in the lobby on the Friday before Christmas. Many of the travelers and commuters there hadn’t expected it, but they soon formed a line to watch and listen, many taking out their phones to share it online.
“It was just to soothe the travelers,” the oboist said. “We just kind of wanted to do something fun and nice. It was so well received.”
Tomorrow, a group of them will do it all over again, returning to the main lobby of the commuter hub for half an hour to play Bach, carols and pieces from George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” starting at 5 p.m. They’re picking the Friday once again “because it’s like the final rush hour” before the holidays arrive, he said.
The BSO Musicians, who number 77 full-timers in all, have been playing in Baltimore and around Maryland for more than 100 years. They’ve more recently ramped up their community performances, going to schools and libraries and elsewhere around the area. This year, they’ve also performed at the funeral of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who passed away in May, and at Tribune Media’s official memorial for the five Capital Gazette staffers killed in June by a gunman.
Lisicky acknowledged the pop-up is happening during a “challenging time” for the musicians. The BSO’s management is considering reducing the ensemble’s performance schedule from 52 to 40 weeks as a cost-cutting measure, which would also slash the players’ salaries considerably, and eliminate their entire summer season.
The musicians have pushed back, arguing their salaries have remained nearly flat over the last 10 years while operating expenses—excluding any on the musicians themselves—climbed 46 percent from 2010 to 2016.
The two sides are also currently working out a new contract—their temporary one is set to expire Jan. 15, 2019, Lisicky said—though he noted there hasn’t been much progress on that.
“We have a long way to go to keep the structure of this orchestra intact.”
After the holidays, the BSO Musicians’ next performance will be at the Baltimore Basilica on Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. for a benefit for My Sister’s Place, hosted by former Gov. Martin O’Malley. The evening will feature the brass sections of the BSO, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony and the National Symphony.
It’s the BSO’s full, on-stage performances that are “the crux of who we are,” Lisicky said. But community-facing performances, such as tomorrow’s holiday pop-up, help them feel connected their audience from just a few feet away.
“We feel like we’ve become a better part of the community, and not just the people sitting on stage.”