Tag Archives: Baltimore Symphony Musicians

Baltimore Symphony Management intent on cutting season despite offer of $1 million from generous donors

At 6:59 pm Monday evening, September 9, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) management issued a “take it or leave it” offer to the BSO Musicians which will be presented to the orchestra for a vote this evening, September 10. The proposal contained wage and benefit cuts of 20%. The federal mediators proposed an extension of negotiations until close of business Thursday, September 12. Management rejected the federal mediators’ proposal. Musicians then suggested an extension until the close of voting by the membership on this final offer. Management rejected that proposal as well.

The Baltimore Symphony Musicians negotiated in good faith throughout the summer. We organized prominent donors to assist in this process. These generous donors brought $1 million designated specifically for musician compensation to help secure a contract. We want to express appreciation from the bottom of our hearts to these donors for their unwavering commitment. It is incredibly disheartening that BSO leadership would fail to embrace this offer of help from some of Baltimore’s leading philanthropists.

Where do we go from here? The musicians will continue the fight to preserve our 103-year-old institution, which serves the City of Baltimore, the surrounding counties and the State of Maryland. We stand ready and willing to get back to the negotiating table to achieve an agreement that will enable us to continue to attract and retain the highest quality musicians to perform for our audiences.

This is a dark day in the history of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Over the past three months, the musicians have each lost over $20,000 in salary, with more to come. This dispute isn’t just about money. It is also about respect, respect for the quality of the musicians on stage, respect for generations of Marylanders who have built this orchestra, and for the thousands of people who have bought tickets and have donated to this venerable institution.

BSO Musicians will have a silent picket line up this morning at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. This afternoon, we will have a normal, noisy, picket line from 3:30 to 5:30 pm.

baltimore symphony musicians

Baltimore Symphony Musicians Locked Out, Summer Season Canceled

baltimore symphony musicians

For the first time in three decades, the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) have been locked out. The news became official June 16, when orchestra management announced that it would be canceling the summer season, suspending musicians’ pay and cutting off their health insurance. At a June 21 bargaining session with BSO management, musicians also learned that their Long-Term Disability coverage was canceled as of June 17, and their life insurance policies would be canceled as of September 1.

baltimore symphony musicians

BSO musicians, members of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD), have played without a contract since January. Previously, the orchestra board proposed cutting the concert season from 52 weeks to 40, amounting to a loss of 20% in income and benefits for musicians. The lockout, which bars musicians from going to work, effectively achieves that goal.

During the winter, musicians mounted a campaign to raise public awareness of the orchestra’s plight, resulting in the passage of House Bill 1404 by the Maryland General Assembly which includes $3.2 million in funding in support of the BSO.

Releasing the first installment of the two-year grant might have averted the lockout. On May 30, at an urgent session of the bargaining committee, management told musicians it was unlikely Gov. Larry Hogan would make funding immediately available. By the end of the meeting, news of the canceled summer season was out to the media, where most musicians first learned of management’s decision. On June 13, the state confirmed it would not release the funds, citing management practices and lack of donor confidence in the organization. According to BSO President and CEO Peter Kjome, the orchestra is scheduled to reconvene in September for the fall season, when he claims the lockout will end.

baltimore symphony musicians

In its more-than-100-year history, the BSO has experienced five prior work stoppages: strikes in 1937, 1968, 1971, and 1988, and a lockout in 1981. The longest work stoppage was a 22-week strike from September 1988 to February 1989. 

Musicians call the lockout a management scare tactic and dispute the severity of the financial crisis. They say that the BSO could pay them for the summer by drawing additional funds from the $72.6 million BSO endowment trust, on top of the $3.838 million annual draw that is part of the operating budget. Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the Players’ Committee, observes that if the lockout continues until September, the orchestra will save $2.5 million on musicians’ wages and health care—which is coming directly out of musicians’ pockets. “Our line of the budget has remained flat for at least 10 years.” Musicians have made several concessions over a decade of negotiations. Their contracts have only recently returned to 2008 compensation levels.

According to longtime BSO subscriber and donor John Warshawsky, who heads the advocacy group Save Our BSO, the lockout emphasizes the importance of growing the endowment to achieve long-term stability. At the same time, it fails to highlight the hardship and unexpected loss of paycheck for the 75 orchestra members.

BSO management and board have failed to maximize donations and income, including a year in which the orchestra operated without a director of development. In addition to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, the orchestra performs at a second venue at Strathmore, in Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest parts of the state. Many argue this exclusive area has never been fully tapped for its potential.

baltimore symphony musicians
Former BSO Music Director David Zinman stood with the BSO musicians in their picket lines last week.

As of this writing, Baltimore Symphony Musicians are picketing at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. More negotiations between musicians and management will be scheduled.

The musicians have received strong support from many quarters. Delegates to the 101st AFM Convention, held June 17-20 in Las Vegas, pledged nearly $100,000 in support for the locked-out musicians. The delegates also unanimously adopted an Emergency Resolution condemning the actions of BSO management and calling for an end to the lockout.

How to donate to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians

To send online contributions to the Baltimore Symphony Musicians, visit www.bsomusicians.org/public_html/donate/

To send contributions to the Baltimore Symphony Musicians by check:

Send check to:
Greg Mulligan
Co-Chair, Baltimore Symphony Players Committee
11955 Long Lake Drive
Reisterstown, MD 21136
Make check payable to: Baltimore Symphony Musicians, Inc.

To send contributions to The Musicians’ Association of Metropolitan Baltimore to help offset the loss of work dues:

Send check to:
The Musicians’ Association of Metropolitan Baltimore
1055 Taylor Avenue, Suite 218
Baltimore, MD 21286
Make check payable to “Local 40-543, AFM”

The most recent updates about the Baltimore Symphony Musicians can be found on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BaltimoreSymphonyMusicians.

Connecting with the communities

Orchestra Musicians Connecting with The Communities Beyond the Symphony Halls

Connecting with the communities we serve has never been more important for orchestra musicians. In this article, we explore the activities musicians in several orchestras have undertaken to foster an authentic connection with their communities and to raise their profile as musicians and members of a collective.

Baltimore Symphony Musicians

This month’s cover artist, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) oboist Michael Lisicky has been a leader in BSO musician outreach efforts. Projects from the Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD) members have ranged from “triage” performances, such as the one they gave during the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, to program series at public libraries and local hospitals. They see these activities as providing opportunities to reach new audiences and connect with population that might not attend their concerts.

“Playing at the events Michael has put together over the past three years has been immensely satisfying for so many of us,” says BSO first violinist Greg Mulligan, who is also co-chair of the players committee and ICSOM member-at-large.

“This outreach connects Baltimore Symphony  Musicians directly and intimately with folks in our community,” he says. “Of course, it is also satisfying to perform in unusual places, in unusual ways, and to see the delight and gratitude on faces of people all over our region.”

He advises other musicians to think about who they would like to play music for—patients in hospitals, people at blood drives, schools, libraries, or maybe in response to a traumatic local or national/international event. “Think of these outreach activities as benefitting both your institution as a whole, and the group of musicians that makes up your orchestra.”

Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra Musicians


For Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra musicians, members of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), Giving December is a way to show their gratitude and give back to the community during the busy holiday season. Among the 2017 events were: packing 11,846 meals for those in need; repurposing and gifting flower arrangements previously set to be discarded; and chamber music performances for people with little access to concerts, including Hollywood House senior living facility and Outside the Walls, an organization to support people recently released from incarceration.

“The reaction of the community has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra Violist Melissa Kirk. “Bringing live music to people in an intimate setting is a wonderful experience for all involved. Many of us volunteer and give to charities throughout the year, but we were looking for a way to join together as an orchestral family to show gratitude and give back to the community.”

“We urged our musicians to organize chamber groups to perform for people who normally don’t get to experience the joy of live music,” says Kirk. “Giving December took on a life of its own to include pop-up performances around the city and extending past the month.”

“Community outreach is an excellent way to break down the barrier between audience and performer. The benefits flow in both directions: the community gets to know the musicians and the musicians get to interact with the community in a more personal way,” she says. “We form bonds with each other outside of the workplace, through the shared experience of helping those in need.”

Symphony Musicians of Richmond


Symphony Musicians of Richmond (SMOR), members of Local 123 (Richmond, VA), put on an annual concert to benefit the United Way. Richmond Symphony Principal Bassoon Thomas Schneider says it got started in 2013 when SMOR reached out to the AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison C. B. Sinclair at United Way about partnering on a benefit concert.

“We decided that rather than have a black tie style fundraiser, we wanted to have a community focused event accessible to everyone; we were hoping to reach new audiences in the community. We especially wanted the concert to be accessible to fellow union members in the Richmond area, hoping the concert would help us build new relationships in the labor community,” he explains.

The first concert was a huge success, as was the s’more (SMOR) themed reception after the show. “Over the last five years the concert has continued to develop. The second year we branded the concert as ‘Music Unites.’ We tried charging money for tickets, but found that we got much better attendance and roughly the same revenue with a free concert,” says Schneider.

“Our venue for the concert is in the round; the audience members are all very close to the musicians and the sound. Musicians see the faces of the audience members as we perform. Connecting so profoundly with an audience through our art and helping United Way just feels right and is its own reward,” he says.

United Way is one of the only major charities that actively works with labor. They have also helped us get interviews in the press, explains Schneider. “I believe the concerts have significantly increased community awareness of our musician’s association. We want to build a reputation as good citizens in our community.”

MET Orchestra Musicians

“After some of our public engagement initiatives were scaled back or canceled, we felt that small scale, community-based concerts were the way to go,” says Metropolitan Opera (Met) Orchestra violist Mary Hammann. “I began searching for ways to do this. I was surprised by how quickly things fell into place.” 

MET Orchestra Musicians, members of Local 802 (New York City), ended up establishing their own 501(c)(3) charity focused on community outreach. William Short, Met principal bassoon says, “We felt there were opportunities to become more involved in the community outside of Lincoln Center, to give back to underserved populations, and to expand awareness and appreciation of classical music.”

Among MET Orchestra Musicians projects have been recurring performances at local VA hospitals and facilities, as well as visits to local public schools and libraries. “Communities are both enormously appreciative of these efforts and fascinated by a peek into what musicians actually do. We think that presents an extraordinary opportunity to engage with people from all walks of life and shows that classical music, an authentic experience in an increasingly inauthentic world, is just as relevant as it has ever been,” he says.

The community reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Hammann. “Our audiences are delighted to have such quality music in their libraries and schools. I see that the community is thirsty for this kind of musical sharing. On a personal level, it is heartening to see how powerful music is on this small community scale. I have gotten very positive feedback from audience members who were inspired (in countless ways) by our performance and also by meeting
us afterwards.”

National Arts Centre Orchestra Musicians


In Ottawa, the National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra musicians’ FanFair is an annual fundraising project organized by the members of Local 180 (Ottawa, ON). Other NACO outreach includes coaching young musicians, performing at senior residences and hospitals, as well as other fundraising performances.

“FanFair started during a dark time in our history. In October 1989, a rummage sale and silent auction were held to raise funds for an expected labour action,” says Assistant Principal Second Violin Winston Webber. “During the seven-week strike community support was fantastic. We were grateful, so we repeated the event the next Christmas season as a charity fundraiser and it just took off. It’s since raised more than $800,000 for two local charities—the Snowsuit Fund for children and the Ottawa Food Bank.”

“From the beginning, all labour for the FanFair concerts has been donated, including NAC facilities, light and sound systems, management time, publicity, musicians, and stagehands,” adds Webber. “The conductors are orchestra members. Incidental costs are paid from the orchestra musicians’ association operating funds, so 100% of donations go directly to the charities.”

“Community concerts remind us how important music is to people and how it can draw people together,” says Local 180 President and retired NACO second oboe and English horn Francine Schutzman. “FanFair is truly a moving event. In addition to FanFair itself, ‘elves’ from the orchestra go out into the lobby immediately after each performance in December to collect donations for our two charities.”

“One valuable result of FanFair has been the opportunity to get to know our supporters on a very personal level, and to generate new fans,” she adds.

“The NAC Orchestra has 40 educational and outreach programs for young people of all ages, adults, and teachers—it’s a top priority,” says Webber.

“We all know we should do outreach, and it does come back to us in various positive ways, like a higher public profile. But when you see the results on the ground, out in the so-called real world, then it really hits you how important this is to people. Our inspiration is the amazing work the charities do,” he says.