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Rift visible as BSO musicians, management meet in Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS — Musicians and management of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are being encouraged to take a leap of faith and enter into a temporary agreement that will return orchestral music to Baltimore while resolving contractual and financial concerns.

That encouragement comes as a work group established by the legislature met Friday for the first time to look for ways to make the orchestra more financially stable. But trust may be hard to come by initially, as issues between the orchestra’s management and musicians bubbled to the surface during the two-hour meeting.

Fred Lazarus, the former president of the Maryland Institute College of Art, called on both sides to work together to get back on stage, saying the orchestra’s absence sends the wrong message to would-be donors.

“I think that all of us recognize that if this orchestra does not get back on the stage whether it’s on Sept. 14 or Sept. 21 — I’m not sure what the date is, but very, very soon — we’re going to have real trouble putting Humpty Dumpty back together again,” said Lazarus, who is attempting to become a rainmaker for the 103-year-old cultural institution.

Lazarus put together a plan he said would move the symphony from “crisis to stability” but said its three-year time frame would be too long.

“I don’t think we have three years,” Lazarus said, adding that both sides need to agree on a vision for the future.

“I don’t think we are in agreement,” he said. “I’ve heard lots of different opinions from different people about their sense of where this orchestra has to be eventually in order to be surviving, and I don’t think we can go forward in the long run if we are in different places on that issue.”

But trust seems hard to come by.

Both sides have met just three times since management locked the musicians out on June 17 and canceled the orchestra’s summer concert schedule.

Lazarus mentioned the trust issues, saying it was hard to get the sides to agree on the organization’s financial situation. He suggested an outside consultant be used to do a review that could give everyone a set of numbers they could agree upon.

At one point, Ken Skrzesz, executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council, offered to bring in a consultant to do such a review, which would be the property of the council and would be made public. Management and board members of the orchestra said they would agree to the six- to eight-week review, but musicians balked, saying that they wanted to review the choice of consultant and that they were concerned the consultant would be biased in favor of management.

The work group is part of 2019 legislation that was also meant to provide $1.6 million in emergency funding to the cash-strapped orchestra.

Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this year said he was withholding that funding along with hundreds of millions in other funds fenced off by the General Assembly. At  the time, the governor called on the orchestra to get its financial house in order.

Former state Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, the panel’s chairman, said the panel was not working from the position everyone anticipated when the legislation was passed.

“I think I probably felt back then, as an observer from my perspective, that the money would be provided and the symphony would continue to play,” Kasemeyer said. “Obviously that didn’t occur.”

The meeting made for a difficult situation, with the vast majority of members being management or musicians still engaged in contract negotiations.

“It’s also an unusual work group, in that typically (with) these kinds of things you have a majority of people who are outside of where the issue is. Here we find everybody in the work group is a principal in a way,” said Kasemeyer, who suggested that at some point the parties may want to extend the statutory deadline for the work group and add more members.

Kasemeyer acknowledged that the work group may have hit a stopping point.

“I’m not sure where to go from here,” Kasemeyer said.

Following the meeting, the former senator said he believed the two sides could come to trust each other, even though they left with many unanswered questions, including when the panel will meet next. A second meeting was tentatively scheduled for next week, but no one seemed certain it would happen.

“I’m not holding it unless someone calls me and tells me they want it,” Kasemeyer said.

 

 

 


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