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BSO, musicians agree to contract, end stalemate

Brian Prechl, co-chair of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Players Committee, right, speaks as Peter Kjome, president and CEO of the organization, listens on Monday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Players Committee, right, speaks as Peter Kjome, president and CEO of the organization, listens on Monday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Music will once again come from the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall as Baltimore Symphony Orchestra management and musicians Monday announced they had reached a one-year agreement.

The agreement announced with trumpet fanfare marks the end of months of contentious negotiations between musicians and management that included a lockout, strike and a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board. But on Monday both sides smiled as they announced the return to the stage — at least for a year — while they continue to sort out the financial future of the 103-year old cultural institution.

The symphony is expected to return to the stage Friday after a lockout that began in June.

Peter Kjome, president and CEO of the orchestra, said the short-term agreement will allow both sides to continue meeting to work on a more sustainable plan for the BSO, which finds itself in a situation similar to many major metropolitan symphonies who are battling declining attendance, changes in musical tastes and demographics.

“A year from now, we’re going to have done some very important work this fall and work together to chart the course for the future and give us an opportunity for a multi-year agreement,” said Kjome. “All of us would like to have a multi-year agreement.”

The orchestra has lost more than $16 million over the last decade.

“We’ve actually improved the financial health in the last few years,” said Kjome. “However, the cumulative effect of those loses over the years has led us to where we are today.”

Kjome said the hope is that a new committee that includes musicians and management will develop “a robust, achievable plan and a multiyear plan to set the stage for a long-term successful and bright future.”

Creating a shared governance structure that gives musicians a voice in some management decisions had been a key demand from musicians.

In addition to that committee, musicians and management agreed to a 40-week contract that increases salaries to an average of $94,000, though base salaries will be about  $81,000 — lower than last year because the musicians did not work the first two weeks of the current season, according to Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the orchestra’s players committee.

Previously, the BSO held a 52-week season. Kjome said the length of future seasons and what is sustainable remains up for discussion.

Kjome said the orchestra has raised “most of what is needed for the additional compensation this year” but fundraising continues and “we need additional help from our community.”

Musicians will also receive four weeks of vacation, a reduction of five weeks, but will continue to receive health benefits for the entire year.

Both sides also agreed to no strike or lockout through Sept. 6, 2020.

“I think we all know how difficult this summer has been,” said Prechtl. “I think that every one of us is going to do everything we can to make sure we have a contract in place by the time this contract expires in September.”

Getting musicians back on stage is key to stabilizing the orchestra and enticing donors to continue their giving.

The agreement will have little effect on a decision to withhold millions from the orchestra that the legislature fenced off in the current state budget.

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

“We continually pour millions and millions of dollars into the BSO but they’ve got real serious issues and problems with the management, with losing the support of their donor base, and the legislature took the money out of the budget and fenced it off,” Hogan told reporters in June. “I don’t know what the resolution is going to be.”

Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said the agreement will not result in the release of the fenced-off state funds.

Both sides are expected to return to the table with a legislative work group chaired by former Sen. Ed Kasemeyer. The panel canceled meetings in recent weeks after an awkward and contentious inaugural session. The focus of the group is to help stabilize the orchestra’s financial future.

Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, looked on as orchestra officials announced the deal Monday and told a reporter the agreement “is the easy part.”

“The hard part is the realization of the financial stabilization of the organization,” said West.



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