Bso Musicians Volunteer $1 Million In Givebacks

April 30, 2009|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,tim.smith@baltsun.com

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians volunteered to give back $1 million in wage increases and other benefits next season to help the organization weather the recession, while challenging supporters to raise an additional $2 million in matching funds to maintain fiscal health.

The move comes during an arts season that has already seen the demise of the Baltimore Opera Company, a suspension of activities by the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra (which plans to return in the fall) and cutbacks at the Walters Art Museum.

Although the BSO's finances remain in basically good shape, the organization suffered effects of the economic downturn. After several seasons of balanced budgets, a deficit is projected for the current fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31.

"It became very clear that the great contract we had negotiated was in jeopardy because the economic situation was worse than anyone had anticipated," BSO member Jane Marvine said. "We knew that something had to be done."

Called "Music Matters: Play Your Part," the fundraising campaign entered its public phase Wednesday, after a private period during the past few weeks that generated $675,000, including a $50,000 gift from BSO music director Marin Alsop.

Since last fall, the orchestra's endowment has dropped in value from about $62 million to about $45 million, affecting the amount that can be withdrawn annually for operating expenses. Cuts in state and city grants have also had an impact.

"We did not want to just wait until we were approached by management" to make concessions, said Laurie Sokoloff, head of the players committee. "The management has treated us like equal partners, and with that comes responsibilities. We felt inspired to do something different."

The musicians had been looking forward to long-deferred raises and other benefits next season.

In addition to volunteering for a wage freeze, the musicians offered to take unpaid furloughs and to leave open orchestra vacancies that were to have been filled as part of the existing contract.

"And at the same time we were talking about making cutbacks," Sokoloff said, "we contributed to the annual fund, which we had never done before."

That donation from the players to support the orchestra's current budget totaled $24,000.

"This is part of what is starting to happen around the country," said Judith Kurnick, vice president for strategic communications for the New York-based League of American Orchestras.

"At the Atlanta Symphony and some other orchestras, the musicians also came forward and asked what they could do to help. It is part of a new collaborative spirit we are seeing, a sense that this is everybody's challenge," Kurnick said.

The BSO trimmed $1 million from its $28 million budget this season through layoffs and a two-week furlough for staffers.

"Our ability to cut costs further is limited," BSO President and CEO Paul Meecham said. "It is likely we will have a significant deficit this year." He declined to estimate the amount.

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