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Baltimore Symphony Orchestra And Musicians End Contentious Contract Dispute

Marin Alsop leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. On Monday, management and musicians announced a new one-year contract, ending a bitter labor dispute.
Margot Schulman
Marin Alsop leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. On Monday, management and musicians announced a new one-year contract, ending a bitter labor dispute.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is back. Orchestra officials and musicians held a joint news conference Monday, on stage at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, to announce the ratification of a one-year contract that effectively ends a 16-week showdown between the two groups.

"I'm thrilled that an agreement has been reached," BSO music director Marin Alsop said in a statement announcing the new contract, "and that we will have our musicians back on stage to open our 104th season beginning on Friday night."

The BSO board locked musicians out of Meyerhoff Hall in June, not long after management abruptly cancelled the orchestra's summer lineup of concerts, citing revenue losses of $16 million over the past decade. An audit this summer revealed the organization may not have sufficient finances to continue for another year. The lockout was technically lifted on Sept. 9, but BSO players refused to return to work without a contract. They had been playing without one since January, when a stopgap, four-month extension expired.

At the center of the dispute was management's demand to shorten the orchestra's season from 52 weeks to 40, depriving the musicians of income during the summer months.

The new contract represents a compromise: a wage increase of 2.4% in weekly scale over 38 concert weeks plus two summer weeks of performances. It also stipulates a bonus compensation fund of $1.6 million to be split among musicians, "made possible through the generosity of special friends of the BSO"; the hiring of additional musicians; and the formation of a "standing Board committee, the Vision Committee, to include musician participation, with a broad mandate to plan for the future of the BSO." Both sides have also agreed not to strike and not implement any lockouts for the duration of the contract, which expires on Sept. 7, 2020.

BSO president and CEO Peter Kjome said that while the symphony was one of the nation's most important orchestras, the coming year will be pivotal. "Important work lies ahead. All of us need to come together to advance our great orchestra – through participation, attendance and philanthropy – to achieve our shared goal of a robust and achievable plan for the future that will ensure that Baltimore and Maryland remain home to an exceptional orchestra for many years to come."

Brian Prechtl, the BSO Players Committee co-chair, spoke of the outpouring of support the players received from Baltimore's citizens. "We look forward to returning to this stage at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and at the Music Center at Strathmore alongside our supporters that have demonstrated their dedication to preserving our amazing orchestra for generations to come," Prechtl said, adding, "The musicians also look forward to working side-by-side with leadership to chart a course for a promising future and to once again fill this room with the glorious sounds of music."

The BSO's new season officially begins this Friday, and the music to be played seems apropos: The concert will open with Verdi's overture to his opera La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) and continue with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, which has been dubbed "Fatum," or Fate.

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.