Arts District

Four Key Updates on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Here’s what the BSO has been up to since performances resumed in September.

It’s been a long, strange year for the century-old Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: ongoing contract negotiations that tumbled into labor disputes, the cancellation of the summer season, a highly publicized lockout of the musicians by BSO management, months of player protests outside the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Then this fall, just before the official postponement of the 2019-2020 season, both parties reached a one-year agreement that resulted in the meeting of many of the players’ demands, such as salary increases, continued benefits, and the reinstitution of the orchestra’s summer performances. And since the new shows launched in late September, even more has happened. Here, we help you catch up.

BSO Brings In Outside Help

Earlier this week, the BSO hired Michael Kaiser to act as an adviser for the organization’s multi-year strategic plan. Dubbed a “Turnaround King” by The Washington Post, Kaiser is credited with helping to revive the American Ballet Theatre, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Foundation, and the Royal Opera House in London during times of trouble. President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in D.C. for over a decade, he also created the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, which is now headquartered at the University of Maryland. The appointment was applauded by both the symphony management and the players’ committee. “Mr. Kaiser has an impressive track record of increasing revenues for arts organizations, and his arrival is welcomed by management, board and musicians alike,” wrote the Baltimore Symphony Musicians group on Facebook. “We look forward to building the healthy, vibrant orchestra that Baltimore and Maryland deserve.”

Marin Alsop Hints at Her Departure

Last week, Maestra Marin Alsop expressed frustration and disappointment with operations at the BSO, according to the Sun. Alsop had refrained from speaking publicly about the contentious contract negotiations between players and management that took place earlier this year, but during a work group meeting created by the state to help resolve the BSO’s financial woes, the veteran conductor—who joined the BSO in 2007—was vocal about lack of communication, poor support of programming, and missed opportunities within the organization. “The Baltimore Symphony is the only major orchestra in the United States to have a woman as its leader, and we haven’t capitalized on that once,” said Alsop, who also hinted at her departure. “I’m nearing the end of my tenure here.”

The Board Embraces Change

Following the organization’s new contract agreement, the BSO announced the re-election of 10 members of the organization’s Board of Directors in late September. But there were also big changes. After five years, Board Chair Barbara Bozzuto has been replaced by Barry Rosen, being named Chair Laureate where she will continue to work with the BSO in its fundraising efforts.

Bozzuto was the orchestra’s first female board chairwoman at the time of her election in 2014. She has been both applauded for her contributions to the BSO—such as serving as acting CEO during an eight-month transitional period and overseeing a campaign that raised nearly $50 million for the organization—as well as critiqued for the board’s recent handling of contract negotiations and the subsequent lockout, which the musicians maintained would be dire and damaging to both the players and the institution.

Rosen is the former Vice Chair of the BSO board and acting CEO and chairman of health-care law firm Gordon Feinblatt LLC. “Barbara Bozzuto is a hard act to follow, but I am excited to work as hard as I can during these important times for the BSO,” he said in a press release at the time of his promotion. Meanwhile, “Barry has shown an interest in welcoming the musicians and other constituents into the decision-making processes of the BSO,” said Brian Prechtl, co-chair of the players’ committee, to the Sun. “The musicians hope for a new era of cooperation.”

The 2019-2020 Season is Underway

After an uncertain summer, the new BSO season opened in late September to many a standing ovation with performances such as Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, Alsop’s Off The Cuff series, and a special night with Leslie Odom Jr. of Hamilton fame. Later this month, the revered Preservation Hall Jazz Band will perform on Thanksgiving weekend, while a holiday lineup features Handel’s Messiah, a Cirque de Soleil version of The Nutcracker, and a Holiday Spectacular show with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. The new year will also bring a Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra recital, a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin, and more film screening and score presentations, such as Amadeus and The Wizard of Oz.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the BSO.