Percussionist Brian Prechtl knows what kind of reception the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is going to receive when the ensemble walks onstage for its official season opener: “They’re going to go nuts.”
Their entrance, done together in the European style, will mark the musicians’ ceremonious return to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall following a four-month, tension and struggle-filled absence. After an extended period of collective bargaining, the cancellation of its summer season, and months of picketing outside of the historic venue, the BSO hosted a press conference on Monday and announced in front of city leaders that it has reached a one-year agreement.
“This has been a difficult period,” Prechtl says. “There’s a lot of anger and a lot of hurt. As soon as it looked like an agreement was going to possible, we knew we wanted to be back.”
Despite buzz about postponement, this news means that the orchestra will start its 2019/2020 season on time, with three performances this weekend at both the Meyerhoff in Baltimore and Strathmore in Bethesda.
And along with the grand return, the musicians are also celebrating that their demands have finally been met by the BSO’s board of trustees.
Those include a 2.4 percent increase in weekly salary, a continuation of the musicians’ year-round benefits package, two weeks of summer shows that include the annual Star Spangled Spectacular at Oregon Ridge, which the musicians organized and performed for free on their own this summer, as well as a bonus compensation of $1.6 million for their lost summer wages, which was made possible by donors. Management has also expressed commitment to hiring additional performers in the coming years, which has been an ongoing request from the musicians.
Both sides have also agreed to have no lockouts or strikes in this next year, and that the musicians would withdraw the unfair labor practice charge that was submitted earlier this month.
“The Baltimore Symphony is uniquely wonderful,” said BSO music director Marin Alsop at the press announcement. “It reflects this community and this city—it’s willing to roll up sleeves and get hands dirty, to show what they are about and how they feel.”
With this in mind, the BSO will also form a “vision committee” to create a broad plan for the orchestra’s future, looking far beyond the one-year agreement.
“We want to get to a place where we can sit down and talk about structure,” Prechtl says. “We’re going to sit down and struggle through it.”
But for now, what was once lost is now found again. The season will open with Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 this Friday, and continue with performances such as the return of Alsop’s Off The Cuff series in October, a special performance with Leslie Odom Jr. of Hamilton fame in October, and a live score to a film screening of Ghostbusters in November.
The musicians are calling upon Baltimoreans to fill the Meyerhoff and show their support for one of the city’s great institutions.
“Four months is a long time,” says Prechtl. “I can’t wait until this room is full with the amazing sounds of the BSO again.”