Concessionary News From Baltimore

The 3/25/2010 edition of the Baltimore Sun includes an article by Tim Smith that reports on the recent concessionary contract between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and its musicians. According to the article, the base musician salary will drop 16.6 percent to $67,600, “essentially the same as it was in 2001.” But what’s really interesting is some of the information Smith will almost certainly address in subsequent articles once the BSO releases additional information; such as details surrounding a new post-conservatory Fellows program…

According to a press release from the BSO dated 3/25/2010 one item related to the concessionary contract could potentially impact musician membership.

From September 2011, a new two-year agreement takes effect through September 2013; annual salary will be reduced 16.66% from the 2008-09 contract and medical insurance costs will be reduced by 16.5% through employee contributions to premiums and deductible payments. Vacant positions in the orchestra will remain unfilled.

In support of the BSO’s mission to educate and mentor young musicians, the BSO will begin an experimental Fellows program in September 2011 for highly talented post-conservatory musicians to perform with and be mentored by the BSO. The structure and details of the program have yet to be worked out, but will be developed by Marin Alsop and the BSO musicians.

As stated, the structure and details are forthcoming so we will have to wait and see exactly what this program entails but it will be interesting to see if any of the issues discussed barely a month ago in an article titled “When Is The Philadelphia Orchestra Not The Philadelphia Orchestra?“potentially intersect this proposed program. In particular, the question of hiring substitutes from a pool of conservatory students at reduced wages and its potential impact on artistic integrity generated a great deal of traffic and private messages when the article was published.

It certainly wouldn’t be right to assume what the BSO’s Fellowship program will entail and whether or not it will have any impact on permanent or temporary vacancies. Likewise, it will be interesting to see if the BSO administrators, music director Marin Alsop, and the musicians address this potential concern in similar fashion to the traditional stance of their Philadelphia colleagues.

As for now, we’ll have to wait and see.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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2 thoughts on “Concessionary News From Baltimore”

  1. Drew,
    This new BSO Fellows program sounds very similiar to the ill-fated New Hampshire Music Festival model proposed by former League of American Orchestras Chair Henry Fogel (and the attempted implementation of which quickly led to his ouster as NHMF General Director).
    I’m not against mentoring by orchestra members but do have a problem with the BSO using students to undercut CBA wages and benefits in order to save money by hiring them to play subscription or other concerts advertised to the public as the BSO.
    The Chicago Symphony has the Civic Orchetra which for many decades has functioned as a training orchestra for the CSO and by extension dozens of other orchestras. They are two seperate insitutions. When advanced Civic players are hired by the CSO(usually they are grad students)they are paid as substitute musicians and not at some student scale. They have to join the AFM and pay work dues on those wages.
    To me this is the proverbial slippery slope leading to continued erosion in CBA’s for the musicians. I’m sure there are many players in the BSO and any professional orchestra that can be wonderful and effective mentors. There are many others that do not have that skill set. Should those musicians be ousted because they just want to do the job they were hired for when they won their audition?

    • If nothing else, it seems clear that the BSO will have to approach this program carefully o avoid the sorts of negative connections you’ve outlined. I think another sincere Fellowship/training program the BSO can examine fro guidance is Detroit’s African-American Orchestra Fellowship program (although searches for the program at the DSO website turned up scant information).

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Concessionary News From Baltimore