To begin today's Midday on Music program, a conversation about the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the largest arts organization in the state of Maryland, and one of only 17 full-time orchestras in the United States. That means that the players of the BSO are hired for the full year, with the vacation and health benefits typical with most full-time jobs. Many orchestras around the country, including some in fairly large cities, hire their players for only 9 or 10 months every year .
Whether or not the BSO will remain a full-time orchestra is at the heart of a contract dispute that has been going on between the players and BSO management since last fall. Management of the orchestra points to the fact that the BSO has lost an average of $1.6 million dollars per year for the past 10 years. Supporters of the BSO are crossing their fingers that the General Assembly will provide supplemental funding for the BSO. The bill currently under consideration provides an additional $1.6 million dollars for each of the next two years. This is in addition to the funds the BSO is already scheduled to receive through its annual grant from the MD State Arts Council. The measure has passed in the House, and it was voted out of committee in the Senate Thursday. A vote on the Senate floor was expected Friday.**
**April 8 Update: The BSO emergency funding measure -- which was renamed last week by a Senate Committee as the John C. Merrill Act -- was approved by the full Senate on Monday April 8. Once the House concurs to the name change, the bill will be passed, and sent to the Governor for his signature.
In addition to its money woes, the BSO also has a diversity problem. In our majority black city, only one member of the orchestra is African American. Why is that and why does it matter?
These challenges are not unique to the BSO. Does the BSO face problems that are all that different from those facing orchestras in other cities? What would it mean to the city, and what would it mean to you, if the BSO weren’t a 52-week orchestra?
Joining Tom to discuss the road ahead for the BSO are Fred Bronstein, the Dean of the Peabody Institute, and Tim Smith, the former classical music critic for the Baltimore Sun.
Today's Midday on Music conversations are being live-streamed on WYPR's Facebook page. You can watch the video here.