July 24, 2019

Enlightenment, confusion, and "doublespeak": or, What happens to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in September?

So, in a recent Baltimore Sun article, current President and CEO Peter Kjome has asserted that management "plans to welcome the players back to work on September 9 and to pay them the wages they received under their most recent collective bargaining agreement, which expired in January 2019."

First, let's be clear:   in case you haven't been paying attention, the "most recent collective bargaining agreement" actually expired on September 9, 2018 and was extended retroactively, that extension ending on January 15, 2019.

Second, yet equally as important:    a few weeks ago, Mr. Kjome shared a vague statement that was basically torched by two people with a depth of experience in nonprofit arts management, orchestral governance and orchestral work conflicts.

In a Baltimore Sun article published on June 27, 2019, Mr. Kjome is quoted as saying that "If an agreement has not been reached by Sunday, September 8, 2019, the BSO will terminate the lockout on Monday, September 9, 2019.  Work will be provided to bargaining unit employees beginning on that date."

"BSO offers musicia
ns health insurance extension amid contract dispute"

Mixed with other articles, here are the responses to the current President and CEO's statement about "work being offered":

"Or Its Accredited Successor" (Mask of the Flower Prince)

"The Baltimore Symphony:  Burning Gifts and Burning GIFs" (Song of the Lark)

(Side note:   how fascinating to see that despite former Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson's assertion that "blogs are senseless and must be ignored", the blog entries shared were followed by immediate "message changes", including the current BSO President and CEO asserting that management "plans to welcome the players back to work on September 9 and to pay them the wages they receives under their most recent collective bargaining agreement, which expired in January.") 

While Mr. Kjome's words about the end of this "lockout" could be seen as heartening, we must take a moment to look at both language ("rhetoric") and reality.

"If an agreement has not been reached"....folks, that's not how contract negotiations play out when the employees are represented by a union.   We'll come back to this, though, as today's news again contained both clues to the future, yet another baffling statement from the current Baltimore Symphony Orchestra President and CEO, and a bit of clarity from Mary Plaine, current Secretary/Treasurer of Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians.

On Monday, July 22, 2019, an article published in the Baltimore Sun chronicled changes both in the date of the annual Baltimore Symphony gala and the scheduled performer.

"Citing labor dispute, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra postpones fundraising gala; Renee Fleming won't appear" (Baltimore Sun, July 22, 2019)

THAT I shall leave for you to read on your own.   However, to cite a parallel it is necessary to revisit October 2010 and the early weeks of the Detroit Symphony strike (October 4, 2010-April 3, 2011).

From The Strad: "[Violinist Sarah] Chang had been due to perform as soloist with the orchestra in its season-opening concert.   But after the players began strike action on 4 October, it was announced that she would instead perform a recital programme.   DSO musicians, who are fighting against salary and benefit cuts (sound familiar?), wrote to Chang, pleading with her not to cross the picket line and perform.   The chairman of f the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents 4,200 orchestral players in the US, did the same.   Strongly worded messages were also sent to her fan-created Facebook page.

"Explaining her decision to withdraw from the recital, Chang said in a statement:   'My original intention to bring music to the community has been derailed and I have been unwillingly drawn into an inner dispute that does not appropriately involve me'."

Violinist Sarah Chang pulls out of Detroit recital (The Strad, October 9, 2010)

Regarding the delayed-yet-upcoming Baltimore Symphony gala:  "The gala is the orchestra's biggest fundraiser and includes a black-tie dinner, a concert at which tickers are sold for premium prices and a post-concert reception.   The previously-announced headlines, opera singer Renee Fleming, is unavailable in May, according to the release.  Instead, the violinist Itzhak Perlman will be the gala's star guest artist."

So:    a decision was made to postpone a gala for eight months.   According to a comment posted at Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc, gala invitations were mailed out within the past two weeks, and notifications of the rescheduling and new guest artist were sent via email.

The recent Baltimore Sun article also shares the "new" plans for the season opening, plans that were also shared in the Baltimore Business Journal:   "In place of the gala, the orchestra plans to host a free season preview concert on September 14 at 8pm at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall".

"BSO reschedules gala to 2020 amid contract dispute"(Baltimore Business Journal, July 22, 2019)

Of course, one cannot ignore the current BSO President and CEO's inexplicably upbeat tone in the Baltimore Sun:  "He said in the release that he is 'grateful' to those who have already promised donations to the gala and added that he looks forward 'to expressing our gratitude to our community by launching our new season with free concerts featuring out extraordinary musicians'."

SO, to summarize:

1.   Gala invitations were printed and mailed despite the fact that the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony have been locked out by their executive management and Board of Directors since June 17, 2019 (For the record, this has gone on now for thirty-nine days.   While "summer vacation" may make this not seem real, just wait until the 2019-20 concert seasons starts)

2.   Approximately eight days after invitations were mailed, an email was drafted and sent.   In that email, the contract dispute is shared as the reason that the gala has been postponed until May 9, 2020.   Due to scheduling, Renee Fleming is not available as previously announced, and Itzhak Perlman has been secured as the headliner.  

Please understand that this date is near the END of the proposed 2019-20 season, and while the current President and CEO insists that this eight-month delay will not affect the organization's bottom line, this rescheduled gala also takes place less than three months after most arts organizations announce their upcoming concert seasons (case in point:   the Baltimore Symphony's 2019-20 concert season was announced on February 22, 2019).    Concert seasons are announced in late winter-early spring so that subscriptions can be sold and revenue generated.

3.   Over the past thirty-nine days, the current Baltimore Symphony President and CEO has made continuously changing statements about the duration of this lockout:

- "If an agreement has not been reached by Sunday, September 8, 2019, the BSO will terminate the lockout on Monday, September 9, 2019.   Work will be provided to bargaining unit employees beginning on that date."

And HERE's where we go to the quote from Mary Plaine.   Remember, Ms. Plaine is the current Secretary/Treasurer of Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians. 

Ms. Plaine was quoted in yesterday's Baltimore Sun article:   "We certainly understand management's decision to postpone the gala....They keep telling the public the orchestra is coming back to work on September 9.  But, I don't believe the orchestra will go back to work until they have a ratified contract.  That's the way to hold the gala in September - end the lockout."

"But WAIT:, someone said:   "Didn't the current President and CEO say that the lockout would end whether or not an agreement was reached?"

Yes, he did - but that's NOT how strikes and lockouts end, people.

During work conflicts (strikes and lockouts), contracts have to go through a RATIFICATION process, and the collective bargaining agreement ratification process is both beautifully and clearly explained via this document which was published by (of all organizations) the permanently threatened National Endowment for the Arts.

Collective Bargaining:   What It Is and How It Works

Forgive me for speaking "South Carolinian", but here's the deal, y'all:   As the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony are represented by Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians, any contract dealings that they have with the Board of Directors and Executive Management of the Baltimore Symphony are negotiated through what is known as COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, "Collective bargaining—a mutual exchange of positions followed by agreement—enables a group of employees with a 'community of interest' to negotiate a binding written contract with an employer. It gives workers a voice in their workplace and has become a respected approach, valued by employees and employers in the private sector and throughout various levels of government."

I shall not go into the step-by-step of collective bargaining here:   as the kids say, "reading is fundamental".    Everything that you need to know is contained in this NEA document.   I shall simply go to THE QUESTION:

HOW, in light of locking out your musicians, which was followed by cancelling benefits, which was followed (due to public outrage) by reinstating health insurance (which expires on September 1, 2019 - and this does not take into account the cancellation of other benefits), does the Board of Directors and Executive Management of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plan to have the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra "come back to work" in September under the provisions of a previously expired contract (which was a fifty-two week employment contract) while continuing to lobby both the state government and the public to accept the "necessity" of a twelve-week contract reduction which equals a 16.6 percent pay cut, with reductions in health care benefits making executive management's proposal equal a 26.8 percent cut for a single person and 28 percent for someone with family insurance?
While I COULD speculate, I choose not to....but stay tuned...

June 18, 2019

"We want...Information"....

Since there may be "too much news" with which to keep up, here are the pertinent articles (from both sides) that have been published within the last forty-eight hours. 

June 18, 2019
- Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, musicians endure first work stoppage in 31 years.   But they're still talking.

June 17, 2019
- Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians officially locked out

- Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians protest Meyerhoff Symphony Hall lockout

- Fault poor endowment decisions, not musicians, for BSO's woes

- Many American orchestras have emerged stronger from lockouts and strikes; the BSO can too

- BSO leadrship decisions damage symphony

- BSO board members:    Responsible decisions will save the symphony

From Emily Hogstad:

"Friends, please stay up to date on this situation! The Baltimore Symphony Musicians’ website is here. The Save Our BSO audience advocacy group website is here. From there you can follow those groups on social media.
"If you feel moved, please support transparent governance however you can, whether by reading articles online about the dispute (this helps show the press that people care!), or by liking and sharing social media posts, or by donating money, or by sending letters or emails of support, or by considering doing whatever else these groups suggest the public do. Those are the best ways to help right now. And good thoughts and a few prayers wouldn’t go amiss, either.
"Signing off with the hope that American orchestral governance as a whole improves, and soon. There are so many smart, creative people in this field. I hope we can build a future where we can avoid these heartwrenching situations entirely."


June 17, 2019

LOCKOUT...or Here we are....

...and here we are, in Baltimore.     Today, which included the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's final performance of "West Side Story" with the movie, the Baltimore Symphony Musicians went to Facebook and posted photos of musicians clearing out their lockers

Additionally, the upper management and Board of Directors of the Baltimore Symphony issued a press statement:  "The Board of Directors of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra approved a lockout of the organization's musicians, Local 40-543, if an agreement between the musicians and management was not reached by the end of the regular subscription season.   With no agreement reached, the lockout will go into effect on Monday, June 17, 2019."

LOCKOUT.    In case you're curious, here's the definition: "A lockout is a temporary work stoppage or denial of employment initiated by the management of a company during a labor dispute.  That is different from a strike in which employees refuse to work.  It is usually implemented by simply refusing to admit employees onto company premise and may include change locks and hiring security guards for the premises.   Other implementations include  a fine for showing up or a simple refusal of clocking in on the time clock.   It is therefore referred to as the antithesis of strike."

Taking this to "everyman terms":    the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are allowed to file for unemployment benefits through the state of Maryland.   Had they made a decision to strike, they would not be able to file for unemployment benefits.

That fact, however, is not what this is about.

Regarding the Baltimore lockout: In recent days, friends and colleagues have asked "How does this affect you?" Here are my answers.

First, I am a freelance musician living in the city of Baltimore, and my work includes both performing and teaching in Baltimore, Washington DC, and Philadelphia (and, when I'm lucky, New York City). This is a region overflowing with extremely hard-working and well-equipped musicians, which already means that one has to be incredibly diligent not only in the maintenance of one's playing ability but equally so in building and maintaining relationships throughout the field. Should this lockout continue past September, a shift in the workload of regional freelance musicians will undoubtedly take place.

Second, and this is important: over the past ten years the city of Baltimore has suffered the loss of two performing organizations (the Baltimore Opera and Concert Artists of Baltimore) and, as with any disruption, the destinies of those affected by those losses is still unfolding just as they are for those who were victims of the 2003 Florida Philharmonic bankruptcy.

Third: not only have I been both fascinated and captivated by "large changes" for my entire life (with memories of post-Vietnam War "boat people", the Mariel boatlif and the Polish "Solidarity Movement" being a part of childhood while the Movement for Black Lives, and the still-unfolding post-Hurricane Katrina diaspora are "real-time"), but my first visceral memory of a work-stoppage stems from 1998 when, after having spent a summer with the National Repertory Orchestra, I went back to Houston (in May 1998, I completed the Master of Music at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music) to begin my life as a post-graduate freelancer. During that time, the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony were locked out by their management, and I met a violist affected by that lockout while playing services with the Symphony of Southeast Texas (its home being Beaumont, Texas - which is a FOUR HOUR DRIVE east of San Antonio and at that time rehearsed at night).

Fourth: In addition to both playing and teaching the violin, I am a published writer whose work has appeared in Strings Magazine, the San Jose Chamber Orchestra's "Other Notes" column, Nigel Kennedy Online, and still fairly regularly at online industry magazine Violinist.com (and that sharing of my credentials is not about my self-esteem).

While "diaspora" may seem to be a peculiar word choice when speaking about orchestral work conflicts, it does seem appropriate considering the decisions that members of orchestras make during turbulent and uncertain times.

Stay tuned...and if you don't get it or choose to turn a blind eye to it, "I can't help you"....

June 3, 2019

"The King is Half-Undressed...."

...and here we are.

On Saturday, June 1, 2019, I had the pleasure of attending a concert presented by the Congressional Chorus of DC.  This concert, titled "Let Justice Roll", was a precursor to the chorus' upcoming tour and included the second Washington DC performance of And They Lynched Him On A Tree, the profoundly compelling oratorio written by William Grant Still that was premiered in 1940 by the New York Philharmonic.    This work had its second performance at Howard University six months after the premiere, and sat on the shelves for decades - but that's another discussion for another time.

Having played in the chamber ensemble that accompanies the Congressional Chorus, I have to say that it was even more inspiring to watch this ensemble as an audience member.    Artistic Director and Conductor David Simmons is truly amazing as he gives so much thought to programming.

While I asked myself why, as a forty-eight year old African-American, that I was hearing this work for the first time, I found myself putting that discussion aside as I was unable to shake recent developments in our region.

In case you haven't been paying attention (which, considering that friends and colleagues of mine from both Atlanta and Washington DC have asked me about this):  on Thursday, May 30, 2019, Baltimore Symphony CEO Peter Kjome announced not only the cancellation of the recently planned Baltimore Symphony summer season, but also that the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra would be paid through June 16, 2019 in efforts desperately needed to "ensure both a sustainable model and a sustainable future for the organization".

These measures, according to press releases, include the commitment from upper management and the Board of Directors to explore cost-cutting measures that include reducing the BSO's concert season to a 40-week season (instead of the major orchestra 52-week season).  

While I COULD go down the rabbit hole of talking about how this "went down" (which includes the fact that some musicians heard about this draconian measure via social media), I shall not.    What I would like to do over the next few weeks, is explore.  That exploration is based on the fact that on November 6, 2018, Baltimore Symphony CEO Peter Kjome asserted that "There have been discussions about season length for many years."


In January, I posed a question:     if it is true that "there have been discussions about season length for many years", why does it seem that the public is hearing about this discussion point for the first time?

Through some research, I did find that this sentiment has been true for quite some time.   In a 2006 "exit interview" with Yuri Termikanov that was published in the Washington Post, it is stated that "Management has refused to rule out either downsizing the orchestra or reducing its status as a full-time, 52-weeks-a-year organization."

"Maestro Stepping Down on a Melancholy Note"
Washington Post - May 27, 2006

So, here's my question:   if current CEO Peter Kjome asserts that this discussion has gone on for a while, and as there is documented proof that this season-shortening discussion has taken place since 2006, who are the key players in upper administration/board governance who have had this thought, and what made them think that the hiring of a new CEO (that being Peter Kjome) who has (not saying that he's not up to the job) less experience as an arts administrator than Paul Meecham, provided the moment to push enough money/political power/social capital to push this agenda and make everyone else fall in line?

Stay tuned...

"The King is Half-Undressed"

March 17, 2019

H. Leslie Adams, or "New Ears"....and Lightning in a Bottle

So...what a weekend of music and musicmaking, and again I am grateful to have had the opportunity to support colleagues and friends as an audience member.

The first, soprano Alexandria Bradshaw Critchlow's senior recital.    Alexandria and I first met at the Colour of Music Festival in 2016, and since have had opportunities to work together, two of those opportunities including the performance of works by Jasmine Barnes.    Well, on Friday, Alexandria presented a compelling recital that included "Creole Girl", a fascinating song by H. Leslie Adams (b. 1932) in which questions are asked about the subject's multiculturalism (this "Creole Girl" being of French, Spanish, and African ancestry).

Alexandria also sang - in addition to works by Scarlatti, Brahms, Gounod, and Schubert - Jasmine's compelling arrangement of "Give Me Jesus".    If you have not heard of these phenomenal women, stay tuned - YOU WILL.

The next night, I had the pleasure of hearing Kenneth Overton, Chauncey Packer, Lucia Bradford, and Marsha Thompson as soloists in a performance of the Mozart Requiem at Washington DC's
Duke Ellington School for the Arts.   If Mozart were alive, I trust that he would have referred to this collection of vocalists as his "dream team" for this work - and I'm not simply saying that because I know all of these folk.   This performance was the real-life definition of "lightning in a bottle"!

In an interview with Peter Lindbergh included in Peter Lindbergh:   Selected Work 1996-1998 (Assouline Press), Antonio Ria asks Lindbergh about the evolution of working relationships.   

Mr. Lindbergh answered:  "I first photographed Isabella Rosellini in Paris fifteen years ago, maybe more, and we still to continue to work together....I am used to long-term relationships, even very long ones.  I have been photographing Naomi (Campbell) for ten years, Linda Evangelista for twelve years....These are very personal relations and friendships.  They are never based on public relations.  That would be something totally unacceptable to me."

Having met each of these amazing human beings and vocalists separately (Marsha in 1994, albeit briefly; Chauncey in 2001 at the Utah Festival Opera; Lucia in 2000 at Spoleto Festival USA and Kenneth in 2004 with the Houston Ebony Opera Guild - only to hear him give his 100th performance as Porgy in a Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre performance of Porgy and Bess),  having watched their collective evolution as artists and to see them all together on stage was meaningful in ways that I cannot describe and I am both proud and humbled to call them all my friends.

BACK to H. Leslie Adams, though:    WOW!    A very interesting and captivating musical language this man has created, and after researching I have found that there are three works for violin and piano.  Additionally, how fortunate am I to have stumbled across performances of his Preludes for Piano that were recorded by a pianist and organist who currently lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (which is just up I-83)?

More from the road,

March 9, 2019

"La Da Dee..."

Considering what I'm seeing as I walk the streets of Philadelphia and Baltimore - as well as what I'm reading about Los Angels and San Francisco - perhaps it's time to revisit this tune and its message.

While walking to Philadelphia's Kimmel Center last summer, I stumbled upon the perfect "social commentary" photo.   However, out of respect for the man who would have been photographed, I did not take a photo.    After all, would any of us have liked to have been photographed sleeping on the sidewalk (what is called "sleeping rough") right outside of the Wells Fargo Tower?   I think not.

Meanwhile, if one goes just a few blocks south of where I live in Baltimore one shall find at least two people sleeping on a steam grate.   It keeps them warm...and I have written about this before.

February 1, 2019


The past eight months have been tremendously fruitful for Chicago Modern Orchestra Project founding director Renée Baker. In July 2018, Ms. Baker was one of three female African-American composers to participate in Magnetic Fields: Sonic Abstraction at the Museum of Fine Arts of St. Petersburg, Florida. It was also during the month of July that the first of her Baldwin Chronicles was presented to the world.

Described as “a multimedia work of operatic proportions based on texts by James Baldwin” by
Chicago's The Visualist, The Baldwin Chronicles: Negro Ideologies was presented in July 2018 and immediately considered for presentation at Symphony Center by the CSO African-American Network. “While I was initially approached by Symphony Center with an invitation to present Negro Ideologies, I made the choice to create a larger production to further explore James Baldwin's work,” Ms. Baker said during a telephone interview.

This new work, titled The Baldwin Chronicles: Midnight Ramble receives its world premiere in Buntrock Hall at Chicago's Symphony Center on Saturday, February 16, 2019 at 5:00pm. This is
Ms. Baker's third presentation as Visiting Resident Artist for the Chicago Symphony African-American Network (AAN) at Symphony Center since the successful presentation of Oscar Micheaux's silent movie Body and Soul in 2017 featuring Ms. Baker's vibrant score for jazz orchestra, which was followed by last year's screeing of the 1927 race film The Scar of Shame which also included a new version of the musical score.

The world “prolific” is used to describe those whose output in their chosen fields has been incredibly fruitful and productive. One can definitely include Renée Baker in this category, as she has composed over 2,000 works including symphonies, chamber music, ballets, film scores and operas. She has also published sixteen graphic novels and received commissions from the Chicago Sinfonietta, Joffrey Ballet, Berlin's International Brass, Chicago's Sheds Aquarium and Indiana University's Cinema and Black Film Center Archive. Blue Sonapoeme, Ms. Baker's first opera, was premiered in 2012 at Chicago's South Shore Jazz Festival, and subsequent works have been presented at both the INTUIT Museum the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Kulhspot (Berlin), and the Destijlik Museum in Zwolle, the Netherlands – thus making her the first African-American to have premiered a significant series of successful operas.

The task of delving deeply into the life and work of James Baldwin could be seen as daunting as he was one of the leading writers, intellectuals and activists of the twentieth century. His output, which included novels, essays, poems, articles and sermons, “serve to remind the American public of our full humanity,” Renée said. “James Baldwin was undoubtedly brilliant, but had he been a White man, there would have been a very different reaction and response to his work. Much of his thought process included finding his 'place', even with being a brilliant man of letters who was able to debate anyone.”

This 'finding of place' manifested itself in Baldwin's move to France from the United States at the age of twenty-four. Baldwin wrote about this move in the essay “The Discovery of What it Means to be an American”, describing the decision as the conscious removal of himself from American prejudice and to have his writing understood on its own merit.

Baldwin's decision to live in France, however, was neither an abandoning of the United States nor of himself. In 1957 he returned to the United States and became deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement (while personally eschewing the title of “Civil Rights activist”), his involvement and observation resulting in a series of articles and essays written between 1957 and 1963 about which Time Magazine said “there is not another writer who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South”.

The thoughts included in Baldwin's essays about race in the United States have maintained their relevance through the present day, and equally compelling are the profound, impossible-to-answer questions that appear throughout all of his work. Despite the relationship between James and his father being harsh, the experiences of religion and spirituality pervade Baldwin's writing, as do questions surrounding sexuality, color, relationships, and the sense of 'rootlessness' felt by African-Americans as described by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson who also experienced the racism and segregation of the early twentieth-century when true equality was just outside of the fingertips of millions of African-Americans.

After a profound exploration of and immersion into Baldwin's work, Renée chose the poem “Conundrum” as the centerpiece of Midnight Ramble. “Midnight ramble is a term once used to talk about late-night movies, Ms. Baker said. “In this context, I use the phrase to describe what had to be James Baldwin's thoughts in some of his darkest moments – dark illuminations inside the Black mind.” Included in the 2014 publication Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems, “Conundrum” confronts the question of acceptance. “How do you tell the difference between what's yours and what's not? Those questions are still faced today,” Ms Baker said. “Fortunately for us, Baldwin confronted these questions in an incredibly straightforward and succint manner.”

Threading ideas from essays, novels, the love letter, filmed debates and stitching images and feeling into music, Renée 's intention with The Baldwin Chronicles: Midnight Ramble is to “plant the listener and viewer into James Baldwin's imagination.” One manner of accomplishing this is the inclusion of the Keith Hampton Singers to signify Baldwin's constant return to the church and the ideals with which he was raised. In addition to the chorus, The Baldwin Chronicles: Midnight Ramble incorporates performing forces including eleven soloists and the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project. Ms. Baker's work as a modern artist and filmmaker is also included in this production, as all of the set pieces are original creations. Additionally, the set includes a twenty-four foot wide screen on which film, graphics and paintings will be projected including scenes from both New York and Paris in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Beauty and life for Baldwin stem from the precariousness of terror, the sublime moments of the blues, rhythm and stops of improvisation, and the simultaneity of Black life and life in America,” Renée said. “As a storyteller and intellectual, Baldwin occupies a position as a cultural icon and truth-teller for us all, and The Baldwin Chronicles: Midnight Ramble is a unique space for stitching together music and his poetic imagination.”

Renée Baker's The Baldwin Chronicles: Midnight Ramble is being produced by and presented at Symphony Center Chicago on Sunday, February 16, 2018 at 5:00pm. With music and libretto by Ms. Baker, the creative team includes concept direction by Bibiana Maite' and set design by Aghijana Daru. Performs include featured vocalists Dee Alexander, Rae-Myra Hilliard, Vickie Johnson, Sheila Jones, Robert Sims, Julian Otis, Cornelius Johnson, Taalib-Din Ziyad, Saalik Ziyad, Yoseph Henry and Jeffrey Burish; the Keith Hampton Singers, and the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project.
For tickets and more information, please visit https://cso.org/ticketsandevents/.

January 27, 2019

Resignation and Unintended Consequences

In case you haven't been paying attention, you should be.    As of January 15, 2019, the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony have been working without a contract as the four-month contract extension offered to them by BSO management has expired.      To be more specific, after playing without a contract since September 9, 2018, the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony agreed to a four-month extension of the previous contract on November 1, 2018 – meaning that the extension was taken with a retroactive start date.

As chronicled in the Baltimore Sun, the musicians took this contract extension after receiving a proposal from BSO management that can only be called shocking at best:    
-Baltimore Sun (November 2, 2018)

According to current Baltimore Symphony President and CEO Peter Kjome, this huge reduction of the symphony season is necessary, and both the reasons for this drastic proposal and some details look like this: 

"There have been discussions about season length for many years, and other major orchestras with shorter seasons maintain a high level of artistic accomplishment.   Of the 21 major orchestras across the country as defined by budget size, one-third have seasons less than 52 weeks....During negotiations on October 30 with the Musicians' Association, the BSO presented a proposal that included a reduction in season length.  During the summer, we have historically presented comparatively few concerts, and the summer season has not proven to be financially viable.   The proposed reduction of our season from 52 to 40 weeks is primarily through fewer paid weeks during the summer, including a reduction from nine weeks to four weeks of paid vacation.   Our proposal includes increasing the weekly base compensation of our musicians and holding auditions to fill open positions.  A comprehensive benefits package, including health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, long-term disability benefits and pension benefits, will be maintained." 
"A Message from Baltimore Symphony President and CEO Peter Kjome"

Before going on, I must ask:   if it is true that "there have been discussions about season length for many years", why does it seem that the public is hearing about this discussion point for the first time?  

In a press release dated November 1, 2018, the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony shared - very clearly - what the proposed "reduction" means in terms of salary and, concerning leadership, questions regarding previously made statements:

"The BSO management offered a proposal that entailed a radically reduced season, cutting the weeks of employment from 52 to 40, amounting to a 23% cut in work weeks.   The BSO has proposed eliminating its summer season, just one year after telling the Musicians at the bargaining table how important it is that the BSO remains one of this country's 52-week orchestras.    This offer would result in a minimum of a 17% cut in salary.   Other increased costs to Musicians in benefits and workload changes would bring the total cuts to 25% in real world value."

In this press statement, the Musicians also lay out a very clear picture of the BSO's financial picture from 2009 until now. 

"BSO Management Offers Drastic Cuts to Musicians"

As SO much written and shared from November until now, writing a synopsis would be an Olympian feat, but articles and updates can be found at the following sites:

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Musicians 

  • recent updates are chronicled on the home page, and recent press articles on the Recent News page

Save our BSO 

  • Through a search, one can find all of the articles, including editorial letters, that have been written regarding this contract impasse (included in the editorial letters are a significant number of letters in support of the Musicians)

While there has been a tremendous wellspring of support for the Musicians combined with significant opposition to BSO management's proposal - and what looks like "resignation" from Board Executive Committee member Terry Meyerhoff Rubenstein and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Endowment Trust Chairman Chris Bartlett - I find myself wondering if the current BSO Board of Directors and Management have really looked at what the "unintended consequences" of such drastic measures would be.

As another meeting between the BSO musicians and management is scheduled for January 29, 2019 according to Baltimore Business Journal,  we must applaud the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony as working without a contract in the middle of a concert season - acting in good faith that management will neither institute a lockout or violate contract terms - is more than noble.  

With that in mind, we also have to applaud Evan Tucker, who wrote a most insightful article recently published in the Baltimore Fishbowl.   In this article, Mr. Tucker does a brilliant job of putting this contract impasse in context, both regarding the recent decade's history of blistering orchestral work stoppages and postwar American industrial history.   Mr. Tucker goes so far as to ask THE question: 

"CEO Peter J. Kjome and board chair Barbara Bozzuto are the first orchestral bosses with the chutzpah to do what every orchestral board in a Rust Belt town has long wanted:   to gut the orchestra to shreds....What is the point of lending your names to an institution if you willfully preside over its decline?"

- Baltimore Fishbowl (January 23, 2019)

There are two very important figures in the world of arts management that have chronicled the result of continuous cuts, one of them being Michael Kaiser.  Current Chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland, Mr. Kaiser is known worldwide as the "turnaround specialist" due to his tremendous work in reviving the Royal Opera House (UK), American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Kansas City Ballet.   Most recently, Mr. Kaiser served as interim Executive Director of the San Antonio Symphony after its near-demise in January 2018 (which has been chronicled at The Rivard Report, a San Antonio nonprofit journal) and following resurrection.

Mr. Kaiser's 2008 book The Art of the Turnaround is now considered required reading for anyone interested in the long-term survival and growth of arts organizations of all sizes and types.    In this book, he shares his ideas about what organizations should focus upon during trying times, those things ranging from ensuring that public statements are unified to focusing on growth and revenue building instead of cuts.    Mr. Kaiser also wrote a blog at the Huffington Post, and in a 2008 entry titled "Arts in Crisis" he shares his thoughts on board decision-making in the face of economic challenges and makes the valid and argument that good work and aggressive marketing lead to success and growth.   In contrast, he also correctly asserts that organizations focusing on cuts to remain healthy set up a vicious cycle that results in loss of revenue leading to more cuts, the end result being that the "organization simply gets too small to matter."

- Huffington Post (July 30, 2009)

Drew McManus, arts consultant and author of the Adaptistration website (on which one can read archived columns about the Baltimore Symphony dating from 2004 to the present), has noted that a proposal similar to that facing the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony was ratified by the Saint Louis Symphony.   McManus shared that one of the unforeseen results of the season reduction in St. Louis was a huge loss of both financial and political support.  Furthermore - and similar to what we have witnessed in the aftermath of the 14-month-long Minnesota Orchestra lockout of 2012-2014 - "it took the introduction of a new CEO and new board commitment to reverse course before they [the Saint Louis Symphony] went down that path."

Indeed, after the cost-cutting season reduction engineered by President and Executive Director Randy Adams in 2001, another consequence of earlier cost-cutting measures was a two-month lockout in 2005, a vote of "no-confidence"against Mr. Adams after the musicians returned to the stage and, in June 2007,  Mr. Adams' resignation.    Fortunately for the St. Louis Symphony, their next President (Fred Bronstein, who has served as the Dean of Baltimore's Peabody Institute since 2014) launched an aggressive revenue plan with audience development, new programming and innovative marketing strategies at its core.   The results of Mr. Bronstein's initiatives include a 26 percent increase in philanthropic support and a 36 percent increase in ticket sales, a shining exception to the conventional wisdom that all orchestras are struggling due to aging audiences and declining ticket sales

Looking at the stellar track record of an internationally-recognized "turnaround specialist" 
(Mr. Kaiser) and Mr. Bronstein's successful initiatives in St. Louis (which, incidentally, is one of the orchestras that Mr. Kjome refers to when speaking of "other major orchestras with shorter seasons" that have maintained "a high level of artistic accomplishment"), I can only wonder what has led to the sense of resignation (meaning "the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable") pervading the management and board of directors of the Baltimore Symphony.  

This "We give up" position is at best disappointing, especially considering that the during the past ten years Baltimore's musical community has suffered two great losses, those being the 2009 bankruptcy of the Baltimore Opera and the June 2018 shutdown of the Concert Artists of Baltimore.    One would hope that those contemplating such a draconian decision would heed the ambitions and growth-oriented recommendations of Gregory Tucker, who served as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's vice president of public relations from 1997-2004 and a member of the Board of Directors from 2014-2018. 

- Washington Post (January 14, 2019)

So, as the clock ticks and as we stand in solidarity with the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony, let us hope that this impasse is resolved in a manner that truly protects both the BSO's current world-class status and the livelihood of our fellow citizens.  After resolution, however, let us hope that  innovative, ambitious and growth-oriented energy floods both the administrative and philanthropic corridors of the Baltimore Symphony so that the organization can continue to grow through the next century and beyond.   Should this not happen, I shudder at the consequences of what the enactment of a short-sighted proposal will bring.

December 19, 2018

"If language were liquid": Thoughts for a Board Chair

A huge blue sign outside of Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall says "There's so much to LOVE at the BSO!"   As a musician, I definitely agree.    While the Houston Symphony Orchestra was a huge part of my musical development during my studies at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra became a part of my life in 1997 while I attended the National Orchestral Institute, a three-week summer intensive held annually at the University of Maryland-College Park. 

In 2005, members of the Baltimore Symphony became a part of my life again as I came to Baltimore and performed with members of the orchestra for concerts given by the Baltimore Choral Arts Society during the two years following Hurricane Katrina.   From that time until now, which has included having audition coachings with members of the orchestra, attending symphonic and chamber orchestra concerts, and befriending members of the orchestra - it can undoubtedly be said that the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are both some of the finest musicians in our nation as well some of the most tremendously open-minded and compassionate humans that I have encountered.

With that, it is deeply disheartening to see that after two years of accepting one-year contracts, the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony are now working under a four-month extension of last season's contract (which expires on January 15, 2019) while engaging in negotiations with their management and Board of Directors who have proposed, among other things, reducing the length of the Baltimore Symphony season from 52 weeks to forty.  Such a move would result in base salary cuts of 16.6% (proposed cuts to health care benefits raise that amount to 26.8 percent for a single person) and the elimination of the orchestra's summer season

Readers of the Baltimore Sun have probably kept abreast of the situation via the many letters written both by supporters of the orchestra and members of the orchestra's Board of Directors.   One such letter came from Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Board Chairperson Barbara Bozzuto, and in her letter Ms. Bozzuto states some reasoning for such drastic measures:   "Orchestras of our budget size have been facing financial issues for some time.   Certain challenges pervade our entire industry:   changing demographics, varying media available to listen to music, local economics, time constraints of our audiences, aging subscribers and, in our city's case, a stubborn and persistent crime wave [italics mine]."

"A stubborn and persistent crime wave."   

Having lived in Baltimore full-time (after Katrina there was a lot of "wandering") for eight years now,  I have found myself concerned about issues that could prove Baltimore to be a "city in peril":  nevertheless, this language is deeply disturbing.

We who live in the the Baltimore-Washington megalopolis have seen organizations and citizens finding solutions to problems, including those centered around crime.    One of the most notable is the 2015 truce brokered between the Crips and Bloods in response to the death of Freddie Gray.

Going further:  in 2017, the Baltimore Ceasefire Movement was founded.   The goal has been simple ("Nobody kill anybody"), and the organization's activities have made a difference

Recently, Johns Hopkins president Ron Daniels met with Baltimore City Council to assert the need to establish a Johns Hopkins University police force (both Morgan State University and Coppin State University, also located in Baltimore, have their own police).    Daniels has also been speaking to community leaders about the necessity of a university police force, and those conversations have included the promise of assurance that the "new police force" would treat all people fairly ("this is not going to turn Hopkins or the neighborhoods around it into a militarized police state").    As he has listened to the concerns of community leaders, one must applaud Daniels for working with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD Baltimore)  and actually going into neighborhoods around the Johns Hopkins University Medical Campus in East Baltimore to speak with community residents.

Additionally, a group named the Baltimore City Schools Task Force was created.   This group was created to address assaults by students against teachers in the Baltimore City School District.

Less than fifty miles away from Baltimore, the historic African-American Alfred Street Baptist Church of Alexandira, Virginia received bomb threats.   In response, Alfred Street has instituted their "Easter Sunday" protocol which involves both heightened security and the total emptying of the building between services.  This has also included an increased presence of security officials and members of the Alexandria Police.

Why do I mention these examples?  Baltimore's Mount Vernon/Bolton Hill/Mount Royal region is a lively region, one filled with restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.  The Mount Vernon/Bolton Hill/Mount Royal area is also the home of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, Baltimore Center Stage, the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the University of Baltimore (which has its own police force), classical and jazz presenter An Die Musik and the small but relevant Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre.

Should the "stubborn and persistent crime wave" highlighted by Ms. Bozzuto have resulted in diminished concert attendance, would there have not been a consortium of institutional leaders convening to discuss this issue and work for mutually beneficial solutions that would include increased security at venues to ensure the safety of patrons?   

Organizational cooperation around shared civic concerns is not a trailblazing concept.   During the two years that I worked as Marketing Associate for Da Camera of Houston I became familiar with what many of us jokingly called the "Houston G-7".  This group was comprised of the executive directors of organizations including Da Camera of Houston, Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, the Alley Theatre and the Society for Performing Arts.     During those meetings, leaders met to discuss civic issues (including parking meter rate hikes) that would affect their audiences.

To my knowledge, a community-galvanizing step similar to those highlighted has not been initiated by the management and Board of Directors of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.   Had it been, we would have read about it in the Baltimore Sun just as we have recently read about the renewed efforts by Johns Hopkins University/Hospital to establish its own police force.   Therefore, we have to ask why a "stubborn and persistent crime wave" is used as one of the justifications to cut twelve weeks from an orchestra's season, particularly as Baltimore Symphony CEO and President Peter Kjome asserts that the proposed changes - which include the elimination of the orchestras's summer season - will not affect subscription series at either Meyerhoff Symphony Hall or the Music Center at Strathmore.

The answer to that question is a complex one; nevertheless, it must be said that the mention of a "stubborn and persistent crime wave" in Baltimore - a city which is 63.7% Black or African-American and in which 23.7% of the population lives below the poverty line according to the 2010 Census - is deeply disturbing and dangerous as it echoes the "Southern Strategy" of the 1950s and 1960s, a narrative used by Republican Party strategists to increase political support by appealing to racism against African-Americans and, in recent years, to criminalize poverty.

This tactic has been studied and is referred to as the use of "coded language", which is defined as "a subtle way members of the public, media, and politicians talk about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion" in the United States.  As no data has been shared to support the claim that a "crime wave" has had a negative effect on the Baltimore Symphony's bottom line, one has to question the inclusion of coded language in a statement written to support a structural proposal that will wreak havoc both on the institution and the city's musical community.

Stay tuned...

November 26, 2018

Nina Michailowna Beilina (1931-2018)

What a time, eh?   What a personal and meaningful time, definitely for me and I am sure even moreso for many others.

Just a few months ago, I had the immense pleasure of returning to Houston, Texas to participate in the Colour of Music Festival.  That week was definitely "old home week", as I reconnected with many friends, colleagues, and teachers including Kenneth Goldsmith (with whom I studied for three years) and Alan Austin, a man who does double duty as Professor of Baroque Violin and General and Artistic Director of the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival at the University of Houston.

Of course, during "old home week" it was so wonderful to spend a day with my teacher and his wife, first having a meal and talking about books and then watching him coach a group of chamber music students at the Shepherd School.     Additionally, Alan was working on the Fredell Lack archives - and both Alan and Mr. Goldsmith sent me home with truly priceless pedagogical material for which I shall always remain grateful.

Fortunately, Mr. Goldsmith is still with us, and I recently acquired a set of bowing etudes written by Henri Marteau that Mr. Goldsmith gave many students before me.    With thanks to Alan, I have many things from Ms. Lack's archives, including all of the Leopold Auer courses and Paul Rolland's "Basic Principles of Violin Playing".

Getting back to Ms. Beilina, though:   the memory of being an incredibly green, wide-eyed and naive fiddler from South Carolina who had been studying in Oklahoma, walking into an apartment building in New York City and being greeted with such grace by a stranger who said "Take your time, use this room (the warmup room) as your home" as she dealt with real life. 

(As an aside, let's think about that:   as we now find ourselves overwhelmed and dare I say both frustrated and angry about email culture, here was a woman who took the time to hear me and coach me while she was dealing with family and life-changing issues.    Shall we all buck up - YES!)

After about ninety minutes, she called me into the living room....

While life did take me to Houston after this venture into the world (and as I look back, I am reminded that "success lies in organization"), I have always wondered how life would have unfolded should the trip to New York had gone smoothly. It need be said, however, that the bumps in the road were totally MINE: Ms. Beilina was so tremendously organized around everything in her life, and that she took so much time with me makes the experience even so much more meaningful.

All of that aside, I shall never forget Ms. Beilina's kindness: "Think of this as your home," she said as she ushered me into a side room in her apartment to warm up for our trial lesson, later calling me to the living room about ninety minutes later for one of the most intense, insightful and meaningful lessons that I think I have ever had.

I have thought of her many times over the years, and while I did not have the opportunity to spend years with her, those two days in New York City definitely made an impact.

Thank you, Ms. Beilina. Rest now, deservedly.