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"

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