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March 26, 2009

Maryland Symphony Orchestra faces tough decisions

The chorus of musical organizations facing tough times in the weakened economy added a new voice Thursday, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra in Hagerstown.

This ensemble is a classic example of a regional orchestra, serving a broad community with remarkable quality, yet with modest resources (annual budget is about $1.3 million, compared to the Baltimore Symphony's $25 million or so). Here are key points from statements released by the MSO Thursday:

'The Maryland Symphony Orchestra is certainly not immune to the problems many of our counterparts are facing in this depressed economy,' says MSO Executive Director Andrew Kipe. 'These are very challenging times for the MSO. We are facing the largest deficit in our 27 year history. The board, staff and musicians are fully committed to working together and embracing the changes that will have to occur immediately and over the course of the next few years if the MSO is to continue to offer the same caliber of concerts and educational programs that have made the MSO so successful in the past.'

Ticket sales for the current season are down 8% from last year. The Orchestra’s largest single source of income is a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council that has been cut by 12.5% this fiscal year. Corporate underwriting is running below budget by nearly $73,000. The annual operating budget for the 2008-2009 Season is just under $1.3 million. Income from ticket sales generally covers about 29% of expenses. The remaining 71% comes from grants, corporate underwriting, individual donations and a draw from the MSO’s Endowment Fund ...

The single largest expense for the Orchestra is musician salaries and compensation. It is possible to cut expenses by performing different repertoire which uses fewer musicians and thereby lowering costs. However, the board of directors, in consultation with MSO management and Music Director Elizabeth Schulze chose to continue the current season as planned. 'We feel it is important to honor the contractual obligations we’ve made to our musicians and guest artists,' says Schulze. 'And, no less important is the commitment we’ve made to our subscribers and donors who have, in good faith, purchased season tickets or provided funds for specific concerts or educational programs.'

Some cost cutting issues have already been addressed and put into place. The MSO has restructured health benefits for full time staff with the employees incurring more of the costs. In addition, there have been some adjustments made to staff salaries. The Orchestra is currently in the midst of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with its musicians ...

Of particular concern is the MSO’s ability to continue to present the Annual Salute to Independence concert at the Antietam National Battlefield. Few people realize that the MSO solicits all the sponsorship needed to cover the entire cost of producing that event, including the fireworks. The direct costs alone average about $100,000 with an additional $87,000 need in in-kind donations from community partners such as the National Park Service. Securing the funds necessary to pay for this event becomes more difficult each year. The MSO simply is not in a position to continue the concert if sponsorships and government support do not cover the costs ...

In order to continue our current level of concerts and educational programs during this recession, the MSO has taken a hard look at all of our expenses. We have restructured health benefits for administrative staff with the employees paying a larger percentage of the costs and have made some reductions in staff salaries ...


Posted by Tim Smith at 5:28 PM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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