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January 19, 2011

Rebounding from deficit year, Baltimore Symphony announces balanced 2009-2010 budget

After posting a $5.6 million deficit for the 2008-2009 season, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced Wednesday that a balanced budget was achieved for the 2009-2010 season. That fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31, 2010, yielded an operating surplus of $4,116. This is the third balanced budget in the past four years.

"We're moving in a cautiously forward direction," said BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham. "It feels very different from last year."

Although there were sufficient cash reserves to cover the '08-'09 deficit, the challenges of balancing the '09-'10 budget during the lingering recession proved considerable. Cost-reduction measures were taken across the board.

The budget was reduced to

$24.3 million from $28.3 million the previous year.

BSO musicians volunteered $1 million in reduced pay and benefits and spearheaded a productive fundraising campaign called Music Matters. Music director Marin Alsop contributed $50,000 to that campaign and also donated back $100,000 in conducting fees. Administration staffers also absorbed cuts.

On the other side of the ledger during FY2010, the orchestra received more than 10,000 contributions, the highest number in BSO history, up from 7,000 four years earlier.

"The great thing is that the institution's infrastructure is now strong and sustainable," Alsop said. "This is not smoke and mirrors. There's a real investment in building the Baltimore Symphony so that the city can continue to have a great orchestra."

The BSO remains one of only 17 orchestras in the country with 52-week contracts for its players, but salaries for those players have been essentially stagnant for a decade. Each ratified contract containing pay increases had to be changed over the years due to budget constraints.

Getting to a point where musician salaries and benefits can be increased "is our goal, of course," Alsop said. "It's at the top of the list. It will probably be a slower path than we would wish for."

Violinist Greg Mulligan, head of the BSO players committee, said that the musicians are "very happy that the financial situation has stabilized. This is due to everyone's sacrifices, including Marin's, which we salute her for, and the sacrifices of the staff and the musicians. We hope that this will ensure that, in the future, we won't need to continue having pay cuts. We need now to refocus not just on maintaining, but improving, the artistic quality. It has got to be about the art." 

Meecham said the orchestra is “focusing very much on how we can grow our audiences and grow our endowment.” That endowment, now about $47 million (it reached a low of $33 million in 2009), is “one of the smaller endowments by major orchestra standards,” Meecham said. “We will be talking to consultants about how to mount an effective capital campaign.”


Posted by Tim Smith at 3:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes

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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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