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October 19, 2012

Baltimore Symphony faces deficit of $750,000 or more

After four years of balanced budgets, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is anticipating a deficit of between $750,000 and $800,000 from the last fiscal year.

The final figure will not be known until the official audit is completed later this fall.

“Obviously, we are not happy about this,” said Paul Meecham, the BSO’s president and CEO.

“Even with increased ticket revenue and cost-cutting last season, that was not enough to make up for softness in fundraising. And we are seeing more of these challenges as we move forward this season.”

The budget last year was $25.5 million; the current budget is about $26.5 million.

In an effort to avoid another deficit this season, trims to expenses will be made. Administrative staff will take a one-week furlough at the end of the calendar year.

One program has been changed; in March, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 will be substituted for ....

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, which would have required the hiring of extra players.

“We’re sorry that the staff is having a furlough imposed on them,” said violinist Gregory Mulligan, head of the players committee. “We’re disappointed at the deficit, but not surprised. If you look around the country, it seems that deficits seem to pop up when a contract with the musicians is about to run out.”

The current three-year contract at the BSO expires next September. Meecham said there were no plans to change conditions of that contract. The players have made concessions for several years to help the orchestra balance its books, accepting repeated pay freezes and cuts. Base pay was to have risen to about $90,000 this season, but that was scaled back to less than $70,000.

“Musicians’ salaries are less than they were in 2003,” Mulligan said. “But in the past 12 years, the budget has gone from $20 million to nearly $27 million. We are hoping that the organization is still committed to having a world-class orchestra in Baltimore.”

The separate board of directors that controls the orchestra’s endowment, currently valued at about $48 million, has offered to increase the annual draw from $2.5 million to $3 million if the BSO can match that extra $500,000 with new contributions.

A successful campaign to raise those matching funds, along with cost-cutting measures, “would get us to a balanced budget,” Meecham said. “I have measured confidence. We’re trying to be preventive so we don’t go back to the years of deficits the BSO once had.”

Among the factors putting pressure on the BSO’s finances are a $500,000 rise in pension obligations and a continued drop in government and corporate funding.

The BSO has been on generally firm financial footing since 2006, when its accumulated debt of more than $20 million was retired by using endowment money. Cash reserves, donations and revenue helped the organization avoid deficits in recent years.

Several orchestras around the country have experienced increased financial pressures, especially since the recession hit, and there is more talk in the industry about devising new business models.

A labor dispute at the Indianapolis Symphony ended this week after the musicians accepted a salary cut or more than 30 percent and a reduction of weeks of service; the orchestra will no longer operate year-round, as the BSO and about 15 others do.

Meecham said that no changes to the BSO’s 52-week status are anticipated but that “we have to look at all options.” A campaign to increase the endowment is in the discussion stage; a larger endowment would provide a cushion against declining revenue and contributions.


Posted by Tim Smith at 8:02 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes


Alsop has done a wonderful job integrating multiple performance arts into our symphony performances making them unique and stimulating a wide range of audiences. I hope that as government funding drops that foundation support won't force the symphony to more classical venues.

It would be useful to learn if the BSO concerts at Strthorne in Bethesda, which have eliminated many weekend concerts in Bmore, have generated black or red ink to the BSO overall. Anyone know?


If the BSO's budget has increased almost $7 million since 2003, but the musicians' salary has not, what is the BSO spending the extra $7 million on (you mentioned that $0.5 million extra is spent on pension obligations)?


Yes - a common theme in symphonies (and in youth orchestras as well) has been an explosion in management. Musicians are having their salaries cut, and positions cut back - but why the increase in management? The size of the symphony has stayed the same for a century. This is not a corporate model; management exists to promote the musicians. Management now seems to think of musicians as supporting the management. I would give more to the BSO if I knew I could give directly to the musicians.

Marin Alsop has done much to raise the artistic profile of the Baltimore Symphony and for that she should be roundly applauded. .She should be encouraged to focus her attention now on fundraising for the orchestra as a whole. She has been successful in soliciting contributions for very innovative projects such as OrchKids and the Rusty Musicians Academy. With her many national and international connections, I cannot help but think if she could be just as successful in increasing the endowment and annual contributions to the orchestra.

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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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