The Strathmore ticket sellers, who have been working without a contract for almost two years, voted unanimously last month to authorize a strike, officials said.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is a founding partner of Strathmore, where it has performed since it opened in 2005. It bills itself as the nation’s first orchestra that performs full seasons of classical and pops concerts in two metropolitan areas. Strathmore typically hosts about 400 events annually in its three venues, although like most performing arts venues, it has been mostly dark because of covid-19. CBS Baltimore first reported the BSO’s decision to move the concerts from Strathmore’s 1,976-seat hall.
“We are committed to continuing collaborative conversations with Strathmore and look forward to returning to our second home once an agreement has been reached,” Robles said in a statement Thursday.
While the license agreement is not directly connected to the settlement of the ticket sellers’ contract, the two are intertwined, Robles explained. The orchestra reserves its dates two years in advance and signs an annual agreement that spells out the financial and legal terms for each season, she said.
“We do not wish to put our musicians and crew in a position of deciding whether to cross a picket line, nor can we enter in a revised license agreement that inserts new language and places the full financial burden of concert cancellations directly resulting from potential strike action by Strathmore’s bargained units on the BSO’s shoulders,” Robles said in an email.
But Strathmore CEO Monica Hazangeles says the venue has not added language to its agreement.
“We have asked for nothing in the one-year license agreement that is not contained in the multiyear memorandum of agreement already in place between us,” she said.
Violinist Randall Goosby is set to perform with the BSO on Sept. 25 and Sept. 26 (the first of those shows was originally scheduled for the Strathmore; both will now be at the 2,443-seat Meyerhoff) in a program of works by Bruch and Sibelius. The Oct. 2 concert, titled “Recovered Voices,” features a work by African American composer William Levi Dawson and a symphonic poem composed by Alexander von Zemlinsky. Patrons with tickets to the relocated Strathmore concerts can transfer them to a Meyerhoff event, exchange them for a future concert, receive a credit or request a refund.
The orchestra is also scheduled to perform at Strathmore on Oct. 10 with the Imani Winds and again on Oct. 14 in a tribute to John Williams. The BSO has not made a decision about the dates after Oct. 2, a spokeswoman said.
Brian Prechtl, chairman of the BSO’s Players’ Committee, declined to comment.
Strathmore’s Hazangeles said the venue is working hard to get back to business.
“We are ready to welcome the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra back as soon as they are ready,” Hazangeles said. “We want our hall to be as full as possible. We are hoping they can return.”
Hazangeles declined to discuss ongoing discussions with the union to respect the private nature of the talks. But in an update posted to its website last month, Strathmore said it is seeking an agreement that maintains current wages and benefits but that will provide the venue with more flexibility in scheduling. In addition, Strathmore is considering the use of electronic kiosks that would provide patrons with a contactless option for obtaining tickets.
“We are working to arrive at an agreement that works for everyone,” she said.
The ticket sellers welcome the orchestra’s decision not to perform at Strathmore.
“It is a tremendous sign of support and we are extremely grateful to them for supporting us and their unionized employees,” Anne Vantine, business agent for Local 868, said. “Everyone, especially the BSO, has hope that somehow we can reach a fair agreement. The BSO wants to perform there, and we want them to perform there.”
The union claims Strathmore has used the pandemic as an excuse to make permanent cuts. The union has protested outside the venue multiple times since last fall. The next protest is set for Wednesday.
The ticket sellers have been prepared to provide relief to the venue as it endures the financial hit of the pandemic, but those cuts should end with the crisis, Vantine said.
“What we’re trying to do is save jobs. They are looking to eliminate all full-time positions,” Vantine said, adding that the venue has said it has made its final offer.
“We know what the pandemic has done, and we are willing to look at measures that would help them on a temporary basis,” she said. “I am hoping the BSO will help push Strathmore to come back and sit at the table with us. We are hopeful to have this over. It has been a two-year battle that is unnecessary.”
Michael Andor Brodeur contributed to this story.