For months, the management of the financially struggling Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has tried to negotiate cutting the number of weeks it pays its musicians to 40 weeks from 52. And its players have resisted, arguing that such a move would weaken the quality of the ensemble.
On Thursday afternoon the orchestra’s management announced that it was unilaterally canceling its summer season — which was to have begun with a new music festival on June 19.
So the atmosphere was charged when the orchestra gathered in the evening to play their scheduled concert, Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto, at its hall in Baltimore.
As the concert began, Brian Prechtl, a percussionist who is one of the chairmen of the players’ committee, strode to the front of the stage and announced that the musicians had been shocked that afternoon to learn of the cancellation — and that they would not be paid after June 16. The audience responded with loud boos.
“We are stunned and grieve for our beloved B.S.O.,” Mr. Prechtl said. “We will be making music with even more passion and purpose tonight and for as long as our management keeps the lights on and the doors unlocked.”
Then the players performed an unscheduled selection: Elgar’s “Nimrod,” one of his “Enigma” variations, which orchestras have often performed to mark deaths or tragedies.
Their music director, Marin Alsop, conducted.
“The Baltimore Symphony is a truly great orchestra,” Ms. Alsop said in an email. “Our city deserves this wonderful asset and treasure and I hope for the best for both the B.S.O. and Baltimore.”
The orchestra’s management said that it needed to make the cuts to stay afloat, after repeatedly running deficits and incurring what it described as $16 million in losses over the last decade.
“These decisions were extremely difficult to make and were not entered into lightly, but they are the right ones if the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is going to continue to exist as a nationally renowned organization,” Peter Kjome, the orchestra’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “If the B.S.O. is going to survive, our business model needs to change, and that change begins in earnest today.”
The orchestra’s management said that it proposed cutting paid weeks mostly during the summer, and by reducing the musicians’ paid vacation to four weeks from nine weeks.
Mr. Prechtl said that he was puzzled that management would enact the cuts just after Maryland state lawmakers had approved $3.2 million in aid for the orchestra. He said that the musicians believed that the orchestra was effectively planning to lock them out.
The orchestra’s management noted that a number of large orchestras have cut weeks and said that they continued to uphold high standards. But Mr. Prechtl noted that the orchestra was holding auditions for several positions, and questioned whether it would still be able to attract top talent with a shorter season and all the strife.
The orchestra has undertaken a number of well-received tours in recent years and made a number of acclaimed recordings, including of the work of Leonard Bernstein: