A Baltimore Symphony Musician’s Life in Limbo

Last summer’s lockout had immense consequences when we had to figure out how to make ends meet while unemployed for 14 weeks with little warning. The difficulties and uncertainty for all of us this past year are impossible to overstate. We spent most of the 2018-19 season knowing next summer was on the chopping block and while everyone dealt with the crisis differently some took extreme steps to weather the storm. As the year progressed the possibility of a lockout increased so I filled up my summer schedule with work elsewhere, let my apartment lease expire, and on May 27 moved into my aunt and uncle’s spare bedroom in Washington. Despite the passage of Maryland House Bill 1404, with $3.2 million for the BSO over the next 2 years, our worst fears were realized 3 days later on May 30 when the summer season was canceled.

When the lockout began everyone took work with other orchestras and festivals. Much of this was generously offered specifically to help us. Last summer I traveled over 20,000 miles to wherever there was employment. Even though I lived in DC all summer I spent less than a week total there and embarrassingly only 2 days on the picket line. In late July the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra offered me a 1-year contract for the 2019-20 season. The decision was easy but not fun. The BSO still is my permanent job and I’m grateful to call the BSO Musicians my colleagues and friends. I also have a lot of family nearby but there seemed no end to the lockout in sight at the time so I had no choice but to accept.

When the lockout ended I had been working in Cincinnati just under a month and many assumed I would return to Baltimore immediately, but I had to take a whole year’s leave from the BSO to accept the CSO position. While I’m grateful to spend this year with the CSO, especially after living here for 3 years during my undergraduate degree at U-Cincinnati, leaving my BSO colleagues during such a critical time weighs heavily on my conscience. Fortunately I’ve returned to play with the BSO twice during CSO vacation weeks with at least one more trip tentatively planned for the spring. I put on a BSO Musicians benefit recital in Cincinnati shortly after arriving and filled up my trips back to Baltimore with BSO Musicians concerts.

I won’t pretend to have suffered during the lockout. I’m single, debt-free, have no kids, and remained continuously employed while living rent-free until I moved to Cincinnati. For most of my colleagues last summer was a different story and barely a day goes by when I don’t think of them with admiration for their courage and resolve in the face of tremendous adversity. I wish I knew what the future holds but for myself and the BSO life remains in limbo. At the time of this writing I intend to return to the BSO in September 2020 but continue to help as much as possible in the interim. I know I am not alone and speak for all my colleagues to say how grateful we are to have so much support through this trying time as we work together to Save Our BSO.

Austin Larson is Acting Assistant Principal Horn in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for the 2019-20 season while on leave from his permanent position of Third Horn in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra