Birman, Musicians Discuss Orchestra’s Chapter 11 Filing

by Gabe Bullard on December 3, 2010

The Louisville Orchestra has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The organization is about 500 thousand dollars in debt and will not be able to meet its payroll for musicians beyond December 15th. Further, orchestra CEO Rob Birman says the ensemble must emerge from bankruptcy with a 5.75 million dollar annual budget. Its current budget is 6.9 million dollars.

The reorganization plan is due April 4th. Birman says he and other administrators will work with the court and musicians union to find a sustainable plan. He says that may include reducing the number of contracted musicians from 71 members to 55.

“You have a core of musicians that are supplemented by extra players as needed. That’s a very common model. What we’re seeking is nothing different than trying to be within the average of those orchestras in our budget class from across the country.”

Birman says the staff reduction has already been discussed. In the meantime, the administration has asked the court to grant a four-month break from paying musicians starting on the 15th in order to continue day-to-day operations. The musicians would not have to work during that time.

The performances of the Nutcracker that fall after the 15th will be set to recorded music. And unless an agreement between players and administrators is reached, the remainder of the orchestra’s season will not continue next year. But Birman says the bankruptcy declaration is not meant to intimidate the musicians.

“We’ve been very clear since July that if we can’t find an agreement, there will come a time where our resources will be depleted,” he says. “Bankruptcy isn’t a tactic, it’s a necessity in this case simply because the resources are running out.”

Kim Tichenor, the head of the Louisville Orchestra’s musicians committee says the bankruptcy filing was unnecessary. She says the musicians proposed new ways to raise money and bring the ensemble back to solvency, but they were rejected by the administration.

“Unfortunately, our management refused to fundraise until we had taken pay cuts,” she says. “It seems a very backwards strategy to me.”

Tichenor says an orchestra with 55 contracted players would not be successful.

The full interview with Birman and board of directors president Chuck Maisch:

Audio MP3

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