The Louisville Orchestra will turn 75 next year. But the orchestra’s administrators and musicians will be more focused on staving off the ensemble’s death than celebrating its birth.
The orchestra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week as management seeks to cut 1.15 million dollars in operating costs. That’s the difference between the current budget and average yearly revenues. The musicians, however, disagree, and say the orchestra is not actually broke. They’re asking the court to throw the Chapter 11 filing out.
If the court upholds the filing, the orchestra will tentatively have until early April to draft a plan for reorganizing its finances. But that will require compromises with musicians and the court, and the path to solvency will likely be much longer.
Bankruptcy isn’t a new idea to the Louisville Orchestra—its leaders nearly declared it in 2006. And they wouldn’t have been alone. In recent years, ensembles in San Jose, San Antonio and Honolulu have all gone through bankruptcy proceedings.
Last month, reports from Hawaii said the Honolulu symphony was considering folding, rather than continuing to search for an agreement in court. Orchestras in California and Colorado have followed similar paths, though new ensembles were formed afterward in some cases.
The Charleston, South Carolina Symphony Orchestra stopped playing in March, but didn’t take the matter to court. Last week, the orchestra’s management and musicians reached an agreement to cut one million dollars from the budget through a series of steps, including dropping 12 full-time musicians from the ensemble.
“You have a core of musicians that are supplemented by extra players as needed. That’s a very common model,” says Louisville Orchestra CEO Rob Birman, who has discussed a 16-member reduction here. “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.”
But musicians’ committee chair Kim Tichenor says Louisville doesn’t need to cut…more money is out there.
“I think bankruptcy could have absolutely been prevented. The musicians came up with a fundraising plan back in September,” she says. “Unfortunately, our management refused to fundraise until we had taken pay cuts”
No matter what either says, the fact is that talks broke down. They will formally resume on January 6th with more parties involved. That’s when a judge will meet with the orchestra and its creditors, among them Louisville Public Media.
“There’ll be more information that’s presented, the judge usually considers what’s been put into place, he or she will assign a custodian to oversee the case and they’ll go through a fact-finding process,” says Drew McManus, a Chicago-based arts consultant who often works with orchestras.
McManus says January 6th will mark the start of what could be a year of bankruptcy proceedings, even though a reorganization plan is due in April.
“I would be surprised if they get a decision out of the court by the end of the season, in this case it would be June,” he says. “I think it would be more likely to expect it to last through next fall.”
The parties could also settle out of court and put an end to proceedings. In the meantime, musicians won’t be paid after December 15th, and that’s when performances will stop.