UPDATE: Orchestra Musicians Say Contract Talks Continue, Opera Placed on Unfair List

by Gabe Bullard on October 22, 2011

The musicians of the Louisville Orchestra say they have not entirely agreed to a new contract proposal from orchestra management.

The latest offer from the management called for any players who remained in Louisville to be signed to a contract that would begin in January. However, the number of musicians would have to shrink to 55 by June 2013. The managent said if the musicians would not accept the offer, then permanent replacements would be sought.

The proposal prompted questions from the musicians who said they understood the threat of replacement, but needed more details about the offer for employment. After a day of meetings Friday, orchestra management released a statement saying the players had accepted the offer. Musicians did not return requests for comment, but negotiating committee chair Kim Tichenor told the Courier-Journal an agreement had not been reached, though the two sides could come to an agreement on some points.

Late Friday night, the musicians released a letter saying the Kentucky Opera—which shares some offices and resources with the orchestra—had been placed on the American Federation of Musicians’ “unfair list,” which the orchestra has been on for several weeks. AFM members who play for listed organizations face potentially career-ending fines and penalties.

The opera typically hires musicians from the Louisville Orchestra, but with no contract between the players and the orchestra in place, the opera was left to negotiate for players independently. One contract was signed. It was for last month’s performances of Carmen. The contract was essentially a smaller version of the musicians’ orchestra contract. Opera director David Roth says it cost the company $33,000 more than was budgeted. The players requested a similar deal for next month’s performances of the Marriage of Figaro, but the opera countered with an offer for a leaner per-performance contract.

This week, the opera rescinded the offer and said new musicians would be sought, or pianos would be used for accompaniment.

AFM International President Ray Hair told WFPL earlier this month that any unfair listing would come at the request of the musicians.

Requests for comment to orchestra and opera staff were not returned.

UPDATE: On Sunday evening, the Kentucky Opera released a statement from director David Roth:

This is not unexpected, nor will it change our plans for The Marriage of Figaro. We have built a brand new production to launch our four-year Mozart Cycle, and the artists arrive this weekend to begin rehearsals for the opera on Monday. I can assure everyone that no action by the AFM will prevent us from performing Mozart’s classic work in November. We will make every effort to create a spectacular experience for our patrons. Even if the union’s action forces KO to use only pianos and a harpsichord as the only available musical accompaniment, KO’s artists will not be prevented from presenting a memorable performance for our audiences in the intimacy of the Brown Theatre.”

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