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Arts and Humanities Local News

Orchestra Woes Continue, Both Sides Face Difficult Futures

Neither side has blinked in the Louisville Orchestra labor dispute, and both the management and the musicians are facing difficult futures and the potential end of the orchestra.

The management now plans to follow through on threats to go against union wishes and hire a 50-member replacement orchestra. Finding 50 talented nonunion players will be difficult, but Chicago-based arts consultant Drew McManus says it’s not impossible.

McManus, however, says sustaining such an ensemble will be difficult. Guest players and conductors will be hard to book and community support for a new, potentially amateur orchestra may wane. Noted musician and Chairman Emeritus of the International Conference of Symphony Robert Levine says the plan is doomed to fail. He writes that auditions for new players will be picketed by union members. Further, he says conductors and guest artists will be hard to find for an ensemble made up of players who are persona non grata in the eyes of the union.

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Arts and Humanities Here and Now Local News

Drew McManus on the Louisville Orchestra

Members of the Louisville Orchestra’s musicians union say they will reject the latest contract offer from the Orchestra. The Orchestra proposal, which outlines specific expectations for rehearsal and performance attendance, was delivered last week. It names tomorrow as the deadline for members to respond. If they don’t, the orchestra says it  “will be treated as a voluntary refusal to work and the Louisville Orchestra will take whatever steps are legally appropriate to fill your position.”

The Orchestra has filed for Chapter 11 and the musicians have been without a contract since the end of May. The Orchestra wants to cut the number of performances and the number of musicians to save money; the union opposes those changes. The contract dispute might require arbitration.

Drew McManus is a consultant who has worked with orchestras across the country. He talked to us today on Here & Now about what could be next for the Louisville Orchestra.

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Arts and Humanities In-Depth News Local News

Little Room for Compromise in Orchestra Contract Talks

The Louisville Orchestra’s contract with its musicians expired at midnight Wednesday. That means the players are not being paid, they do not have insurance and do not have any guarantee they’ll have jobs when the next season starts. There’s hope for a new contract, but amid contentious negotiations and ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, that hope is diminishing.

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Arts and Humanities In-Depth News Local News WFPL News Department Podcast

Louisville Orchestra Not Alone In Chapter 11 Filing

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.

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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.