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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 Local News

After Hope for New Contract, Orchestra Plans to Hire Replacement Players

The process of replacing the Louisville Orchestra musicians has begun.

Orchestra management declared their intention to hire new players Monday, after yet another failed round of talks with the musicians.

The two sides were close. On Friday, orchestra management said the musicians had agreed to sign all the players who haven’t left town for other work, then cut the orchestra to 55 full-time musicians by 2013. But the musicians didn’t agree to that. They agreed to the concept of cutting the orchestra, but differed on how many players should be signed up front and how long it should take to make the cuts. They rejected the bulk of the management’s offer. Negotiating committee chair Kim Tichenor says there was hope the agreement on cuts could lead to more talks.

But the management says it’s finished compromising. The players can agree to the final offer, or they can leave their colleagues and sign on individually to the new ensemble the management plans on putting together—one with 50 members. In a letter, the board’s attorney says the offer for 55 players was “a stretch which was made in good faith to accomodate the efforts of the mediators to reach an agreement.”

“We had them so close, I think, last week, that both parties were close enough to reach out and finish it,” says Henri Mangeot, who has been mediating the talks. Mangeot adds that he doesn’t the an agreement on the principle of cutting players over time will help talks in the future.

Tichenor says she’s not sure the union can compromise any further, either.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Orchestra Extends “Final Offer” to Players While Opera Talks End

The Louisville Orchestra and the Kentucky Opera have each taken firm stands against the local musicians union.

Orchestra management has given the players what they call the final offer for a new contract. It calls for any musicians who are currently in Louisville to be signed to a new contract, with an agreement that enough players will quit or retire by 2013 for the orchestra to only have 55 members.

The management and musicians have spent the last year debating how many players were necessary for a financially sustainable and aesthetically successful orchestra. Last month, the management proposed a contract that would hire 54 musicians, then add one more in subsequent years. The musicians countered with an offer to sign 57 players and add three more in later seasons. They said the offer would allow all the musicians from the previous season who haven’t left town for other work to play for the orchestra.

The management rejected that offer, but has put forward a new proposal.

“We’ll take everybody who stands ready to work,” says Orchestra CEO Robert Birman. “We will take every musician who is here, but [the musicians] haven’t told us what that number is.”

However, the offer stipulates that the orchestra will shrink to 55 players by June 1, 2013 “through attrition and retirements,” according to Birman.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Audio: Musicians’ Negotiating Committee Chair Discusses Orchestra Impasse

The musicians of the Louisville Orchestra have turned down a contract offer put together by the mediator of the orchestra’s labor dispute. The offer fell between two previous proposals and called for the orchestra to be cut from 71 to 54 players, with one more to be added later.

Hours after the decision, orchestra management released a statement. It outlined the management’s previous offer, which was to have a 50 member orchestra for 30 weeks  in each season. It further mentioned both sides’ work with nationally-known consultant Ralph Craviso, who was hired with an anonymous grant secured by Mayor Greg Fischer. The statement concluded with:

“We appreciate the mediator’s work in attempting to help the parties reach an agreement, and the Orchestra thanks the Mayor for his efforts and resources devoted to assist in our process,” said [board chair Charles] Maisch. “This offer represents a cost limit that our board cannot agree to exceed.”

Maisch said the board now faces a challenging alternative to ensure the survival of the Louisville Orchestra.

But Henri Mangeot with the Louisville Labor Management Committee, who has been mediating the dispute, says talks will continue and Craviso remains involved.

“I don’t give up easily,” he told WFPL Thursday evening.

The musicians countered the management’s offer earlier this week with a plan that called for 57 players for a 30 week season at first, then an increase to 60 musicians for 33 weeks. The players say the plan would keep all of the musicians who have not left Louisville in search of other work.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Fischer Joins Talks as Orchestra Impasse Continues, Opera Performances in Question

The ongoing contract negotiations between the Louisville Orchestra musicians and management could affect other arts organizations.

Both sides are unable to come to an agreement on the size and season length of the orchestra. This week, all concerts were canceled for September and October.

That puts upcoming Kentucky Opera concerts in question. The opera performs with musicians from the orchestra and a spokeswoman says the company is working with the union to put together a temporary agreement for shows next month. General Director David Roth has promised there will be live performances in September. The Louisville Ballet is not affected. Directors decided earlier this year to use recorded music rather than live accompaniment.

If the impasse continues, even more orchestra performances will be affected. A 60-day advanced notice has to be given for cancellations.

“We’ll have to look at November concerts in early September. The deadline is sort of within a very short window in early September,” says orchestra CEO Rob Birman.

Both sides are in mediation and are meeting with Mayor Greg Fischer this week. Fischer met with management today and will meet with the players tomorrow afternoon. A spokesman says the mayor won’t comment on the labor talks until he’s heard from both sides.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Two Months of Orchestra Concerts Called Off

All Louisville Orchestra concerts scheduled for September and October have been canceled.

The season was set to begin September 10. But orchestra management sent out a notice of the cancellations Wednesday evening, citing an impasse with the musicians over a contract for the next season. The two sides are in mediation with the Louisville Labor Management Committee and will meet with Mayor Greg Fischer later this week to try to work out a deal.

“I think we’re on the verge of a collapse in our arts community,” says musicians committee chair Kim Tichenor. “As it is right now, the orchestra plays for the ballet and the opera. We have musicians who are leaving town and that affects the whole community.”

In the meantime, the national musicians union has effectively blocked any members from playing without a contract. Tichenor says the musicians have offered to simply extend their previous contract until a new deal could be reached, but the proposal was rejected.

In the statement announcing the cancellations, Orchestra CEO Rob Birman said the musicians turned down an offer to be paid their previous wages of $925 a week for the next season.

“That is a highly competitive wage for any professional musician in the United States,” he said.

But Tichenor says that’s misleading, as the length of the contracts would be altered as part of a tiered plan that hired musicians only for certain concerts

“People are being asked to go from 37 weeks down to 10 weeks. Some musicians are being asked to take that large of a pay cut. Going from $34,000 a year to $9,000 a year with a huge cut in benefits along to go with it is not a competitive wage.”

Not all musicians play in every concert and Birman previously told WFPL News the orchestra could not afford to pay all of the musicians for the entire season.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Judge Approves Orchestra Reorganization Plan

A federal judge has approved the Louisville Orchestra’s plan to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The ruling came this afternoon and caps a months long case that’s left the future of the ensemble in doubt. The plan calls for the orchestra to sustain itself through ticket sales, grants and donations and to begin repaying debts soon. Judge David Stosberg said the biggest advantage of the plan is that it relieves the orchestra of some $325,000 in debt.

But the management and musicians have still not come to an agreement about the next season. They remain in contract talks with the Louisville Labor Management Committee acting as mediators.

The season is set to begin on September 10th. Both sides say that’s enough time to work out a new deal.

“The only way to remedy this situation is for the Louisville Orchestra to make an offer of suitable work to the musicians. We stand ready, as always, to negotiate in good faith,” says musicians committee chair Kim Tichenor.

The musicians have previously rejected the management’s attempts to cut the number of full time players and the length of the season, which Orchestra CEO Rob Birman has said is necessary to remain solvent

But even if the scheduled concerts aren’t held, the orchestra can continue select operations.

“The orchestra has a whole array of programs and services that are not dependent upon the collective bargaining agreement: charitable gaming that we run 52 weeks a year; we have a multitude of adult education programs that don’t depend on the musicians’ involvement; we have a young artists’ competition through our ALO,” says Birman.

Before making his ruling, Stosberg heard from attorneys representing a musicians pension fund. They argued that if the season begins without a contract in place, the orchestra will owe $3 million to the fund. Stosberg did not agree with the arguments, but fund co-chair Ray Hair says if an agreement isn’t reached, the fund will explore its options for collecting the money. That could include filing suit in district court.

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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.

Audio MP3

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.