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.

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.

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.

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.

Arts and Humanities Local News

Birman, Musicians Discuss Orchestra’s Chapter 11 Filing

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