Whither the Louisville Orchestra?

Image/still from "Music Makes a City" documentary about the Louisville Orchestra

Drew McManus has a good roundup of the current LO situation in his most recent post.  I really don’t have much to add except that given how closely I’d been following the situation I kinda saw this coming while I remained hopeful.  Drew also saw this coming: as an industry expert and consultant he’s seen this happen and saw all the checkpoints that lead to this destination.  His advice to the parties involved is in the post but I’ll post here for my reader’s convenience:

  • Managers & Staffers: get out of Dodge as fast as you can. There have been a number of very nice job openings posted at Adaptistration Jobs this past week; stop by and see if there’s one you’re qualified for.
  • Musicians: get out of Dodge as fast as you can. I know a number have already left for other work; some of which is orchestral playing but others have found academic positions.
  • CEO: save every penny, start planning for an employment transition, and take the first reasonable offer that comes along.
  • Board: unless staying in the fight offers some sort of side political benefit (in which case, I’m sorry), resign now and move on to a new philanthropic endeavor.
  • Patrons: buy a bottle (or twelve) of your favorite spirit, put on an old LO recording, and gently sob while lamenting the fact that you no longer have a professional symphonic orchestra.
I might disagree a little with Drew’s comment that “Neither side has displayed any real vision or leadership, which only reinforces the notion that having either side cave only prolongs the dysfunction” to an extent.  I thought the Keep Louisville Symphonic was a grand idea that, if it were allowed to, might have been a way actively involve the musicians in the LO organization in ways to help generate and maintain buzz about live Symphonic music.


In some ways I feel as if the musicians caved in too early with that organization (though technically it isn’t defunct organization by any means).  It could possible be part of the foundations of a new orchestra (or at be a part of the infrastructure that helps to create a new orchestra from these ashes).  What was difficult is that the organization was so clearly a plea to the LO as well as to patrons and that implicitly made it a threat to the LO organization itself (as one of the rejected contracts the LO gave to musicians in the past can attest).


Regardless, I think it might be best to cut the losses and move on with rebuilding an orchestra.  I think the musician owned Louisiana Phil might be an agreeable model for our musicians here!  Maybe what would have been the 75th anniversary (this past September) can now be the year of the new orchestra!


  1. I entered this comment at Drew’s blog a few minutes ago, where it is awaiting moderation:

    Drew, actually the two sides are not far apart. The long struggle has achieved one aim of the LOI – a number of LO members have fled. We (LO musicians) do not have enough power to fight for empty chairs, so a de-facto smaller orchestra already exists.

    Even though the LOI’s last proposal showed some real movement from them we had no choice but to reject it. Even if we could have been convinced to eliminate 21 jobs from the 71 in the previous agreement, including 12 musicians (nearly all strings) currently in the city, there were these added tidbits in the proposal: Withdrawal from the AFM pension fund (this would damage the AFM pension fund, make our pension no longer portable to another orchestra, and would be replaced by something the definition of which is still cloudy to me; and completely unnecessary work rule changes including fewer toilets for musicians at outdoor performances, increase in allowable temperature at outdoor performances up to nearly 100 degrees (come watch violin varnish melt!), earlier and later rehearsal times allowed (to get us caught in the massive snarls caused by the recent bridge closing?), etc. A musician friend of mine in another city told me that the term for this is a “f_ _ _-you offer,” one that the other side either hopes we will reject or wants to ram us us wiith whatever they can, if we at such a point we will take anything. I hope this is not the case, but what are we to think?

    The musicians’ counter-proposal would keep a nearly-full orchestra and would keep all LO musicians that are still in Louisville employed for VIRTUALLY THE SAME BOTTOM LINE as the management’s proposal – but was turned down by the management’s lawyer, in less than 15 minutes.

    This is not about money, it is about authority and submission.

    LOI is giving mixed signals now – in one interview late Tuesday, Birman said “It’s moving in the right direction. We need that movement to continue on both sides.”

    and a couple of hours later, in another interview, said:
    “[Birman] is not sure whether it would be wise to continue negotiating with the Louisville Federation of Musicians . … board members will determine [at the next meeting] how much more time, if any, should be given to continued negotiations. … [the board] meets twice a month … additional meetings are a possibility.”

    The LO will survive, but only if Louisville decides it actually wants an orchestra. The members have done all they can, short of cooking and eating each other on local TV – would THAT satisfy those who started this?

    Raymond Horton
    Bass Trombonist, Louisville Orchestra


    • Thanks for responding, Raymond

      I think Drew is just emphasizing the fact that it’s not just the economic factors here–but the totality of the bargaining process. Though the LOI and musicians migh have come closer, the quick refusal of, say, the LO musicians by LOI is a tacit acknowledgement that they will only accept their own proposal (at best). In the end, I think they (the LOI) are only interested in their offer, and none others–and that’s at best. I think, strangely, that LOI is much more interested in cutting their losses and figuring out a way to hire a new orchestra–the chapter 7 threat is probably more of a strongarm tactic meant to bully the musicians into accepting the offer.

      There may be enough support for having an LO–but without the actually monetary support, verbal acknowledgement isn’t going to help (much), I think.

      I guess the big question is, if Louisville does want an LO (or any full sized Symphony Orchestra) then under what terms would that need to exist?


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