Musical Chairs in Louisville Arts Music Culture 2011-2014

 Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Photo of orchestra at Mullins Hall.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Photo of orchestra at Mullins Hall.

As we approach the three year anniversary of the work stoppage of the Louisville Orchestra and as I’ve been doing a significant amount of research into the local Greater Louisville Music and Arts scene I’ve realized how interesting the past three years have been. I’ve constructed a short (and by no means complete) timeline of significant events within the that three plus year period starting with the Louisville Orchestra’s attempt to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection in December of ’10.






Notice how many changes happened during the period Louisville was without it’s premiere Orchestral Institution. By the end of the year of the work stoppage of the LO in May 31, two local community orchestras also underwent significant changes.  The Jewish Community Center Orchestra and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Orchestra both “dissolved” in 2011.

Within three months, the JCC Orchestra reformed as the Louisville Civic Orchestra under the auspices of Bellarmine University and by early 2012 the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary reformed as a musician run organization, the Louisville Philharmonia (otherwise known as “The Musician’s Orchestra”). I’ve heard various stories as to why the Jewish Community Center and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary revoked their sponsorship of their orchestras, but I haven’t confirmed anything (more due to lack of time than anything else) so won’t speculate.  The link for the Seminary Orchestra is to a member of the group and her blog about the change.

Also in 2011, the Louisville Bach Society, after 47 years closes its doors. This has only become more bittersweet as founder, Melvin Dickinson, passed away earlier this year. While I can’t say if the formation of the Louisville Chamber Choir had any direct relation to the dissolution of the Bach Society – especially given the span of time between the two organizations – the LCC was apparently making some appearances for some time before finally having their debut in February of 2013.

I’ve included the new music groups as it is interesting to have five form within such a short span of time.  Well, to be fair (and full disclosure), I’m involved with three of them having founded two myself.  But more on these in a later post.

As you can see, the Louisville Orchestra finally returned to the stage in 2012, and by that time the other two orchestras have settled back into some sense of normalcy (the Louisville Civic Orchestra eventually became the official university orchestra of Bellarmine University). Also note that after the dissolution of those two community orchestras, the Kentucky Opera, which normally uses Louisville Orchestra personnel ended up hiring a number of players from those groups as a “substitute” orchestra for their Merry Widow production in February of 2012.

It was a whirl wind of changes during those two to three years, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it given how much of it overlapped.  See, the thing is, the JCC Orchestra had practically been in existence since 1915-16 (depending on whom you ask) as the Young Hebrew Mens Association Orchestra (which initially fed into the Louisville Orchestra at its inception in 1937).  It was later renamed the Jewish Community Center Orchestra when the JCC was built in the late 60s.  While I’m not sure how long the Seminary Orchestra had been in existence, most of what I found says at least the 80s though this image implies it existed in some form as far back as 1932.

That two orchestral organizations with such a lengthy history folded at roughly the same time as the LO was undergoing difficult labor relations and a work stoppage is…curious. That the Louisville Bach Society, which also often hired LO musicians for their orchestra, also folded during this time is probably coincidental. But all four organizations within a six month period? That’s just bizarre!


  1. […] This example also highlights that while new firm formation can happen in the wake of the closing of a larger firm, often its the case that there’s simply unused resources (i.e. singers/musicians/staff/administrators) and unmet demand (Baltimore Opera audiences) which get reconstituted in different ways. With the formation of the Lyric Opera Baltimore, some of those resources shifted back to the new grand opera company. I mentioned that something like this happen right here in Louisville in the wake of the Louisville Orchestra labor dispute. […]


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