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!

What happened to the composers, anyway?

What happened to the composers, anyway?

I just read a strange piece at Cracked.com about Orchestras, 5 Bizarre Dark Sides to Modern Orchestras, which left a bit to be desired regarding some facts (what’s a third violin, anyway?  Viola?).  But some of the links posted in the piece were, in many ways, much more interesting than the article itself.

One in particular is a the annual report (1998) by Catherine Wichterman for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Orchestra Forum: A Discussion of Symphony Orchestras in the US, that talks about many issues regarding funding by the foundation to Orchestras.  Four issues in particular were discussed regarding institutional problems with Orchestras, and these were issues brought up during a forum in which mid-budget Orchestras ($844,000 to $21.4 million) were invited to participate in–the participants included administration, management as well as musical directors and musicians.

The agendas, as described in the piece, were as follows:

Each of the Forum meetings focused on issues that had been consistently raised in preliminary discussions and in proposals submitted by the 28 orchestras. The first meeting focused on leadership, decision-making, and collaborative cultures; the second on community relationships, education, and marketing; the third on composers, conductors, and repertoire; and the last on research, risk, and change. The agendas were consciously interdisciplinary, and a number of professionals from other fields were invited to contribute outside perspectives on the issues under discussion.

In particular, the section about Repertoire and Programming had some interesting tidbits about the role of composers in today’s Orchestras.  The opening paragraph to that section states:

Unlike theater and dance companies, orchestras have been largely unsuccessful in fostering the creation of new work and in involving creators in the artistic life of the institution. Composers today find much friendlier territory in dance, theater, and chamber music. [my emphasis] Many orchestra professionals blame composers themselves for their isolation. Others blame the academy, and still others blame broadcast media, recording companies, performers, conductors, and audiences. Most agree, however, that whatever the problems in contemporary composition, orchestras (which were once contemporary music ensembles) have neglected, perhaps even abdicated, their responsibility to create an environment in which new creative work flourishes.

The bolded section, in particular, got my attention as I recently got a gig composing music for an upcoming Commedia Beauregard Theatre production in Chicago and most of the music I’ve written has been for smaller ensembles (including some of my own) as well as specific works for dancers.  Basically all three areas in the bolded statement.  And in some ways, I’m not technically a ‘trained composer’ (sure, I’ve studied composition in music school, but my primary focus was always performance).

Continue reading “What happened to the composers, anyway?”

Latest Louisville Orchestra news and concert cancellations

I haven’t been posting as much about the Louisville Orchestra situation lately as I would like to have, but since the recent court ruling for the LO reorganization plan a few weeks ago so much has happened.  Rather than my own thoughts about the situation, I’ll post some links given insightful commentary by other folks who have been closely following the events.

Drew McManus – Expect Things To Get Worse In Louisville Before They Get Better

Drew has been posting quite a bit on this recently and rather than clog his blog with trackbacks from mine I suggest searching through recent posts about the Louisville Orchestra–well worth a read from this industry expert!

Robert Levine – Louisville CEO surprised that AFM will support picket line
and Louisville management arms Tsar Bomba

Lots of local press about this as well at WFPL.  Here are a couple recent piece by Gabe Bullard.

Gabe Bullard – “Unfair” Listing Won’t Change Orchestra Contract Talks as Season Approaches, Says Birman

and Union Puts Orchestra on “Unfair List”

You can also find many more recent pieces under the “Arts and Humanities” tag.

Continue reading “Latest Louisville Orchestra news and concert cancellations”

Certified Letter to Louisville Orchestra Musicians

This says it all:

Dear *********:

Our counsel was advised by counsel to the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, Local 11-637 and the Louisville Orchestra Musicians Committee that the Louisville Orchestra should contact you directly to confirm your willingness and commitment to appear for upcoming Orchestra performances and rehearsals.  That being the case, this letter is to confirm your willingness and commitment to perform at future Louisville Orchestra concerts and rehearsals, or your refusal to do so.

If you are willing and intend to accept the assignments listed below, and if you are selected for such assignment(s), you will be paid a pro-rated per-service rate based on the expired Collective Bargaining Agreement and you will be paid in accordance with the terms of the expired Agreement.  You will not, however, receive payment under a per-service model for any benefits under the expired Agreement, nor will benefit payments be made to any fund on your behalf.  Benefits will only be available through a ratified collective bargaining agreement.

Please indicate your willingness and commitment to participate in future Louisville Orchestra concerts and rehearsals by marking “Yes” or “No” beside each scheduled performance and rehearsal.  A “Yes” will indicate your willingness and commitment to work under the terms above.  A “No” will indicate your refusal to work.  Not marking either choice will be treated as a refusal to work.  [Then it lists the 159 services offered for next season.]

The Louisville Orchestra management, in consultation with the Music Director, will determine now many musicians will be selected.  If fewer musicians are selected than those who are willing to work, the final selection for employment will be based on the individual musician’s section seating order, consistent with the Orchestra’s etablished practice for performance assignments.

If you indicate a willingness to work and you are selected to perform, your failure to appear and perform will be treated as an abandonment of your employment, absent a prearranged approval with the Louisville Orchestra management excusing you from such obligation.  If you fail to indicate either “Yes” or “No” for any performance, that will be treated as a voluntary refusal to work.  In such event, the Louisville Orchestra will take whatever steps are legally appropriate to fill your position.  Similarly, if you indicate a refusal to appear and play the scheduled performance, the Louisville Orchestra will take whatever steps are legally appropriate to fill your position.

You must indicate your commitment as requested in this letter, execute and date the letter in the space provided below for your signature and return the executed letter to the Louisville Orchestra office no later than 5:00pm Wednesday, July 13, 2011.  Failure to return a copy of this letter with your commitments identified by this date will be treated as a voluntary refusal to work at the scheduled performances.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely yours,

Robert A. Birman

Chief Executive Officer

End note: Per Service Scale

Using an 8-service-count week as the standard, as defined in our expired Agreement, “per-service” base pay shall be $115.62.  We will apply standard “over-scale” percentages to the base pay for the following provisions only: “One on a Part” = $117.29; “Assistant Principal” = $123.93; and “Principal” = $137.21.  Senority pay will be prorated at 1/8 weekly scale as well.

Louisville Orchestra in Survival Mode

"Music Makes a City" documentary of the Louisville Orchestra in celebration of its 75 anniversary

One thing to keep in mind with these discussions of Orchestras (at least in the states) is that there is a definite separation between the Orchestra itself as an organization (e.g. Louisville Orchestra) and the musicians and their organizations that make up the heart of the Orchestra (e.g. Louisville Orchestra Musicians Association; Keep Louisville Symphonic).

As I’ve been posting in various places on the interwebs, Drew McManus (as usual) has a really great round-up of many of the articles and pieces regarding the latest LO news: http://www.adaptistration.com/2011/06/02/events-heat-up-in-louisville/

In particular some of us are very interested in the attempts of the LO to short circuit many initiatives and avenues for the musicians’ voices (see the discussion about the KLS clause in the comments section in particular).

But what was really interesting was a sindicated piece I read earlier today in the Taipei Times (from where I adapted the title to this blog post) titled, “City orchestras in survival mode: The instability of support from private sponsors and large corporations is forcing cultural institutions to return to the drawing board,” by Vivian Schweitzer.  The piece caught my attention in particular because it uses the Louisville Orchestra as a frame of reference for the discussion of what the “Chicken Little Think Tank” are calling the [Orchestral] Classical Music crisis.  In particular references to the fomation of the LO and its rise after the flood of ’37 into what was for many years a highly respected status internationally. 

All of this comes to us in the DVD documentary, Music Makes a City, which the piece references:

Music Makes a City, an engaging documentary from last year about the Louisville Orchestra that was just released on DVD, offers an inspiring and cautionary tale of creative chutzpah and financial mismanagement. The orchestra, which itself filed for bankruptcy in December, was founded shortly after the floods that crippled Louisville, Kentucky, in 1937.

It began as a ragtag ensemble that rehearsed, according to the film, “in a gloomy room that smelled of stale beer.” A young conductor, Robert Whitney, quickly drummed the ensemble into shape, but financial problems loomed from the start. Charles Farnsley, the mayor of Louisville from 1948 to 1953, suggested that the orchestra, instead of spending money on glamorous soloists, commission new pieces: a policy that the board, though initially shocked, adopted. The endeavor was facilitated in 1953 by a US$400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to commission and record 52 compositions a year for three years. The DVD features lively interviews with some of the composers chosen, including Elliott Carter.

This remarkable venture, which resulted in works by Lukas Foss, Paul Hindemith, Roy Harris, Gunther Schuller and many others, put Louisville and its orchestra on the international cultural map and attracted luminaries like Shostakovich and Martha Graham to visit the city. But that wasn’t enough to fend off the regular financial crises that have dogged the orchestra over the decades since, until its recent bankruptcy filing.

I don’t want to make this post commentary heavy, but did want to share the above quote for some historical context–do read the Taipei Times piece!

I also found a recent blog post by another local blogger and pianist at Behind a Box of Strings that’s worth a read: http://youresomodest.blogspot.com/2011/06/learning-from-history.html

And another WFPL piece that recently popped up titled Possiblilities for the Louisville Orchestra.

And here’s a trailer for Music Makes a City: