Nixon goes to Louisville

The appointment of Ralph Craviso to mediate the Louisville Orchestra labor dispute has caused some head-scratching in the orchestra industry, a public example of which was Drew McManus’ post of a few days ago:

The only question in my mind upon hearing the news was “What, was Governor Scott Walker busy?”

Word on the street, which was verified via email by LO musician spokesperson Kim Tichenor, is the LO musicians signed off on bringing in Craviso which is perhaps the most puzzling aspect of this scenario.

Craviso has been a controversial figure in our field ever since he entered our field back in the mid-1990s. I’ve never heard a definitive version of how that came about, but it appears that he was trying to set up the management equivalent of the handful of union-side freelance negotiations – people like Phil Sipser, Len Leibowitz, Liza Medina and Susan Martin. For whatever reason, the focus of his activities changed and he has been only intermittently involved with orchestras over the past few years.

There is no question that Craviso is a management-side guy. Does that, by itself, make him an implausible choice to mediate a dispute like Louisville?

I don’t think so. Most labor mediators have a background of being an advocate for either the employer or employee side. Realistically, where else are such people to come from? It’s my understanding that most of the mediators that work for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service have such a background; that’s certainly the case with the ones I’ve worked with.

That’s not to say that Craviso will be an effective mediator in Louisville. That will depend on several factors, including how credible he will prove with both sides. The fact that both sides have accepted him does not, by itself, mean he’s got the necessary credibility to convince both sides to do whatever is required to reach a settlement; that kind of credibility is mostly earned during the process of mediation. And that, in turn, will be determined in large part by the extent to which he really is seen as an honest broker.

My fear for Louisville is not that Craviso will push the management line on the musicians. I think it’s far more likely that the impediment to a settlement mediated by Craviso will be the same impediment that’s prevented progress so far – Louisville Orchestra management’s desire to downsize the orchestra to the level of their own incompetence. It is possible that Craviso, being a management-side guy, will have enough credibility based on his past with the board and management that he can convince them that what they’re proposing is the equivalent of institutional death. But, as I’ve written before, they seem pretty married to their “solution” to the orchestra’s problems.

It took a Cold Warrior like Richard Nixon to go to China. But the folks running China were more flexible than the board and management of the Louisville Orchestra currently appear to be.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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