Settlement in Louisville – at least for now

Finally some good news from Louisville:

After 20 months of contentious negotiations, the Louisville Orchestra’s musicians and its management have reached a one-year labor agreement that will allow for a 30-week season beginning this fall, and both sides are optimistic that a long-term deal will be reached by next spring.

The deal, announced Wednesday onstage in Whitney Hall at the Kentucky Center, calls for performances with up to 57 musicians during the abbreviated season and a budget of $5.3 million.

The agreement also calls for an expert to review all aspects of the orchestra’s operations, then serve as a binding arbitrator on any issues upon which the two sides don’t agree when negotiating a multi-year contract.

The musicians will receive base pay of $925 per week, along with medical and pension benefits. The season begins Sept. 8.

This appears to be quite similar to what the musicians had been proposing for the past month or so. So what changed?

One hint is contained in an article earlier yesterday:

Leaders for the Louisville Orchestra Musicians Association announced late Tuesday that the group had ratified an agreement for a new contract with the orchestra management – potentially ending a months-long impasse.

“We are really please to be bringing symphonic music back to Louisville,” said Kim Tichenor, a violinist with the orchestra and the players’ negotiating committee chair, who stood in the musicians’ union hall surrounded by her colleagues, who cheered her announcement.

The agreement calls for a one-year contract covering 57 musicians for 30 weeks with a base salary level of $925 per week, including medical and pension benefits. It also calls for a binding arbitration process involving a mutually agreed-upon orchestra professional to work with both sides to establish a longer-term contract….

Orchestra CEO Robert Birman responded to a request for comment with a text message saying, “We’ll reserve comment until we see the proposal.”

Birman was conspicuously absent from the press conference announcing the deal. Perhaps he was busy canceling the online ads for replacement musicians. He certainly didn’t appear to be in the loop regarding the pending settlement.

This dispute had always seemed to me to be about Birman’s desire to make his bones by doing something that hadn’t been done before in the orchestra business. That “something” was originally the conversion of occupied full-time positions in the orchestra into part-time jobs, but then morphed into replacing musicians who were on strike (or locked out, depending on one’s point of view) with new non-union musicians. The dispute was only going to end when his board took a fresh sniff of the Kool-aid they’d been served and decided they no longer trusted the mixologist.

There are lots of lessons for musicians to learn from this epic labor dispute, and some for board members and managers as well. But for now it’s enough to be happy that the desire to get the orchestra back on stage has at least temporarily trumped ideology.

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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  • “…on strike (or locked out, depending on one’s point of view)…”

    Maybe my understanding of this isn’t sufficiently nuanced, but I thought both of those were specific legal definitions and not matters of opinion.

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