In December 2011, the Louisville Orchestra Inc. filed for bankruptcy and attempted to reject the musicians’ contract in federal court. Upon advice of labor counsel, Liza Hirsch Medina, the Louisville Orchestra musicians immediately engaged the most reputable local bankruptcy attorneys and defeated that effort. We were able to keep our contract and continued to work for its duration. After the contract expired came an infamous lockout that lasted an entire season. However, from the nadir of the concessionary agreement that ended the lockout, the orchestra has been making steady progress—in contract terms and in innovative programs that are raising its profile in the community.
The one-year lockout-ending contract settlement reduced salary (through loss of weeks of work) and the number of full-time musicians (through attrition and retirement—no musicians lost their jobs, we are proud to say). The orchestra went from 37 weeks and 71 musicians to 30 weeks and 55 musicians. But in subsequent negotiations we agreed on a three-year contract with some modest gains. After that contract expired last year, we reached another three-year contract, with significant gains in salary, weeks of work, and the restoration of lost full-time positions. Three full-time positions will be restored over the course of the current contract. At the end of the current contract the orchestra will be at 34 weeks and 58 full-time musicians.
The Louisville Orchestra’s reputation also has been making strides, both locally and internationally. In 2013 the orchestra hired a new music director, Teddy Abrams, who has become known for his innovative programming and collaborations with local artists. The orchestra recently recorded and released an album for the first time in almost 30 years. All In was #1 on the Billboard charts for a full week and has received rave reviews. An original composition on the album by Abrams, Unified Field, was originally commissioned as a collaboration between the Louisville Orchestra and the Louisville Ballet. Also included on the album is Copland’s Clarinet Concerto and a number of songs featuring the singer Storm Large.
This fall, the orchestra premiered a work by Abrams about the life of Louisville-native and world-famous athlete Muhammed Ali. The work, entitled The Greatest, incorporated many different musical genres and forms of artistic expression: dance, singing, rap, theatre, and symphony orchestra. Featuring artists Rhiannon Giddens and local hip-hop star Jecorey “1200” Arthur, among others, The Greatest received international press attention and was a local success. The orchestra also recently premiered a work by composer and Louisville Orchestra pianist Sebastian Chang, Between Heaven and Earth, a collaboration with Iraqi-born visual artist Vian Sora. During the three-movement piece with choir, images of Sora’s paintings were projected on a screen above for the audience. The result was powerful and well received by the audience.
Just last week the orchestra performed side-by-side with the Louisville Youth Orchestra on the “Gheens Great Expectations” concert featuring Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and several other works. Since five of the ten original art compositions that inspired Pictures at an Exhibition have been lost to history, a statewide youth art competition was held for five paintings to be projected on a screen along with the original pieces during the performance.
Since the 2013-2014 season, the Louisville Orchestra has experienced an 18% increase in the number of tickets issued and a 49% increase in revenue from ticket sales. There is a “buzz” in the community surrounding the orchestra, and the orchestra’s performances continually garner positive reviews from our audiences and local press. Our Neighborhood series continues to grow as well. In this series the orchestra performs in different churches, synagogues, and community centers throughout the city of Louisville. Last fall we had our best attended Neighborhood concert on record. Our Pops series continues to grow as well. The orchestra successfully continues to be the resident orchestra for the Louisville Ballet and Kentucky Opera.
The Louisville Orchestra also underwent a strategic planning process that lasted a year and was led by Henry Fogel. In this process, we looked at every part of the organization to see what was working and what wasn’t, where we can improve, and what we can be doing differently. Orchestra board members, staff, and musicians all participated and many recommendations were given and agreed upon. But a great deal more work needs to be done to successfully implement the strategic plan.
Although there have been significant gains and positive news coming out of Louisville, we still have a long way to go. The Louisville Orchestra still has fewer full-time positions than we had before. We need to keep moving forward with our artistic goals and increasing our salary, weeks, and restoration of full-time positions. We are grateful and indebted to ICSOM and all of the orchestras in ICSOM who helped us get to where we are today. We are also thankful to all of our supporters in Louisville and elsewhere who joined us in our quest to have a flourishing full-time symphony orchestra in Louisville. We know we could not have gotten to this point without you.