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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For the first time since May of last year, the Louisville Orchestra is an orchestra again. Thursday's rehearsal in Whitney Hall to prepare for Saturday's season opener, Fanfara, was music to the ears.
"They sound great, surprisingly good," says Orchestra CEO Robert Birman. "It sounds like they've picked up exactly where they left off."
The harmony comes after a year of orchestra members making overtures on sidewalks, with protests filled with accusations of unfair labor practices and failure to bargain in good faith, while the orchestra threatened to hire replacement musicians. The two sides have agreed to a one-year deal that will, among other things, reduce the number of musicians on the orchestra payroll from 71 to 55.
But Birman says audiences won't notice a difference.
"Every concert will be a different number, based on the repertoire and the demands," Birman says. "We'll have 80 musicians or more in some of our concerts. Today, we have 71 players on stage. We just simply have 55 on payroll."
A year of performances isn't the only thing the orchestra has lost. Money raised through donations and tickets sales has also suffered. But the orchestra has launched an aggressive effort to get that funding back. The campaign includes mailings to let people know the orchestra has returned, and what it has to offer.
And it appears to be working. Saturday's opener is virtually sold out.
"We've raised about over $2 million toward our $5 million budget for this season," Birman said.
With such a long way to go, is Birman confident they'll get there?
"Yeah, we are," Birman says, "because the most important night is Saturday night. That's the moment people have been waiting for. And we will leverage that throughout the Fall in terms of fundraising. It's very normal for the orchestra to be in this situation."
Also as part of the agreement with musicians, a consultant will review the orchestra's operations. He'll then serve as a binding arbitrator on any issues the two sides don't agree on when they negotiate a new and what orchestra management hopes will be multi-year contract. Birman say talks will begin at the end of the month. He's hoping a deal will come by the end of the year, now that the sticking point of the orchestra's size has been resolved.
"Those big issues have been adjusted, and we're experiencing the new reality now. And, so, we expect the negotiation to be important, because it will start the training for our efforts to come back and work together in a friendly way. And, we don't think that's going to be any problem," Birman says.
But, those are issues to be dealt with in the coming months. For now, both sides just want to focus on the fact the music has returned.