Music News & Reviews

Lexington Philharmonic musicians vote to strike Friday's concert

The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra practiced in October 2010 at the Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall in Lexington, Ky.  Photos by Angela Baldridge
The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra practiced in October 2010 at the Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall in Lexington, Ky. Photos by Angela Baldridge Angela Baldridge

The musicians of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra have voted to strike Friday night's season-opening concert if they cannot come to terms with management on key points of a new contract before the performance.

"We have great solidarity among our ranks," orchestra committee chairman Dave Shelton said Tuesday afternoon.

In the same balloting, cast Thursday, the musicians also expressed a vote of no-confidence in music director Scott Terrell.

The musicians are seeking retention of a peer-review system for demotion and dismissal, and a guaranteed number of performances for musicians. They also are rejecting a management-proposed non-encroachment or no-compete clause.

Philharmonic management rejected the musicians' demands Tuesday, saying the organization must maintain artistic control and cannot make guarantees in an uncertain economic environment. Management also defended Terrell's performance as music director, a post he has held since 2009.

"We will continue to do things up until the moment of the concert to try to resolve this," said Nathan Kahn, a negotiator for the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the Philharmonic musicians.

The situation puts the Philharmonic potentially in the same boat as many other orchestras across the country, including the Louisville Orchestra, that have suffered work stoppages and heated contract negotiations. Those disputes have been more fiscally oriented. The Philharmonic's dispute focuses more on employment and artistic issues.

The votes to strike and of no-confidence took place at a full-orchestra meeting Thursday, and the results were posted online late Monday in a document publicly linked on an open Facebook page called "Musicians of the Lexington Philharmonic."

According to the post, titled "voting tallies," "The votes were all decided overwhelmingly, if not unanimously." Exact vote tallies were not disclosed.

Philharmonic musicians and management renegotiate a contract every four years; talks concerning the new contract have gone on since April 2012. Negotiations have not made news in many contract cycles, but the current stalemate became public as musicians objected to numerous management positions.

On Tuesday afternoon, Shelton, the orchestra committee chairman, said a non-negotiable item is the peer review, which means that a committee of musicians has final say over promotion, demotion and dismissal of musicians. The musicians and Kahn say the system is an industry standard, but the orchestra management disputes that claim.

A news release from the Lexington Musicians' Association, Local 554-635 of the American Federation of Musicians, stated specific concerns that Terrell intended to "dismiss musicians from the orchestra for reasons other than artistic competency."

The latest round of rhetoric represented the most direct attack on Terrell in the negotiations, and orchestra management vehemently disputed the claims in its written response to union demands.

Citing Terrell's charge to make the Philharmonic "an excellent regional orchestra with high artistic standards, known for playing a vibrant and diverse repertoire," the statement said, "Terrell has made great progress toward these goals as evidenced by general improvement in ticket sales since his arrival, positive reviews from different critics, awards of nationally competitive grants, and artistic collaborations with some of the leading-edge artists and composers of our times.

"Scott Terrell has the board's full confidence," the statement said, and "it is unfortunate that the Orchestra Committee and musicians have taken the position to target Terrell personally."

Terrell is not the first Philharmonic conductor to receive a no-confidence vote from the musicians. His predecessor, George Zack, received a no-confidence vote from 80 percent of the players in 1982. He even tendered his resignation before going on to lead the orchestra for a total of 37 years, until he retired in 2008.

Another primary complaint from musicians has been that the orchestra has performed fewer large-scale orchestra concerts since Terrell took the podium.

Terrell has revamped some traditional performances, including the annual Messiah concerts, which have been performed at Christmastime at area churches with smaller, baroque-style orchestras and the Lexington Chamber Chorale, boasting about 40 singers, as opposed to the Lexington Singers, with more than 100 voices. He also has programmed more contemporary works that often require smaller forces, particularly a "tango opera" last January, and made other programming alterations.

Musicians contend that this has cut down on their performance opportunities and the cohesion of the orchestra as a whole.

Musicians had sought to get a guaranteed number of full-orchestra concerts in the new contract, but management balked, saying, "The recent recession and current economic climate does not allow the Lexington Philharmonic to foresee its financial position years into the future with enough certainty to make long-term guarantees as to the number or type of performances we will be able to fund, produce and the community will embrace."

In the most recent round of proposals, the musicians said management would either have to agree to retain the current artistic-review process or agree to a new agreement that essentially reverts to the 2008 contract for any points on which the parties have not agreed on new language.

At midday Tuesday, Philharmonic board president R. Scott King wrote to Shelton, "We are not able to agree to those terms at this time. We have every intention of continuing our negotiations in good faith and wish to return to the bargaining table as soon as possible."

Within 45 minutes, the union issued a news release announcing the vote to strike Friday's concert.

Shelton said musicians will continue to rehearse; the union has agreed to give management 24 hours' notice of any work stoppage.

The season-opening concert, titled "Revolution!," is scheduled to feature violin soloist Caroline Goulding and a piece called American Symphony by composer-in-residence Adam Schoenberg, who is writing a new work the Philharmonic scheduled to premiere early next year.

If it's a go

Lexington Philharmonic

What: Season-opening concert with conductor Scott Terrell, violin soloist Caroline Goulding and American Symphony by composer-in-residence Adam Schoenberg.

When: 7:30 Sept. 20

Where: UK Singletary Center for the Arts, 401 Rose St.

Tickets: $20-$70. Available at Philharmonic offices in ArtsPlace, 161 N. Mill St., fourth floor; (859) 233-4226; or

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