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After Hope for New Contract, Orchestra Plans to Hire Replacement Players

The process of replacing the Louisville Orchestra musicians has begun.Orchestra management declared their intention to hire new players Monday, after yet another failed round of talks with the musicians.The two sides were close. On Friday, orchestra management said the musicians had agreed to sign all the players who haven't left town for other work, then cut the orchestra to 55 full-time musicians by 2013. But the musicians didn't agree to that. They agreed to the concept of cutting the orchestra, but differed on how many players should be signed up front and how long it should take to make the cuts. They rejected the bulk of the management's offer. Negotiating committee chair Kim Tichenor says there was hope the agreement on cuts could lead to more talks.But the management says it's finished compromising. The players can agree to the final offer, or they can leave their colleagues and sign on individually to the new ensemble the management plans on putting together—one with 50 members. In a letter, the board's attorney says the offer for 55 players was "a stretch which was made in good faith to accomodate the efforts of the mediators to reach an agreement.""We had them so close, I think, last week, that both parties were close enough to reach out and finish it," says Henri Mangeot, who has been mediating the talks. Mangeot adds that he doesn't the an agreement on the principle of cutting players over time will help talks in the future.Tichenor says she's not sure the union can compromise any further, either."We'll have to see," she says. "I'm a very hopeful person and I don't like to give up hope that something could be worked out. But at this point it seems pretty bleak."It's unlikely any musicians will come back to the orchestra, since national union leaders will levy fines on any members who play without a contract in place. That leaves amateurs and non-union members, and finding 50 of them will likely be a difficult task. It may also mar the orchestra's sound and popularity."I'm confident there are highly-talented musicians—our own musicians at the top of that list, who should come back to work and work on a basis that will allow this orchestra to continue," says orchestra CEO Robert Birman. "I don't mean this in a flip way, but people change all the time. We have different musicians in this orchestra every single year. If you look at any orchestra on the planet, their membership changes over time: conductors change, executive directors change, even mayor's change. The cities don't stop. The orchestra's don't stop."Mangeot says he'll continue his work in the talks, but he's not sure what he could do to bring the sides closer together.Musicians have until the 31st to sign on with the orchestra. Birman says if the union decides to accept the offer for 55 players by June 2013, the board will sign the contract, even though they rescinded the offer in a statement.

Gabe Bullard is the director of news and editorial strategy.