Well This Is Interesting: KO Conductor Steps Down From Production

Although we haven’t been following the details at the Kentucky Opera (KO) as closely as the Louisville Orchestra (LO) labor dispute, the two groups are intertwined in that they share the same musician pool. And whereas the LO has not yet staged performances with replacement musicians since their work stoppage began several months ago, the KO did stage a production with piano accompaniment and the next scheduled performance includes plans for replacement musicians.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, LO musicians and local supporters have been protesting the KO’s decision and the 2/13/2012 edition of WFPL News reports in an article by Devin Katayama that KO Principal Conductor and Music Director, Joseph Mechavich, announced that he is stepping down from the productions which plan to utilize replacement musicians.

According to the report, the KO claimed “Mechavich was told by other companies he could not conduct their performances if he continued with the Louisville Orchestra [sic]”; however, those assertions have yet to be confirmed by Mechavich. Moreover, it seems that Mechavich’s career prospects seem fine; at least, according to recent news from San Diego.

One day after the WFPL article was published, the San Diego Union-Tribune published an article by James Chute which reports that Mechavich will appearing with the San Diego Opera as a last moment replacement conductor for a production that opens Saturday, 2/18/2012.

Joseph Mechavich will replace conductor Karen Keltner in the San Diego Opera’s West Coast premiere production of Jake Heggie’s “Moby-Dick,” which opens Saturday at the Civic Theatre.

Keltner, the company’s resident conductor, is ill.

Chute’s article makes no mention of the KO labor trouble.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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0 thoughts on “Well This Is Interesting: KO Conductor Steps Down From Production”

  1. It would appear that Maestro Mechavich’s admirable decision in withdrawing from the Kentucky Opera’s “Merry Widow” has been rewarded by a stroke of fate, or karma, or however one wants to term it. But, however it came about, good for him. And . . . Jake Heggie’s brilliant “Moby DIck,” which Mechavich will now conduct this week as a last-minute replacement at The San Diego Opera, is nothing short of a modern masterpiece. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2012/02/o-operas-resident-conductor-karen-keltner-has-withdrawn-from-the-companys-production-of-jake-he.html

  2. This piece may give your readers some insight into thoughts by [at least one] of the replacement musicians. I’ll quote it here for your reader’s convenience:

    How do you respond to the union musicians who are critical of the group’s decision to play despite the on-going labor dispute with LO? Are you or any of the musicians concerned about being barred from future opportunities?

    <blockquoteBlanton: I understand why they are upset and frustrated, but we must agree to disagree on the topic of the KY Opera. My view is that the KY Opera is not the Louisville Orchestra. They are two completely different resident groups. The LO musicians’ battle is with their management, not the KY Opera. The KY Opera offered them the opportunity to perform the Merry Widow before any of us were contacted, but they declined. If the KY Opera does not have an orchestra for this performance they could very well start to lose patrons, and the KY Opera could potentially crumble like the LO. In retrospect we are helping preserve the KY Opera which will give those LO musicians work opportunity in the future. I personally have a hospital bill to pay, loans, mortgage, and other expenses that I could really use this money for. I think it is unfair for them to be critical of us trying earn income when they themselves declined the offer to play. I am not concerned about being blacklisted. I do not receive any union gigs or nonunion gigs from anyone affiliated with the Louisville Orchestra.

    The rest of the short interview is in the link above but this was the most relevant and also a familiar viewpoint from a number of musicians I’ve had conversations with–Eric Edberg and I discussed some of that over at his blog (especially the discussion in the comments section).

    I guess I’m just [a little bit] surprised that it’s the Kentucky Opera, rather than the Louisville Orchestra, where the test case is happening. I’m just afraid that this will just embolden the LO to go through with their threat of replacements.

  3. It is my understanding (someone correct me if I read this wrong somewhere) that, although not actually ‘merged entities,’ the L.O. and the K.O. actually share the same office space. If that is, indeed, the case & if the above respondent was aware of this, perhaps this person’s answer might be JUST a bit different.

  4. Couple of points- the LO is not crumbling simply due to “losing patrons”. Also, my understanding is that the KY Opera has historically used the LO, under mutually agreed terms. Like it or not, the replacement musicians are now in the middle of this dispute, and might eventually pay a price disproportionate to whatever wages they earn with the KY Opera. One might also expect a commensurate drop in artistic quality, given that most of the replacements appear to be amateurs (or are generally unconcerned about their professional future).
    But perhaps the KY Opera patrons won’t notice.
    Rob Levine has an interesting piece at the Polyphonic.org blog.

  5. So the big question is –

    Was this withdrawal under extreme pressure from the Union or some other outside force, or did he have a sudden epiphany of moral consciousness?

    Should this move be interpreted as a “win” for solidarity, or as another “lose” in the war or words?

    By the way, the final bit in this news story was PRICELESS. Unintentional I am sure, but it sure does read like comedy.

    “Opera officials say Mechvich will be replaced by an individual not being named at this time. That individual holds a degree in conducting according to officials.”


    • Typically a Music Director with any sense will steer very clear of this kind of dispute. MDs are not usually affiliated with the AFM, and almost always lay low, for various reasons. My guess is that he saw his chance and bailed. Wisely, IMO.
      That last sentence speaks volumes regarding the mentality of the KY Opera management.

      • Jason Raff, in a letter to the editor to the Leo Weekly, had some things to say in addressing the previous week’s piece, The Not-So-Merry-Orchestra, and some of the claims made therein.

        I think the last paragraph says the most in relation to some of the issues we’ve been discussing:

        My motivation for performing in the Kentucky Opera’s production of “The Merry Widow” has nothing to do with money. All of the players in our ensemble entered into this endeavor with the understanding that we may not be compensated for our services, and many of us are dedicating this time in addition to full-time jobs. The fact that the Kentucky Opera has offered stipends commensurate with the local union published rates for opera services should be interpreted as a sign of its willingness to pay fair and equitable wages to its performers. Finally, as a point of correction to Ms. Tichenor’s assertion, the Kentucky Opera Association and the Louisville Orchestra Inc. are two entirely separate business entities, with independent boards, leadership, missions and funding sources. The staff positions they share are principally those of receptionists, accounting, marketing and PR administrators, and box office.

        Two problems I see with the issues Jason brings up are that in not expecting compensation, this can only help to promote an environment of undercutting. While it’s nice that the KO offered Union rates, I think it should be somewhat disturbing that there are musicians out there who don’t expect their services are worth compensation. This is similar to the issue of Venues failing to pay for their entertainment that Dave Goldberg brought up in an open letter to La Club Owners a few weeks ago as well as the Craiglist piece that’s been circulating since January.

        Secondly, as this pertains to the KO offering Union scale–if it is the case that the only staff shared by KO and the LO are “principally those of receptionists, accounting, marketing and PR administrators” who have no power over big administrative decisions or operational issues, then some of the force of an argument that the KO is in collusion with the LO against Union Musicians loses its edge.

        As Bruce Heim is claiming on a facebook status update, if the LO has been charging far too low a fee for the musicians (thereby subsidizing the KO’s performances at the LO’s expense), then this may contribute to KO feeling it can simply charge union scale. But since they are two separate organizations anyway, the only problem I see with this is the (as above) depression of wages for musicians–not necessarily some malign intent on the part of the KO.

        I guess if Jason is incorrect about the extent of the shared staff, then some of what I’m saying above is moot, but I’m not so sure dragging the KO into the middle of a PR battle is necessarily going to help any side’s cause, much less the KO’s side.

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