Louisville Orchestra CEO Robert Birman will leave his post at the end of this month. The orchestra announced his resignation Saturday morning.
“I leave on a high note,” says Birman. “I’m very proud of the players and my board and my staff. Everybody is pulling in one direction, and for that reason I thought this was an appropriate time to make this announcement.”
Birman says that he started thinking about resigning in October, while following the debt ceiling negotiations between Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Barack Obama, a process that called for a “grand bargain” of bipartisan compromise.
“I started to think back then, I wonder if there could be a grand bargain in Louisville?” Birman says.
“As we started our new contracts and our new season last fall, it was clear the orchestra needed to focus on raising money,” he explains. “We were meeting with some early success on that front, but I always thought that symbolically, it would be powerful if there could be a change. It would send a signal to the community that we’re united and we’re all focused on the future.”
Much of Birman’s tenure was spent navigating a labor impasse and bankruptcy proceedings. Birman took the post in 2009 after a brief tenure as the orchestra’s chief operating officer. The orchestra filed for Chapter 11 in 2010, amid tense contract negotiations with the musicians union over the size of the orchestra and payment for players. Labor negotiations eventually broke down and led to a canceled 2011-12 season.
The orchestra emerged from bankruptcy in 2011, came to a bridge labor agreement last April that called for a multi-year labor contract by April of this year, and resumed performances in September.
In a statement, musicians committee chair Kim Tichenor says “Despite our disagreements through the years, we always knew that Rob was acting in what he believed was in the best interest of the Orchestra. We wish him well in the future.”
Birman’s departure comes in the middle of the orchestra’s season—the morning after the orchestra welcomed its largest audience of the season to Whitney Hall for guest conductor Ryan McAdams’ “Scheherazade” and before the Pops series takes the stage with Nashville songwriters in Music City Hit-Makers Saturday evening.
Birman says the only thing he regrets about the contract settlement last April was the timing, which left more than four months between the agreement and the orchestra’s first concert after a year of no shows.
“We always knew that the music would be the healing agent. It was so important to get back to concerts,” he says. “In hindsight, I wish we could have gotten back to concerts much quicker.”
Though the orchestra is in mid-season, Birman says the timing is right for his announcement—the orchestra’s next season is already decided and will be announced soon, as will the multi-year contract for the players and other strategies designed by the orchestra and a consultant, all of which he says he endorses.
“I felt like it would be the right thing to let this orchestra close the chapter on the past and focus on writing the next chapter,” he says. “Now that we’re back on our feet and momentum is building again, it just feels like my work here is done and it would be healing for someone to come in without the baggage of the past to move this thing forward.”
According to a statement, the orchestra will appoint an interim CEO and later launch a search for a permanent replacement.