10/2/09 – Laconia Daily Sun


Management and musicians at it again

Michael Kitch

Center Harbor — The personnel policy agreed to by the management and musicians of the New Hampshire Music Festival in August, which closed a season of strife, has unravelled. Following what David Graham, president of the festival, yesterday called a “clarification” of the agreement, 69 musicians were polled on September 29 and 59 of the 62 who responded rejected the policy.
The rift between management and musicians opened when the season began in July, when the players were informed that they would be required to undergo a rigorous audition to keep their seats for the 2010 summer season. In protest, the musicians wore purple ribbons during the performances and as word of the dispute spread, many members of the audiences followed suit to express their solidarity with the players. While management and musicians sought to resolve their differences, ticket holders and donors organized as “Save Our Orchestra Now” (S.O.O.N.) and near the end of the season adopted a resolution of no confidence in Graham and the newly appointed festival Director Henry Fogel.

The accord was announced before the last performance of the season, a pops concert at Gilford High School, to a hearty round of applause from a grateful audience. Speaking for the musicians, Valerie Watts said that a generous donation by an anonymous benefactor contributed significantly to the successful outcome by enabling management to offer contracts to 45 incumbent players. The agreement provided that as many as 20 musicians may choose to perform for the full six weeks of the festival while up to 25 may contract for between one and four weeks. Another 20 non-incumbent musicians will be added to comprise a pool, augmented by less than 10 students drawn from prestigious conservatories, from which a 65 piece orchestra will be drawn.

Many musicians were unhappy with the agreement, particularly with a provision stipulating that the artistic director would evaluate all musicians in 2010 and at his sole discretion without appeal decide which players would be invited to return in 2011.

News of the agreement moved Ron Patterson, the concert master, to post a letter on the musicians’ website saying “although I am happy the musical body of the New Hampshire Music Festival is still breathing, I know the virus is as strong as ever and as intent on killing the body as ever. As I see it,” he continued, “the future (of the festival) has to be one without Graham and Fogel.”

The clarification added to the personnel policy last month was the last straw. It provides that “in the event insufficient funding is raised to employ the number of incumbent musicians referenced above and the twenty (20) non-incumbent musicians, the complement of musicians will be reduced proportionately among incumbent and non-incumbent musicians.”

Graham insists that “the clarification is consistent with the agreement.” He said yesterday that the agreement not only provided for a much larger orchestra than the 45-piece ensemble that performed this year but also included a 25-percent increase in the musician’s wages. Without an assurance of the necessary financial means, he said, the festival could not bind itself to employ more players at higher wages. Graham said that the rider to the agreement prescribed a reasonable formula, consistent with the spirit of the accord, for reducing the size of the orchestra it be necessary.
“Our goal is to grow back and restore what we’ve lost,” Graham stressed. “That is what we would like to do and what we hope to do. The orchestra is not the first place we would look to reduce expenses.”

In a prepared but unsigned statement, the musicians claimed that the new language significantly changed the original agreement, which they understood to ensure the employment of the 45 incumbent musicians, if only for one year. The musicians contend that with the change, the employment of the incumbent musicians is contingent on the festival having sufficient funds to support the 20 new positions and if they do not for every new seat that is not filled two incumbent musicians would lose their places.

Graham insists that the changes to the agreement were made in collaboration with the Orchestra Committee and its representative, Bob Couture of the American Federation of Musicians. But, Joe Higgins, in statement released on behalf of the musicians yesterday, claimed that the “agreed upon policy” was amended “without discussion with the OC” (Orchestra Committee).

Graham said that he was “surprised and disappointed” by the reaction of the musicians and his sentiments were echoed by Rusty McLear of Meredith, chairman of the festival’s board of directors. “The results of the poll disappointed us,” said McLear in a prepared statement, “especially since both sides have worked so hard on a personnel policy based on shared interests and common ground. We are baffled,” he continued, “that the musicians would reject a personnel policy simply because it is grounded in sound fiscal principles. The festival would be remiss if it guaranteed an expansion of the orchestra and increased compensation without the financial means.”

Despite the rift with the musicians, the directors and management of the festival announced that the personnel policy, as amended, would be implemented in 2010. McLear expressed the hope that “the musicians will decide to return for the 2010 season. We welcome them to join with us to create an even better, stronger festival that will be a musical destination for audiences and professionals alike.”
Meanwhile, Higgins vowed that “we plan to use all the resources at our disposal to ensure that our orchestra remains the resident orchestra of the New Hampshire Music Festival.”