10/2/09 – SOON Letter to Board

S.O.O.N.

Save Our Festival Now
POB 376
Ashland, NH 03217
[email protected]

10/2/09

Dear Board Member

The New Hampshire Music Festival has reached a critical point. Its future lies in your hands as a Board member.  At the upcoming meeting, the Board can either make certain important changes in the governance of the Festival, or risk the demise of the Festival on its watch.

As you know, until last week, the “Agreement” of Aug 14, 2009 had never been presented to the Orchestra in written form and the Orchestra members had not agreed to it. Last week a written version was presented to the Orchestra which differed from the Aug 14 version.  There was a new clause which read as follows:

“The Festival’s offer for employment will be dependent on funding. 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. Both the Festival and Incumbent Musicians have agreed to support the efforts to meet these funding requirements.”

If the players were at all disgruntled with the terms of the Aug 14 proposal, the addition of this clause had to be a deal killer.  It was. In a poll of the players, 62 responded. 59 voted against accepting the agreement, 3 voted yes.

The clock is ticking.  The orchestra players have voiced their disapproval of the offered agreement. As time goes by, individual players will feel compelled to make their own plans for summer 2010.

They feel cheated and ill used. In these days of instant Internet communication, the probability is high that the story will propagate throughout the music world network. It may not be easy to hire high caliber replacements for the 2010 NHMF season.

Apparently, the Festival felt compelled to amend the agreement because of projected budgetary problems.  In their new “offer”, management contended that, due to the conflict between the Festival and SOON (the citizen organized group, Save Our Orchestra Now), funding has significantly decreased. Donors are reluctant to give to the Annual Fund Drive.

In fact, SOON came into being in mid August of 2009. The membership is now close to 200. Many of our members were historically contributors to the NHMF Annual Fund, but made the decision to withhold future contributions as they became increasingly disillusioned with Festival policies relating to the musicians, future venue and fiscal affairs. Most of these decisions to withhold were made prior to the onset of the 2009 season. Our membership represents a small portion of the Annual Fund contributors, but their actions prior to the 2009 season are almost certainly representative of the larger group’s.

NHMF’s financial problems have not materialized overnight.  In October 2007, a letter was sent to the NHMF Board members in an attempt to alert them to a looming financial crisis.  This analysis was based upon examination of the Federal 990 tax returns through FY 2005.  In early August of 2009, another warning was included in the Open Letter to the NHMF Board (8-13-09), this time based upon tax returns through FY 2007. 

If NHMF faces financial difficulties today, the situation can only deteriorate if the Red Hill Inn Project is allowed to move forward. It has already caused many donors to withhold their annual contributions and if it continues, it will bleed badly needed funds away from the Festival operating budget.  It is the Board’s greatest responsibility to carefully study this issue on an ongoing basis going forward. Do not be satisfied by vague assurances from the management that all is well.

Any fiscal problems that the Festival is now experiencing have been predictable since at least 2005 and were probably exacerbated by the demands put on the budget last summer by their highly paid “advisor” Ralph Craviso and the new Festival Director, Henry Fogel. 

There is another truth casualty that relates to the claim that ticket sales have fallen over the years. Here are the data:

FIGURES FROM NHMF TAX RETURNS 2002-2007

(All dollar entries are x$1000)

2007    2005    2004    2003    2002

Program Svc Revenue        312      321     295      212      218

(The year 2006 is missing because the fiscal year changed in 2007 from Oct-Sept to Jan-Dec. The 2006 FY report was from Oct 1, 2006 to Dec 31, 2006 and hence, did not contain appreciable ticket sales.)

Sales figures from 2008 and 2009 are not yet available.  However, we can attest to the following:

In 2008, Thursday evening concerts were always close to sellouts; Friday concerts were generally better than 75% full.

In 2009, Thursday evening concerts were total sellouts. There were no Friday concerts scheduled, thereby missing the opportunity to sell an additional 2900 tickets throughout the season (3/4 x650 seats x6 performances).

Much of the change in Festival’s artistic direction has been driven by the claim of declining audience interest. The existing data simply does not support the claim of declining ticket sales.  You owe it to yourself to check it out carefully.

As a Board Member, what can you do?

Almost all of our SOON members have expressed a willingness to resume their contributions if NHMF is willing to make certain necessary changes.  They don’t want their money wasted on an ill conceived new venue and a new “artistic vision” about which, they were never consulted. The refrain that we hear repeatedly from our supporters is that they want the Festival to be the way it was.

This will not occur under the Festival’s present management. There must be a change.  Only the Board can bring it about. It must happen at the upcoming Board meeting. Time is running out.