10/6/09 – Laconia Daily Sun


SOON rejoins the festival fray

Michael Kitch

Center Harbor — “Save Our Orchestra Now” (S.O.O.N.), the group of ticket holders and donors, has stepped up its campaign against the management of the New Hampshire Music Festival soon after musicians spurned the accord that appeared to resolve the dispute that roiled players and audiences alike throughout the past summer season.

In a statement issued yesterday S.O.O.N. said that “the situation seems to be spinning out of control,” placing the future of the Festival at risk and calling into question “the ability of its management and the financial condition of the organization.” At the same time, Gene Bishop, who serves on S.O.O.N.’s executive committee, said yesterday that the organization has engaged White Birch Communications, the public relations arm of the Dupont Group, counted among the state’s most powerful lobbying firms.

“S.O.O.N. is not going away,” Bishop declared. “The battle will continue.”

The Festival has been in turmoil ever since its 57th season opened in July when the musicians were told that they would be required to undergo a rigorous audition to keep their seats for the next 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. Near the close of the season S.O.O.N. was formed and promptly adopted a resolution of no confidence in longtime Festival president David Graham and newly appointed Festival Director Henry Fogel and threatened not to purchase tickers or make donations without assurances that the resident orchestra would be retained.

On the eve of the final performance, the board of directors and orchestra committee announced that management and musicians had reached an accord for the 2010 season. A generous donation by an anonymous benefactor enabled management to expand the orchestra to 65 pieces by offering contracts to 45 incumbent players, 20 new musicians and between five and eight students.

Many musicians were unhappy with the accord, 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.

But, the agreement unravelled when management added what it calls “a clarification.” 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.” With the change, the musicians contend that 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.

When the 69 incumbent musicians were polled in September, 59 of the 62 who responded rejected the accord. “Such a clear vote,” read S.O.O.N.’s statement , suggests that something is wrong with the process and management seems to be moving in the wrong direction. We fear that the fundamental essence of the Festival is being undermined by a non-public process to alter the musical direction of the orchestra.”

“S.O.O.N. is also concerned that the Festival is facing financial problems related to a combination of capital outlays in real estate, high administrative and management costs, weak fundraising related to alienation of core supporters and a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the organization.” Bishop said tax records indicate operating and administrative expenses represent between 40-percent and 60-percent of revenues, about twice the norm for non-profit organizations. Likewise, he said that some suspect that funds designated for operations have been applied to a project to construct a new symphony hall on the festival’s Red Hill property.

“We like it the way it has always been,” Bishop remarked. “It may not be the very best orchestra, but we have been very happy with it for many years and consider it our orchestra.”