Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Bad News…Musicians of the New Hampshire Music Festival fight for their survival
The Plymouth, New Hampshire-based New Hampshire Music Festival musicians find themselves at a crossroad: how to keep their jobs and how to save their beloved 57-year old music festival.
Nestled between the Lakes Region and the White Mountains, Plymouth is a bucolic college town, home to Plymouth State University, the long-time host of the New Hampshire Music Festival.
Festival musicians, who over the years have hailed from major symphony orchestras across the US and Europe, including Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and the Metropolitan Opera, return for six weeks summer after summer to play symphonic and chamber music for the audiences of New Hampshire.
Management is changing the direction of the entire festival by creating a “new model”. This “new model” would be an orchestra without any hierarchical structure: no Music Director, resident conductor or consistent principal players.
First rehearsal of the season yields bad news for musicians
Immediately following the first rehearsal of the season on July 7, 2009, President David Graham and Festival Director Henry Fogel delivered shocking news: Musicians wishing to return for the 2010 season would have to undergo a rigorous reapplication process. Veteran performers were being asked to submit an audition portfolio consisting of a CD or DVD of a solo performance of music from three periods of music history as well as optional performances of jazz, improvisation, or alternative styles, and three written essays regarding their approach to music making and mentoring. The rationale behind it, as stated by Mr. Graham and Mr. Fogel, was to assure management that musicians would be competent to assume duties related to a “new orchestra model”. Festival musicians were outraged and issued a press release to supporters which included the following statements: “The reapplication process is an insult to our profession and is unheard of in our industry. We believe that the intent is to eliminate the present NHMF orchestra.”
Thus began the summer of Purple Ribbons
Orchestra solidarity was paramount at this critical juncture. At an orchestra meeting, it was decided that musicians would wear purple ribbons during rehearsals and concerts to express their solidarity against Management’s actions. Little did the orchestra know that the audience, who were outraged at the prospect of losing their musicians, would also choose to wear purple ribbons. One week later, all the stores within a 50-mile radius of Plymouth were sold out of purple ribbon, and a sea of these ribbons were seen at every concert throughout the summer!
Purple ribbons lead to grassroots organization, S.O.O.N.
Concerned citizens have gathered to establish a group, S.O.O.N. (Save Our Orchestra Now – www.soonerthanlater.org), whose goal is to save the New Hampshire Music Festival and its musicians. With over 250 members, S.O.O.N. continues to flourish and support the musicians and their return for 2010 and future summer seasons.
Orchestra committee spends weeks in Good-Faith talks with management
A six-member orchestra committee, with the help of an outside negotiator, spent most of the summer in meetings with President David Graham and Festival Director Henry Fogel, who acknowledged that many aspects of the new plan have not been formalized. After countless hours of discussions, an “agreement” was reached (in quotes since management would not recognize musicians as a collective bargaining unit and refused to negotiate, referring to talks with musicians as “dialogues”), and the reapplication requirement was taken off the table. In addition, a small number of musicians (incumbents) would be invited to return 2010. The rest of the orchestra would be comprised of a new group of musicians (non-incumbents) and non-professional music students. While a majority of the orchestra was not satisfied with this “agreement”, it was a foot in the door for the 2010 season and musicians were willing to return under these conditions. A “Letter of Intent”, asking musicians to opt in or opt out for the 2010 season, was scheduled to be sent by Management to each musician by September 30, 2009.
A shocking twist to “Good Faith” Dialoguing
As musicians waited for the “Letter of Intent” to arrive, management was changing the wording and thus the intent of the personnel policy – a policy that was “agreed” to during the summer’s “Good Faith” dialogues between the orchestra committee and management. Despite management’s ‘carrot on a stick’ assurance that a large donor had come forward to finance the 2010 orchestra, the number of incumbent musicians promised during “Good Faith” talks was now dependent on funding. The work load, which include hours of rehearsals and concerts, will increase by 100%, but the pay only 25%. NHMF musicians, dissatisfied with the original “agreement” coupled with the unexpected changes, voted 59-3 against management’s personnel policy. Most egregious of all, reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, incumbent musicians who opt-in to play but are viewed by Management as being allied with the S.O.O.N. grassroots organization may not be offered a contract for the 2010 and/or future seasons.
Musicians at Crossroads
With a strong, active and committed S.O.O.N. community and a dedicated, vibrant five-person orchestra committee, the musicians of the New Hampshire Music Festival remain optimistic for the future. They hope to retain employment for 2010 and for many more summers to come. The musicians will fight for the right to do what they love and what the orchestra has done for more than half a century – provide first-class symphonic and chamber music to the people of New Hampshire.
If you would like more information on the issue including Management’s documents, responses from the musicians, and letters from supporters, please visit our website at:
Ella Gray, Orchestra Committee chair