11/26/09 – Plymouth Record Enterprise

Music Festival patrons, donors left out in the cold

Marcia Morris

REGIONAL—In a gesture that might be considered something of an apt metaphor for the way some New Hampshire Music Festival patrons feel they are being treated, donors and supporters of the orchestra were literally locked out of the Annual Meeting that took place last Wednesday at Gilford High School.

The doors were locked and police assigned the task of keeping out the crowd that showed up to attend the meeting.  “It was freezing cold and very frustrating not to be able at least to get inside to keep warm,” commented Gene Bishop, from the patron and supporters’ organization Save Our Orchestra Now (SOON).  Relations between Festival Management on the one hand and musicians and patrons on the other have deteriorated over the course of the last six months, as the Festival has attempted to make controversial changes both to the artistic vision and professional composition of the orchestra.

While eligible incorporators were allowed inside, recent changes made by the Festival Board of Directors redefined who might be considered an official incorporator and donors are no longer part of the governing structure of the organization.

In a statement issued last week, S.O.O.N. objected to the change in the charter. In part the statement reads: “There is no doubt that recent actions by the Festival’s management have invited criticism and expressions of concern. It is shocking to see that their reaction is to dodge public review rather than engage the audience and public in a more robust level of participation in the oversight of the Board. It is especially disappointing that the Festival began a solicitation mailing this week, asking folks to contribute to the Annual Fund without informing potential donors of their proposed diminished role regarding the future of the Festival.”

It remains to be seen how supporters will respond to requests for financial contributions in view of the recent challenges and changes.  While the Festival reports that it in a “sound financial position” as far as overall operations, at the Annual Meeting Music Festival Board member Rusty McLear reported a significant loss of financial support for its capital project, jeopardizing plans for a future Center Harbor concert venue. ?Inside the hall, the discourse was reportedly civil and at times good natured, but during a period of public comment at the end of the meeting, numerous concerns were raised from the floor about the future of the Festival.

In other developments, the ongoing dispute between orchestra musicians and Festival Management has come to a head after the full membership recently voted overwhelmingly to reject a personnel policy drafted by management.  While the broad outlines of the policy were agreed upon in principle by the members of the orchestra committee at the end of the summer season, the full text was resoundingly rejected in an online poll after it was mailed to musicians this fall.    Since that time, the orchestra committee has announced that it will file charges against Festival Management with the National Labor Relations Board for “failure to bargain in good faith” and “reprisals” against orchestra members’ attempts to organize.