Playing in a different key
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The decision by the New Hampshire Music Festival to abandon plans for major alterations to its programming after months of intense criticism brings to mind a comment made many years ago by the legendary Senator Everett Dirksen who said, “When I begin to feel the heat, that’s when I start to see the light.”
As the new year dawned the Music Festival board sent out a letter to some 1,000 patrons saying that plans to reconstitute the orchestra and use a different style of music-making and programming were being dropped because those plans were seriously weakening the organization’s support.
“After a long and comprehensive discussion, the board concluded that it was not in the best interests of our audience, orchestra, management, or the board to embark on another season of division and tension that marked 2009,” the letter stated in part.
The decision, welcome as it is, begs the question: Why did it take the festival’s management and board six months to come to this realization? It was obvious as far back as July that there was no popular consensus for the new direction that the Music Festival was proposing. In the ensuing months the criticism and opposition only grew more intense. Scores of people wrote letters to the editor imploring the Festival to reconsider its plans and an organization with the apocalyptic-sounding name of Save Our Orchestra Now — SOON — was organized.
Now the Festival management and critics are vowing to put aside any hard feelings and work together to organize a 2010 summer season in which the performances will become the talk of the town, rather than the Festival’s internal politics.
Those who will be taking up this challenge have their work cut out for them. They will have to act quickly if they hope to sign up musicians and conductors of the caliber that Music Festival audiences have come to expect. Getting veteran Music Festival players to return this summer will certainly be complicated by what many of them saw as a ham-fisted manner in which they have been treated in recent months, most notably by a requirement (later withdrawn) that they reapply for their jobs.
But the practical demands of putting together the upcoming season is not the only thing that needs to be addressed.
Other matters that need to be resolved include what is the status going forward of the plans to build a concert hall in Center Harbor? Is it still a major priority? Will it be held in abeyance? Or will it be dropped altogether?
What is the status of a music director? Is the Festival’s leadership rethinking its position on the need for a talented maestro who significantly influences what music is performed and conducts the majority of concerts?
And heading into the future, will the current top Festival managers — President David Graham, Program Director Henry Fogel and Artistic Director Jonathan Gandelsman — continue to lead the organization?
Each of these men certainly has considerable experience and real talent. But to be effective they are going to have to work to regain the confidence of many Music Festival supporters who, rightly or wrongly, consider them aloof.
Going forward, the Festival’s management and board are going to have to do a better job of being forthcoming with their ideas, actually encourage input from a wider segment of the public and be more interactive with their supporters.
The irony of these last several months is that, while the Music Festival was touting a more collaborative style of music-making, they gave every indication that they were not too much interested in a collaborative style of decision-making.
Hopefully that will now change.