1/26/10 – Laconia Daily Sun

By staff writer Michael Kitch

Fallout from Music Festival’s summer of controversy leads to wholesale changes in leadership.

3 board members resign; Fogel is out as director; and Graham will leave president’s post in May; Red Hill property to be put up for sale.

CENTER HARBOR – Less than two weeks after abandoning pursuit of a new artistic vision and restructured orchestra, which sparked bitter controversy last summer, the Board of the NH Music Festival shuffled directors and management when it met last week.

Longtime director of the Festival and current chairman of its finance committee, Ron Sibley of Plymouth, yesterday confirmed that after a transition period he will replace Rusty McLear as chairman. At the same time, he said that vice chairman Susan Weatherbie and two other Board members have tendered their resignations.

David Graham, the president of the Festival since 1987, will be leaving his position in May. The Festival has also severed its relationships with Henry Fogel, past president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts who was engaged as Festival director this spring, and Johnny Gandelsman, the celebrated violinist named artistic director in the summer.

Gene Bishop of “Save Our Orchestra Now” (SOON), the group of patrons that challenged the course charted by the Board, declined to comment pending a formal announcement of the changes by the Board. The Board, Sibley said, also agreed to have the property at Red Hill, which was purchased in 2001 as the site of a future concert hall, appraised with the intention of placing it on the market for sale. The Festival purchased the Red Hill Inn property in 2001 and in 2007 developed plans to renovate Festival House as well as construct an attached concert hall. An architectural rendering of the project is posted on the organization’s website.

However, in November McLear told the annual meeting of the festival’s incorporators that the estimated cost of the project far exceeded the pledges to the building fund and announced that the board would reconsider the project in January. He said that in October 2008, when $10.4 million was pledged, the initial estimates were “substantially more than had been raised or pledged.” The Board, he said, met with major donors to ask whether to pursue or abandon the project and was told to proceed with plans for “an exceptional building.”

Meanwhile, the recession took its toll. McLear said that in February 2009 two donors withdrew their pledges, depleting the building fund by $4-million. Still the board decided to finish the plan and price the project only to find that the costs “were higher than hoped.” The building was redesigned and reengineered with a smaller footprint, trimming the cost by $4-million. In addition to challenging the board’s decision to change the musical direction of the Festival, the leadership of SOON also questioned the wisdom of developing the Red Hill.