8/16/09 – Laconia Daily Sun


Festival management reaches accord with musicians/ SOON remains on warpath

Michael Kitch

Center Harbor — The management of the New Hampshire Music Festival has reached an agreement with representatives of the musicians over the structure of the orchestra for the 2010 season. Susan Weatherbie, co-chair of the Board of Directors, and Valerie Watts, who chairs the orchestra committee, announced the accord before the last performance of the season at Gilford High School Saturday evening to a hearty round of applause from a grateful audience.
David Graham, president of the festival, said that the terms of the settlement would be disclosed shortly. Meanwhile, Watts said that a generous donation by an anonymous benefactor contributed significantly to the successful outcome by enabling management to offer contracts to the 45 incumbent players. The agreement provides that as many as 20 musicians may choose to perform for the full six weeks of the festival while up to 25 may contract for between one and four weeks. Another 20 non-incumbent musicians will be added to comprise a pool, augmented by less than ten students drawn from prestigious conservatories, from which a 60 piece orchestra will be drawn. Although management abandoned its plan to require the musicians to audition for their places in 2010, the accord provides that the artistic director will conduct “in seat” evaluations of the players when the season closes. The agreement also includes a 25-percent pay increase for the musicians, who will be expected to work a greater but unspecified number of hours per week.
The accord appears to end the dispute between management and musicians that began last month when the players were told they would be required to undergo a rigorous auditioning process to secure their seats for the next season. Graham said that the changes were the first step toward realigning the artistic mission of the festival, particularly reversing a decline of 25-percent in audiences for classical music, in accord with the direction set by Henry Fogel, dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, who was named festival director earlier this year.
The players took the changes as an insult to their performance that would undermine the longtime character of the festival, close fellowship among members of the orchestra and relationship between the musicians, their audience and the Lakes Region community. 
On opening night at the Silver Center for the Arts at Plymouth State University, members of the orchestra sported purple ribbons as a sign of protest and solidarity and ever since many patrons of the festival have allied with them by wearing ribbons to every performance, including the last. While management sent reassuring letters to donors and patrons and the musicians posted their concerns on their website, both parties agreed to open talks, in which management was represented by New York attorney Ralph Craviso and the musicians by an official of the American Federation of Musicians.
In announcing the settlement, Watts expressed the gratitude of the musicians for the support they received from their audiences throughout the season. Her remarks were echoed by Malcolm Stuart, the concert master, who declared “we love New Hampshire.”
Despite the settlement with the musicians, a group of regular concert goers, organized as “Save Our Orchestra Now” (SOON), appear bent on pursuing their challenge to management. At a meeting in Plymouth last Thursday, just a day after Graham, Fogel, Weatherbie and Rusty McLear, who chairs the board of directors, met with concert goers at the Meredith Community Center, SOON adopted two resolutions.
One, recommended by the executive committee and carried by what Terry Thomason of Gilford called “a very large majority,” registers an expression of no-confidence in Graham and Fogel and calls for abandoning both the plan to construct a concert hall at Red Hill and the change in artistic direction charted by Fogel. Thomason and others were gathering signatories to the resolution at the doors to the Silver Center before the concert last Thursday and again at Gilford High School on Saturday.
The second called for initiating what Thomason called a broad-based petition drive to withhold donations and ticket purchases for next season unless and until the board of directors assure SOON that the professional orchestra will be retained without the addition of students. Thomason said that the executive committee of SOON has requested a meeting with Rusty McLear, who chairs the board of directors, and Weatherbie to discuss the future of the orchestra. He indicated that the decision to proceed with the boycott would depend on the outcome of that meeting as well as the terms of the settlement with the musicians.
Thomason said that SOON questions claims that audiences are shrinking and insists that any decline reflects the failure of management to effectively market the festival rather than any shortcomings on the part of the musicians. “The problem is not with the music, but the management,” he declared flatly. Likewise, members of SOON, like former director Arthur Albert of Campton, have expressed concerns about the financial stability of the festival, which they charge has not been disclosed openly to longtime donors and patrons.
Thomason said that the resolutions were intended “to keep this movement alive after the last performance of the season.”