8/21/09 – Laconia Citizen

Musicians discuss accord
Center Harbor:

By ERIN PLUMMER [email protected]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sticking points remain for musicians in the recent accord between New Hampshire Music Festival management and orchestra members, but orchestra representatives say they are pleased with the compromises that were reached.

The board of directors of the New Hampshire Music Festival and the Orchestra Committee of the Festival’s musicians announced in a joint statement Monday that they had reached an agreement regarding the 2010 season. The discussions, which took place over 4 1/2 weeks, concluded last Friday.

Festival president David Graham told The Citizen earlier this month that the Festival would be re-evaluating its programs in the wake of an overall decrease in patronage. The re-evaluation included a proposal for incumbent musicians to re-audition for their seats. Plans also included the possibility of adding student musicians to the orchestra.

Musicians and many festival supporters protested the re-auditioning and expressed concern that students would replace professional musicians.

A series of lengthy discussions between musicians and the Festival followed and the Festival ultimately dropped the proposal to re-audition musicians.

Orchestra Committee Chair Valerie Watts and musician representative Joseph Higgins took part in the discussions during the April 14 meeting.

“The discussions were cordial and productive for the most part; I was thankful of that,” Higgins said.

The accord is still in the process of being written and revised.

Higgins said one of the most important developments in the accord was the dropping of the requirement that musicians reapply for their seats which Higgins said would have included conditions such as essays which he said is “totally unheard-of.”

Higgins and Watts said musicians will be subject to an in-seat evaluation by a to-be-hired artistic director and a committee of their peers. If the artistic director feels that a musician has failed to perform his or her duties, which include performing, playing music literature, and mentoring, the musician will have a peer review for an opportunity to prove himself worthy of being in the next season.

An artistic director will be hired and will make recommendations at the end of the season whether a musician should have such a review. The director will have the final say on decisions and will consult with the section leader at the end of the season regarding musicians.

The peer review committee will consist of musicians elected anonymously by vote who would be consulted.

Higgins said there is no appeals process for this decision, which is a “sticking point in the agreement.”

Higgins said musicians attempted to have a stipulation that there would be a minimal number of dismissals but management refused that request.

The agreement also reportedly states that, from the roster of 59 musicians, 20 will be allowed to play for six weeks and another 25 will play for four weeks or less.

An additional 20 professional musicians will be brought in but Higgins said it is not yet clear whether any musicians dismissed through the review process will be replaced from the pool of incumbent musicians or from the 20 additional musicians. “Management has not given us any assurance that those vacancies from those dismissals will be filled from our roster.

“I think, given the position we were in at the beginning of the summer, we were thankful of having some of us back,” Higgins said.

Higgins said the group has been close-knit. “The fact that this group is not coming back in its entirety, I believe, is a problem.”

“We’re grateful that we had the pre-qualifications removed and were grateful that we have 45 contracts here,” Watts said. “We were also very happy that 59 members were considered eligible. There are going to be adjustments that we have to make obviously.”

Watts said the musicians were not prepared for the direction taken by management. “It’s going to take some time for us to adjust to that and I think we’re trying to work out these new duties. We want to make sure that everything is very clear; it’s absolutely clear what was expected. There’s some concern because it hasn’t been definitely laid out.”

Watts said the meeting last Friday was slightly delayed because of a scheduling issue with the Festival’s lawyer and the musicians’ representative.

“The advantage was it allowed the chair and vice-chair of the board to locate this donation,” Watts said, referring to funds given to the Music Festival by an anonymous donor to help resolve some issues.

“It also allowed management the chance to really figure out to use this additional money and work out these various scenarios. It was very difficult, particularly because, being at the end of this festival, we didn’t have the luxury of time to talk to the rest of the musicians and talk about what we had before us.

“We were concerned for a while that student musicians would be replacing professionals in that change.

That changed just not just the whole situation with the negotiations. It was a lot for them to take in and with that one day.”

Watts said there was a discussion with musicians the Saturday after the accord was made.

“I think just the realization that each side had to make concessions, each side gave something up and when you finally reach an agreement, while you’re happy to reach an agreement, there’s a little bit of remorse and that’s really difficult for all of us,” Watts said.

“When it all sinks in, I think the most important thing is we, the members of the original orchestra, were going to be there next year and it’s going to be a large portion of us and we can have an influence on how the Festival will continue and I hope we’ll be able to have a positive influence so we can have all the good qualities this fest has had for so long.”

Higgins said it seems that management has been willing to have an open dialogue with the musicians.

The musicians’ negotiating group is not recognized by management as a collective bargaining group, which Higgins said is another sticking point.

“It’s just going to take a long time for everyone to heal. It’s just been such a difficult summer for everyone,” Watts said.

“I’m just so grateful for the community and all the support they have given us and I hope they give us that support so we can continue and make this festival what it needs to be, that’s beneficial for the community.”