SOME THOUGHTS on NHMF and “THE KNIGHTS”
So often it seems like ideas become “trends” and in this case I’m wondering if this isn’t the beginning of a trend in music management. As I see it, they [NHMF] could easily be thinking that without the high salary required for a first-class conductor (and you’ve probably already seen cost-cutting in that regard from what I’ve heard about your guest conductors), and with the type of repertoire that these conductor-less groups seem to favor (as opposed to that of the larger chamber orchestra), they could present exciting concerts at much less cost.
Here’s what I think is wrong with this model. It assumes that people just want to hear exciting music. The product that NHMF has always provided is part of a long tradition of classical music, both orchestral and chamber music. Hearing high-level performances of this repertoire, including new music, is not something that people have ready access to in this area (something Henry Fogel may not really have considered). Watching a group of very energetic young virtuosi speed-skate through Bach (see the “A Far Cry” website) can get your heart pumping, but it is not the same experience as hearing a Mahler Symphony or a Bartok String Quartet. It is just different, in the same way that hearing a rock concert at Meadowbrook is different. (I should also point out that the part of the conductor-less model that does not hold up well is with a larger orchestra playing difficult and complex works.)
My heartfelt belief is that as classical musicians we have a responsibility for keeping alive the music we love. I don’t think all these years of fabulous performances in concert halls around the world, with conductors who have brought their depth of understanding and inspiration to the process, can be replaced by something more “21st Century”. My point is that NHMF provided something very rare for both the musicians and the people of New Hampshire, and it was a very specific thing – great performances of live orchestral and chamber music. I don’t believe that gambling that this new model will somehow be a better way to experience music is worth bailing on a model that I firmly believe is not dead.
There are huge issues here. When a group of musicians becomes a community, dealing with quality can be very difficult. I have to wonder if David Graham hasn’t been lobbying to replace some of the older musicians for a long time. This is not something unique to NHMF. Every group has gone through the painful process of having aging musicians, some of whom really do keep playing far past their prime. Let’s face it, if there were no concessions made to things like loyalty and length of service, you’d have a group like Jim Bolle’s NHSO, which tended to “trade up” practically for each concert. There are always “better” musicians available (to a point), especially younger ones. Given the number of years NHMF musicians played for peanuts and for the love of great music, I personally think loyalty deserves a lot of respect. By wanting to import “professional” musicians the implication is that “fixing” the festival meant not only a change in format/repertoire/work model, but (presumably) better players who could teach you all a thing or two. How insulting!
My general feeling about what orchestral management in general (not just NHMF) has failed to do is to create situations where potential audience members who are not familiar with classical music can learn enough about it to begin to appreciate it. When people like Henry Fogel start talking about being bored by performances, they are looking at it from the perspective of having had a lifetime of great orchestral experiences. That is not the same perspective at that of a young person who has never heard a Beethoven Symphony performed live. The way you build audiences is by teaching them about the music. The way you get people to come to concerts is by promoting them in a way that will make people want to come. I don’t see David Graham as the kind of person who has ever really taken the responsibility for that aspect of his job. (I don’t really know – just judging by the seeming lack of knowledge in New Hampshire about the festival. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people about the festival and found they’d never heard of it.)
So David and Henry are bored by orchestral music. (Or maybe David felt like he was in over his head with the building project – these smaller, conductor-less groups don’t need a lot of housing, or a huge performance space.) I can imagine that he saw (sees) this new model as an answer to his problems. Something new to get attention, a way of trimming the “dead wood” from the orchestra (something I am reasonably certain was a major goal), gets him off the hook for having to provide housing at the Inn site – pretty good. Lots easier than actually going out an drumming up enthusiasm for an orchestra that bores him.
I truly hope that there will be enough energy for people who care about this orchestra to prompt a change in the make-up of the board and that David will be seen as the liability he is. As far as Fogel, I hope he will realize that forcing something like this down people’s throats, no matter how “exciting” it may be, was never a good idea. Musicians with the kind of heart and loyalty of the NHMF family are not and will never be a “dime a dozen” as one board member once said. I think it’s time for the board to realize that and put their support where it should have been all along.