NH Festival Orchestra faces the music
Center Harbor — As the New Hampshire Music Festival opened its 57th season last week, management and musicians quickly found themselves playing in different keys.
The discordant note was struck when the musicians, many of whom have come to New Hampshire from around the country and the world to play together every summer for two decades or more, were told they would be required to reapply for a place in the orchestra for the 2010 season. Along with an audition, each instrumentalist must submit three recordings of music composed before 1800, between 1800 and 1950 and since 1950, demonstrate their facility with different musical genres as well as composing and arranging, and write essays in response to three questions about music making in the 21st century, including their approach to mentoring students who will be joining the orchestra.
Nina Allen Miller, who has played french horn in the orchestra for 28 seasons and with the Portland Symphony for 32 years, called the process “outlandish, outrageous and insulting, far beyond the standards in the industry. That’s how we have to get our jobs back,” she asked, “writing essays?” She that “musicians are accustomed to auditioning for new jobs, but I’ve never heard of auditioning an entire orchestra.”
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. Cellist Andrea DiGrigorio, a 22 year veteran of the festival where she met her husband, a violist, fashioned the ribbons. She said that they were intended for the orchestra, but during the intermission members of the audience also asked for them. “I ran out in five minutes,” she said, “and one man asked for 200!”
David Graham, president of the festival, said yesterday that last year the Board of Directors, chaired by Rusty McLear of Meredith, “charged the leadership of the festival with realigning its artistic mission.” In a letter mailed to patrons on Monday, Graham and Henry Fogel, recently appointed to the post of festival director, explained that “it is essential for us to reverse the growing lack of support for the Festival’s classical concerts,” noting that the traditional second classical performance has been eliminated for want of an audience. In the future, they said, the festival would seek “to bring new creativity and energy to the performance of classical music,” noting that “leaders of the classical music scene have observed that concert performances that bring back an atmosphere of discovery and emotional excitement create fresh enthusiasm.”
Graham highlighted the role of Fogel in the future of the festival.
Fogel, who headed the League of American Orchestras for five years, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association for 18 years and the National Symphony Orchestra for four years, was named one of the five best managers of cultural organizations by Business Week magazine. “He is at the very top,” said Graham, “and in his commitment he is unflinching.”
For the musicians, who DiGrigorio described as “a close knit group of people who come to New Hampshire for six weeks each summer to make fantastic music,” the prospect of change is, in her words, “heartrending and devastating.” For the past 49 years, the musicians have worked under only two musical directors, Thomas Nee from 1960 to 1992 and his successor Paul Polivnick, whose final concert was last week.
Miller said that the orchestra counts members from the Metropolitan Opera as well as from symphonies in San Francisco, Seattle, London and Paris. “As performing musicians, this is one of the greatest groups I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with. No one here needs to prove themselves.”
Both Miller and DiGrigorio emphasized that over the years the musicians have not only formed close bonds with one another but also established a unique rapport with their audiences and the Lakes Region communities. They fear that the changes in the offing threaten the camaraderie and friendships among the musicians and, equally important, the unique relationship between the orchestra and the community.
“Change is always difficult,” said Graham, who also distributed a memorandum setting forth “myths and facts” to the musicians. There he emphasizes that all the members of the orchestra will have the first opportunity to play with the orchestra in the future, assuring them that no other musicians will be hired for the 2010 season until “we determine which of you decide to participate in the process and which of you are selected.”
However, Graham also advises the musicians that “we will ask you to demonstrate talents and capabilities you have not been asked to demonstrate in the past. We must be assured that you, first, have an interest in participating; and second, that you have the capability to perform in this new environment,” he continues. “We expect higher standards, longer hours and a much more engaged commitment than in the past.”