8/9/09 – Laconia Daily Sun


Group of Music Festival patrons may vote to withhold financial support

Michael Kitch

Center Harbor — A second front has opened in the struggle for control of the future direction of the New Hampshire Music Festival. While management continues to negotiate with representatives of the musicians, contributors and ticket holders will consider withdrawing their support if the executives and directors fail to include them in discussions about the future of the Festival, including its financial condition.
When “Save Our Orchestra Now” (SOON), a group of some 50 donors and patrons formed in response to management’s initiative to restructure the orchestra, met last week it charged a sub-committee of three, convened by Terry Thomason of Gilford, to draft a resolution for its next meeting on Thursday, August 13. Thomason said that the resolution will call on patrons not to make donations or buy tickets to the Festival next season so long as the board of directors refuses to have a dialogue and reach agreement with them over the character of the orchestra and the future of the event.
Ever since July 1, when David Graham, president of the festival, and Henry Fogel, the newly appointed festival director, announced that members of the orchestra would be required to audition for their places next season, many in the audiences have worn purple ribbons to signal their support for the musicians.
Graham explained that the changes were intended to fulfill a “new vision” for the festival aimed at reversing the decline in audiences for classical music.
After several meetings with the orchestra committee, management abandoned its decision to require musicians undergo a rigorous auditioning process in favor of an “in seat” evaluation by the artistic director while continuing to refer to adding students to the ensemble of professional musicians. Moreover, in correspondence with patrons has indicated that the orchestra will be fewer in number next season.
Thomason said that despite the assurances from management, patrons fear that Graham and Fogel intend to replace a significant number of the professional musicians with students. “There is a strong consensus in favor of protecting and preserving the orchestra,” he said.
Meanwhile, Arthur Albert of Campton, a former director of the festival, said yesterday a number of patrons suspect that the restructuring of the orchestra, which sparked the current controversy, is less an attempt to enhance the quality of performances than to reduce the operating costs of the Festival.
Albert said that SOON’s requests to meet with the full board of directors have been repeatedly declined. He said that while Rusty McLear of Meredith, the chairman of the board, and Susan Weatherbie agreed to meet with representatives of the patrons, their efforts to meet with the full board have been deflected.
In an open letter to the directors on behalf of SOON, Albert challenges the board to address a number of questions about the financial stability of the Festival, particularly about the cost of constructing and operating the new concert hall planned for Center Harbor and how they will be met.
Albert said yesterday that he and others have had concerns about the operating revenues and expenses of the Festival for several years. Calling the financial statements of the Festival “a closely held secret,” he said that the organization’s 2007 tax records indicate that a significant share of its assets appear to be restricted, perhaps for construction of the concert hall, while the festival operates at or near a deficit.
In his letter Albert charges that the directors have been “systematically misled regarding both the desirability and efficacy of the “new vision” for NHMF” and warns that “we see the real possibility of a calamitous end to the story as its is presently unfolding.” Albert claims that Graham and Fogel intend to replace “a substantial number of veteran players with student musicians” and that “the orchestra as we know it, will cease to exist by the 2010 season.”
Declaring that the festival faces “a crisis unparalleled in its 57-year history,” Albert notes that performances this season have been sold out and challenges the contention that audiences are shrinking. “What evidence is there (aside from the assurance of Graham/Fogel),” he asks, “that replacing a proven orchestra with an orchestra consisting of a small core of veteran players mixed with students, will attract a music loving audience in greater numbers than heretofore?” Likewise, he chides the management for its failure to aggressively market the Festival.
Albert said that he intended his letter “to wake up the board of directors and encourage greater transparency. That is the only realistic outcome of my letter,” he said, stressing that he expects no change on the part of management.
Attempts to reach Graham for comment on these new developments were unsuccessful.