August 3, 2009
To the Editor:
Last week’s article about the New Hampshire Music Festival read as though the story was a classic old-school labor/management problem. Management want to “improve things”, labor “is resisting change”. With that as the story, the article was titled “Musicians at odds with plans for NHMF”. That is not at all the real story about the turmoil going on with the NHMF. The Festival, in its 57th year, has operated very successfully for almost all of that time. Musical decisions were made by musicians, primarily the conductor, Tom Nee for a very long time and, most recently Paul Polivnick for 18 years. They decided who played and who did not. They decided what was to be played and how it was presented in the concerts. Without question, the orchestra improved under both of them and enthusiastic audiences grew.
Your article quoted Mr. Graham as saying “we’re not talking about radical differences”.
That is simply not accurate. Of course they are. Decisions about musicians, the music to be presented and how it is to be presented are to be made by two non-musicians in order to “make a more organic process of making music”, whatever that really means. The current orchestra regularly demonstrates that they can play anything under different conductors each week this year. Although the programs handed out at every concert list Mr. Polivnick, gone after the first concert, as the Festival’s Music Director, the truth is that the Music Festival does not have a Music Director. Henry Fogel, a non-musician, given the title of Festival Director has stated he selected all of the music this year. Instead of focusing on hiring the best Music Director available, the board is permitting musical decisions to be made by managers, not musicians. Having created a management staff in recent years with a President /CEO, a Festival Manager, a General Manager and a sizeable administrative staff, the board decided to reduce the size of the orchestra this year, not hire a Music Director and approve radical changes. That’s part of the real NHMF story and patrons and subscribers are objecting to it in increasingly strong terms.
Careful readers of your article noticed that Mr. Graham said at one point that the Board realized it had achieved one of its long-term goals of “increasing audiences” yet he bemoans the loss of audiences in the same article. When asked for specifics, the President/CEO said that “he did not have a number or percentage of how much New Hampshire Music Festival audiences have declined…” Since audience attendance is described as the basis for needed changes, I think the President and the Board should have those figures at their finger tips. That information, like so much other important information in this process, has been delivered late or in the vaguest of terms or simply not told to program donors and supporters. Board members refuse to discuss this with donors. Mr. Graham’s statement that the Festival is experiencing “donor melt” conveys only the tip of the iceberg that is coming when hundreds of long-time supporters, currently wearing purple ribbons in support of the orchestra at concerts, voice their reaction to what’s being done behind closed doors with closed checkbooks. That will be the real story.
George Blaisdell, Bridgewater, NH