8/10/09 – Terry Thomason

Monday, August 10, 2009

@Brief head:Tip of the iceberg

Editor, The Citizen:

Your Saturday, Aug. 1 edition carried an unfortunately incomplete story regarding the current conflict within the New Hampshire Music Festival organization, a non-profit body which receives tax-exempt public donations. Its board of directors is led by Edward J. “Rusty” McLear.

The story consisted of an interview with David Graham, president of NHMF, and only secondarily with Valerie Watts, a musician representing the interests of the highly esteemed orchestra of the New Hampshire Music Festival.

Like the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” what is seen on the surface may be somewhat interesting; however, it is what lies unseen beneath that can be most dangerous. What we received from Saturday’s story was the surface stuff. In fairness, let’s take a look beneath — at the serious danger facing the New Hampshire Music Festival, a venerable organization that has distinguished New Hampshire in the music world.

First, David Graham, concurring with the new “Festival Director,” Henry Fogel, a program executive recently added to the payroll, opines that in their view, we are not receiving good enough music — it must become better! What lies beneath — what we do not hear from Graham in the article, is that they plan to “improve” the quality by dismissing a number of our professional musicians and replacing them with university or conservatory students! Such a proposal insults the intelligence of the average concertgoer. If all of such youngsters are the very best of their institutions, they will arrive at NHMF with approximately zero professional orchestra experience, compared with the many years of professional experience we have enjoyed from our orchestra for decades. Pardon me, but this sounds like tooth fairy business.

Second and really alarming, what we do not see in that long interview, is anything about the strident, astonishing, and rapidly growing revolt by NHMF patrons of many decades, against the plans of the management team and the board of directors. On Thursday evening, July 9, the first concert of the season, the orchestra had only very recently been told of the multiple planned changes that would affect many of them very personally and professionally. Orchestra members appeared for that concert wearing purple ribbons as a symbol of solidarity. In a burst of indignation and support for the orchestra, patrons began asking for and wearing ribbons. With a spontaneity seldom observed in reserved old New Hampshire, the clamor for ribbons grew over successive weeks, so that by the evening of July 23, a virtual sea of purple ribbons, hundreds of them, adorned concertgoers as a dramatic vote of no confidence in the plans of management and the board of directors. It is abundantly clear that a vast majority of the constituency of the NHMF is vigorously united in our insistence that the completely professional nature of our orchestra be maintained intact.

In spite of numerous letters of indignation and protest by patrons of long standing to both management and the board of directors, I have not found a single writer who has yet received the courtesy of even an acknowledgement of their correspondence from either management or the board of directors. This lack of transparency and non-responsiveness has been perceived as aloof and has been quite hurtful. A common comment one hears frequently is, “I’ve supported this organization for years — but no more, as long as this is the way they’re running it!”

With equal frequency is heard the heart-felt plea that the board of directors will finally listen to their historically supportive consituency and reverse the course of this ill-considered madness.

Terry C. Thomason