Maureen Horgan

What is really sad about this situation is that this is the only gig I have ever done where I know a lot of the audience members, I know the families of my colleagues, I don’t do it for the money, AND it is an excellent orchestra. I think our conductors, past, present, and guest, would agree with that last bit.  This is a rare situation, worth preserving.

Here’s what I understand of another Henry Fogel consultant situation, the Peoria IL Symphony.  It’s a story of Boards getting starry-eyed, and the resultant consequences.  You can learn more at the website of the Peoria Journal Star.   I have also heard that some of the ideas below, as well as the ones we encountered this summer, are the latest fad being pushed by the League of American Orchestras (which used to be ASOL but changed the name for obvious reasons?).

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? 

Henry Fogel was asked to come hear a concert by the Peoria (IL) Symphony during the 2007-08 season.  After that visit, Fogel suggested that a Guest Conductor be engaged.  Because it was his idea, the Board went GaGa.??A specific guest conductor was suggested by Fogel and engaged for a concert in the 2008-09 season, behind the back of the music director.

For that particular concert, the soloist, a PSO musician was scheduled to perform as the soloist.

A Board member said the guest conductor didn’t know the piece and therefore did not want to perform it on his concert, the guest conductor says the Board told him not to do the piece

For whatever reason, the piece was pulled from the program and the soloist was un-engaged.  The music director insisted that you cannot un-hire a soloist, and the music director’s contract was not renewed in January 2009.
Because of bad publicity, the guest conductor did not come.  Michael Morgan (deeply involved in the League of American Orchestras) came instead.

The musicians are currently trying to unionize and there is a search on for a new Music Director.   The orchestra is divided because of the non-renewal of the Music Director and because of the unionization effort.??Michael Morgan is acting as Artistic Director while the search is on.

David Graham is currently responsible for the NHMF.  In a meeting back when NHMF was buying the Red Hill property and the orchestra was expanded at the same time, one orchestra member asked why we couldn’t get paid better if the festival had money for all of this, and David’s (paraphrased) response was “We have no trouble getting good musicians for this price”.   The pay did go up after that, but David’s attitude left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.  I was told that at one of the sessions at the Common Man this past summer, he told the audience of potential donors that “the college professors use this as supplemental income.”   When I was a freelancer in Boston, I did make supplemental income in the summer.  Now that I am one of those college professors, after the travel, kennel costs, and maintenance of my property in GA while I am gone for 6 weeks, I am lucky to break even.

A magical last-minute donor appeared during the last few days of the festival, just in time to reduce the number of students from 10 to 5, and raise the number of “their people” from 5 to 20.   Our soloist for the final week was to have been Jonathan Gandelsman, but he did not come, we heard because he had hurt his hand.  Several weeks after the festival ends, he is announced as our new Artistic Director.

This all reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons from my MIT days.   There are two professors looking at two sets of math equations on the board, and in the middle of the equations is written “here, a miracle occurs.”  The older professor is pointing to the middle part, and is asking the younger one “can you be more specific here?”

Finally, we get some details about the proposed changes for next summer.  The pay has gone up 25% (a whopping $144/week before taxes), the rehearsal time has been doubled, and the number of concerts has almost doubled (from 3 to 5).  We work 6 days a week, and the structure of the rehearsal schedule is not suited to adults with families.

But the most galling evidence that the festival is being undermined by present management is buried in the proposed agreement.   All of this turmoil we have been through for the past two years is in the name of a more collaborative model.  In our proposed new agreement, under the section entitled “Importance of Collaboration”, the final sentence reads “The Artistic Director’s decision regarding reengagement will be final.”  That sounds like the antithesis of a collaborative model.

Ultimately, change must occur.  When Paul Polivnick took over from Tom Nee, folks were fearful.  But Paul managed to overcome the fear and build a more consistent orchestra without firing anyone.  The current situation feels like an entirely different kind of fear.

Ultimately, the Board is responsible for the future of the festival.

Maureen Horgan