Musicians Reject Proposed Personnel Policy

The 2009 season of the New Hampshire Music Festival has been marked by discord over management’s vision for the future of the Festival.  Days before the opening of this year’s festival, the Musicians, who travel from as far away as France, San Francisco and Seattle, were informed by Festival President David Graham, and Festival Director, Henry Fogel that they would be required to reapply for their positions if they wish to be re-engaged for the 2010 orchestra season.  Veteran performers were being asked to submit an audition portfolio consisting of a CD or DVD of a solo performance of music from three periods of music history as well as optional performances of jazz, improvisation, or alternative styles, and three written essays regarding their approach to music making and mentoring.   Although the rationale behind it, as stated by Mr. Graham and Mr. Fogel, was to assure management that the musicians would be competent to assume duties related to a “new orchestra model” this reapplication process is unheard of in the professional music industry.

Management’s refusal to recognize the Musicians as a collective bargaining unit left the Orchestra Committee in an extremely weak negotiating position.  In fact, Management refused to use the word “negotiate” so as not to inadvertently recognize the Musicians.

The Orchestra Committee invited NHMF management to an open dialogue about the future of the NHMF.  The Committee was joined by Robert Couture, a negotiator from the Boston local of the American Federation of Musicians.  After more than thirty hours of meetings many of the musicians’ questions remained unanswered by Mr. Graham and Mr. Fogel, who acknowledged that many aspects of the new plan have not been formalized.  The “new model” appears to be a collaborative orchestra without any of the hierarchical structure of the traditional orchestra.  There would be no Music Director or consistent principal players and rehearsals would be run collaboratively, as in a string quartet. Throughout the dialogue Orchestra Committee members remained positive, and  were asked to assist management in developing a fair and equitable personnel policy.  At management’s request, the Orchestra Committee formed focus groups to create job descriptions and to define working conditions under the “new model”

Historically, the NHMF has put a fifty-three to sixty piece orchestra on stage.  The 2009 season saw a decrease, due to budget shortfalls, to forty-five players.  In  its’ first formal proposal to the Orchestra Committee, which included removal of the re-application process, Management offered only thirty seats for current musicians in next year’s festival orchestra.  The remainder of the forty-five piece orchestra would consist of  ten students and five musician “mentors” (chosen from outside the NHMF roster) selected by Management.  The proposal also included a re-evaluation process with no provision for appeal, and offered no assurance that future openings would be filled from the current sixty-five member NHMF roster.

When making their proposal, Management expressed their concern that the current roster of musicians would not be able to succeed in the “New Model” and despite dropping the re-application process, insisted on an “in-seat” evaluation during the 2010 season. This evaluation of veteran NHMF musicians would be conducted by the Artistic Director. (The new Artistic Director, Jonathan Gandelsman, was named September 4th, 2009. Click here to read the announcement.) In Management’s original proposal the Artistic Director would consult with the five musician “mentors” from outside the current NHMF roster, in making decisions on dismissals at the end of the 2010 season. The Orchestra Committee was able to change this consulting body to current principals in the 2009 NHMF orchestra. However, the OC was not able to add an appeals process to the decision of the Artistic Director. The Artistic Director’s decision will be final at the end of the 2010 season.

On Friday, August 14th, 2009 Management and the Orchestra Committee, led by Bob Couture, reached a verbal agreement. Management had announced an anonymous, eleventh-hour contribution to be given under two specifications: the Festival must reach an agreement with the musicians and “to support the Festival’s desire to move in a new artistic direction”.  As a result of this gift, Management came to the table with a series of proposals, all of which are modeled on the larger orchestra of pre-2009 seasons and call for the hiring of twenty musician “mentors”, fifteen more than would have been hired in Management’s first proposal.  Management offered to hire twenty “incumbent” musicians (from the current NHMF roster) to return for six weeks and 25 “incumbents” to return for up to 4 weeks in 2010.  Depending on instrumentation, this could result in fewer than thirty-five musicians from our current roster being on stage at any given time.

According to Management, the proposed twenty musician “mentors” (professional musicians from outside the current NHMF roster), who are to be selected by management, will be experienced in the “new model” and will assist incumbents in adjusting to the new system.  Management rationalized the additional fifteen “mentors” by stating that more contracts to incumbents would require hiring more mentors to improve the ratio of mentors to incumbents.  But with the number of NHMF “incumbent” musicians on stage being possibly less than 35, and the number of new “mentors” being increased by fifteen, the original ratio of six incumbents to one mentor changes to a ratio of less than three to two.

Despite the removal of the re-application requirement, the  proposed Personnel Policy has many flaws that are problematic to most members of the Orchestra such as:


  • More than 30% of the current roster of musicians would be effectively dismissed following the 2009 season.
  • Due to the lack of an appeals process, and with no cap on the number of dismissals management could make following the 2010 season, there would be no job security for remaining musicians.
  • There was no assurance that future openings (in the 2011 season) would be filled from the remainder of the current roster.
  • Nothing in the agreement document is guaranteed to be in place for the 2011 season, including the number of contracts (45) being offered to the incumbent musicians for 2010.
  • Replacing professional musicians with students would not improve the quality of the orchestra.

Management contends that, due to the conflict between the Festival management and SOON (a citizen organized group, Save Our Orchestra Now), funding has significantly decreased.  Donors, many of whom are also members of SOON, are reluctant to give to the Annual Fund Drive. We all know that there are many other contributing factors such as a bad economy, management mistakes, etc., but Management believes that SOON may be backed by some of our musicians.

On Saturday, Sept. 20, the Management of the NHMF again, without discussion with the OC, added language to the “agreed upon” policy.

“The Festival’s offer for employment will be dependent on funding.  In the event insufficient funding is raised to employ the number of Incumbent Musicians referenced above and the twenty (20) non-Incumbent Musicians, the complement of musicians will be reduced proportionately among Incumbent and non-Incumbent musicians.” And, “Both the Festival and Incumbent Musicians have agreed to support the efforts to meet these funding requirements.”

Also included with this information was an illustrative scheduling model differing from the three models discussed over the summer with Management. The new model would give Management the ability to add an extra program to each of the Festival weeks. The weekly workload could be increased by nearly 100% with only a 25% increase in weekly pay, resulting in a wage decrease of 35%.

These items represent additional significant changes from what was agreed on August 14th, 2009.

The agreement reached on August 14th did not represent the ultimate goal of the orchestra but the best efforts of the mediator and the Orchestra Committee. There has been much discussion among orchestra members regarding the agreement. Many of the comments of the orchestra members have been posted in our “Musician Comments” section.??At the time of this writing, the members of the New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra have voted overwhelmingly in disapproval of Management’s new Personnel Policy.

An anonymous online poll of the musicians was completed at midnight September 29th, 2009.

  • 62 out of 69 members voted in the poll.
  • 59 voted against the proposed personnel policy.
  • 3 voted in favor of the proposed personnel policy.

Despite the current atmosphere, musicians of the NHMF Orchestra remain optimistic that the role this orchestra has had with the community of Plymouth, NH will continue. As Ron Patterson, our esteemed concertmaster, has put it “The NHMF Orchestra has given some of the best performances of my 45 year concertmaster career in Europe and the US. The contact between the musicians and the audience is at the highest level I have ever experienced.” The outpouring of support from our audience is evidence that the people of Plymouth and the Lakes Region want this orchestra to return year after year. We plan to use all the resources at our disposal to ensure that our orchestra remain the resident orchestra of the New Hampshire Music Festival. The musicians’ hope is that a new process and dialogue will ensure the continuation of this New England treasure, the New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra.