10/8/09 – Laconia Citizen

Critics of Music Festival’s new direction raise the stakes in effort to build support for their cause

By BEA LEWIS
[email protected]
Thursday, October 8, 2009

A group of New Hampshire Music Festival backers that has become increasingly outspoken about changes being pursued by Festival management is ratcheting up its campaign to get the management to change course.

Save Our Orchestra Now — S.O.O.N for short — a group of ticket holders and donors, has retained a professional public relations firm. That action comes after most musicians within the Music Festival orchestra last week scuttled a proposed settlement in a dispute that angered players and audiences alike throughout the past summer season.

“Maintaining a professional and respectful relationship with the artists is a core requirement of the Festival’s management. Unfortunately, it appears the management’s responsibility on this front is not going well. Despite assurances at the end of the season that an agreement had been reached, it now appears the agreement is a work in process, that management is struggling with its financial condition and in general the situation seems to be spinning out of control,” S.O.O.N. said in a statement Tuesday.

The Festival management says it is not deviating from the organization’s focus on classical music, but that some changes are essential to ensure its future.

Gene Bishop, a member of S.O.O.N.’s executive committee, confirmed that the group has retained the services of White Birch Communications, the public relations division of the Dupont Group — a lobbying and communications firm headed by Ed Dupont Jr., a former leader in the state Senate.

“We’re hoping they will spread the word to the general population and the Festival audience that the picture isn’t quite as rosy as the Festival’s press releases to the newspapers would suggest,” Bishop said of what S.O.O.N. hopes White Birch will accomplish.

Bishop said the public relations experts will be used to help S.O.O.N. persuade other Music Festival supporters to press the NHMF management to reconsider its plans to alter the Festival’s location, finances and musical approaches, Bishop explained.

Festival President David Graham said, “First, here are the things that are not changing: our focus on classical music with an emphasis on symphonic repertoire and an orchestra-in-residence each summer. We are changing to a more collaborative style in performance led by our new artistic director, who is well versed in this exciting style.

“We are doing this to reinvigorate the Festival,” Graham added, “and by so doing grow our audience base and remain in a strong financial position going forward.”

Graham said the Festival’s management, for its part, will try to convince S.O.O.N. and other critics that the changes are necessary to keep the Festival on sound financial footing.

“We are hoping we can find ways to persuade S.O.O.N. that change is essential for the financial stability of the Festival. But we realize the best persuasion will be when those hesitant about the change attend the concerts of the 2010 season. Based on changes we have implemented in the past that have strengthened the Festival, we feel the risk of not changing is far greater than the risk of change. High quality programs and fiscal responsibility remain the highest priorities for the Festival.”

Bishop said the actions of the Festival’s management spurred the formation of S.O.O.N. and the hiring of White Birch.

“The way the whole issue was handled by them in the sense they made really, really radical changes to the format of the festival in terms of how the music is going to be played and actually who was going to be playing it. It caused a lot of derision and heartache over the summer, and we just think all of its was unnecessary if they had only taken people into their confidence and said maybe were having some problems, this is how we’re trying to correct them. And asked people about their ideas instead of shoving it down their throats that’s what started it off,” Bishop said of the dispute.

Bishop said he hopes that the two sides could sit down and discuss “bringing things back to somewhere where it was,” and also talk about advertising and the marketing of the Festival.

“So many people in the Lakes Region don’t know about the Festival. It’s a hidden secret,” Bishop concluded.

Graham said, “Word-of-mouth, or community ‘buzz’ has always been our best advertising and it has been missing for several years. This is why we are transitioning to a more engaging model. We do continue to evaluate our marketing strategies for the best return on investment.” The Festival presents more than 160 events annually, more than 30 concerts during the summer and some 130 year-round classroom activities in the region ‘s schools during the school year.