By VICTORIA GUAY
PLYMOUTH — The group of New Hampshire Music Festival Patrons who formed a nonprofit group last year to prevent drastic changes to the Festival and its orchestra won’t be meeting again anytime soon.
The group, Save Our Orchestra Now (or SOON), voted to disband Saturday at a final meeting held at The Church of the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Plymouth.
“We met all the goals we set out to accomplish, so it was time,” Gene Bishop, former chairman of SOON’s Executive Committee, said after the meeting.
Bishop was among a group of Festival patrons who became concerned last July about a new direction Festival board members and management wanted to take, a direction that, initially at least, would have seen veteran orchestra members essentially reapplying for their positions.
“The whole thing began because of our love for the orchestra, the orchestra is the Music Festival,” Bishop said.
Even after it seemed management would not require musicians to reaudition, the changes that were being planned for the tone and style of the Festival itself was still of grave concern to SOON members.
After a somewhat contentious annual meeting of the Festival’s board of directors, it was announced in February that a new chairman, Ron Sibley of Plymouth, would replace Rusty McLear of Meredith, though McLear still serves on the Board as vice-chair.
It was also announced this winter that the Festival’s president., David Graham, will be leaving his post in May. A new director has yet to be named.
Bishop said the 50 members of the group at the meeting agreed that they had met their goals and now want to concentrate on supporting the orchestra members and new Festival leaders during the upcoming season.
“We want to do all we can to help the Festival be a success as much as possible,” Bishop said.
Sibley, who has been a Festival board member for 18 years, made an appearance at the meeting to greet festival patrons and to reassure everyone of a new spirit of cooperation between the Festival’s leadership, its board, the musicians and its patrons.
“We’re all together working toward the same goal,” Sibley said. “There is no controversy.”
The meeting lasted more than two hours and included socialization, musical performances by four Music Festival Orchestra musicians, and refreshments.
Sandra Flesher-Sheldon of Moultonborough, the orchestra’s principal oboe player, said she looking forward to the 2010 season after a tense 2009.
“We’re very hopeful this is going to work smoothly this summer,” Flesher-Sheldon said. “It was a very depressing winter because I didn’t know it would all get turned around so quickly.”
Flesher-Sheldon, who has been an orchestra member for 43 years, said that she moved to Moultonborough several years ago from Oklahoma, because she enjoys the Lakes Region and Festival so much.
She said when she used to travel from Oklahoma to New Hampshire each summer, it was easy to reunite with the other musicians and quickly become a cohesive orchestra again.
“It’s like we never left each other,” Flesher-Sheldon said.
When asked about last year’s controversy, Flesher-Sheldon said she wasn’t sure what exactly management had planned, but she was wary of what drastic changes to the Festival might do to the orchestra and the patrons.
“It is such as beloved institution,” Flesher-Sheldon said. “They were certainly tampering with something that has a beauty and humanity about it, a sense of community — and they wanted to tear it apart.”
Bishop said the 2010 season will see the same orchestra returning, a talented array of guest conductors, and a lineup of varied and rich performances.
“It looks like it’s going to be a very exciting season, we’re looking forward to it with great anticipation,” Bishop said.
The Festival, which was founded in 1952, runs for six weeks, from July 6 to Aug. 13, at the Silver Center for the Arts, Plymouth State University, in Plymouth and includes three series.
The Classic Series is titled “Beethoven 2010. A Season of Triumph!” and features a mix of classical and romantic masterpieces during six programs on both Thursday and Friday evenings. The Pops Series consists of three concerts on Saturday evenings July 10, July 24, and Aug. 7. Festival orchestra musicians are showcased at the Tuesday evening Chamber Music Series.
All concerts begin at 8 p.m. and are held at Silver Center for the Arts, PSU, on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. For further information, contact the New Hampshire Music Festival by calling 279-3300 or e-mail to [email protected] or visit www.nhmf.org on the Web.