NHMF Chronicles – Gianni Lanza

NHMF Board Members,

After realizing that many of the patrons were in the dark, until they became aware of the underhanded manner the administration chose to deal with the musicians, after which many chose to sport the “Purple Ribbon” in solidarity with them, and witnessing some of the intemperate public outbursts of the CEO toward some of the patrons who were asking questions, I think that possibly many of the board members have been kept in the dark also. If this is the case, here are the chronicles, written by someone who has not missed a single performance since 1996.

Giovanni Lanza


Dear NHMF participant,

It is very probable that, like us, you have been a faithful NHMF subscriber and follower for many years, and have participated to its highs and lows during the past. It is surprising though how few are aware on how the present “Purple Ribbon” situation developed. These Chronicles represent a compendium of more than 40 pages of notes and letters written by others and me contemporaneously to the events described since 2003. The typical response of the people I have shared this information has been: “Many thanks for this treasure trove…  It’s all-new to me…” Due to the lack of time I was unable to be more concise, and I apologize for plagiarizing some sentences written by others. This writing is not meant to be a literary masterpiece; it is only an outline of the important points.                    
During these many years we had acquired the services of Maestro Polivnik and the chamber music section blossomed. The world premiere of the piano concerto by Mr. Melloni, a faculty member of PSU was presented. It was later CD recorded in Prague, conducted by Maestro Polivnik and George Lopez soloist. Mr. Lopez was another discovery, introduced to the NHMF by subscribers and former board members. Other compositions by Mr. Melloni and by Mr. Sazly, a blind Turkish composer, sponsored by some NHMF supporters, were presented. The above are all 21st century music! Before the new manifesto by Mr. Graham and Mr. Fogel.
We feel that the apex for the NHMF was reached in the early 2000s, when all classical and chamber performances were played to full houses.
At that point the idea of a permanent year round functioning hall, supported by a $30-35M endowment seemed possible, though totally unnecessary. The Future would have included a “Center for Music with a 900-seat Concert Hall, a Main House which will feature social rooms, administrative offices and a new 200-seat Chamber Music Salon, a Garden Lobby, and a Musician Hamlet of renovated farm Buildings, including a rustic barn, for musician housing and teaching facilities”. Mr. Graham also wrote: “The year round expansion relates to educational programs far beyond what we currently do. Concepts on the table for possible expansion include a Gifted Young Artist School, a Musician and Teacher as Mentor Institute, and a vibrant In-School Education program for local school children”.
From the “NHMF Musician Newsletter” of October 22, 2007, one can read “Significant Growth in Audiences, Growth in Tickets Income and continued operation with a Balanced Budget have occurred”. But when? In the distant past! The opposite was and is true at present. Audiences were significantly declining as one could confirm visually, Tickets Income declined as proven by two for one pricing (2007-2008), elimination of the second concert in Plymouth. According to the Tax Records, the Budget was and is in Deficit. Who is accountable for the present state of affairs?
I reread the rest of the newsletter a few times: my conclusion is that, because Mr. Graham has nothing to say, his style cannot be lucid; clarity would expose lack of content.
Thumbing through the 1996-2009 Summer Season Programs, one reads over and over: “The NHMF has received national recognition through its high caliber performances and has won eight awards from the American Society of Composer Authors and Publishers. It also received a special Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989 because of its high artistic quality. In 1990, the Festival was a recipient of the Walter S. Dunfey Award for Excellence in Management, presented by the Corporate Fund. A New Hampshire Public Television program, featuring the 1992 Festival performances with award-winning documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, received a prestigious Emmy Award in 1993″. We are sure that if any new recognition had been received since then, it would have been mentioned, none of the recognitions received are due to the leadership of Mr. Graham.
In 2001 form a staff position of general manager, Mr. Graham became president and CEO.
My wife and I, and other subscribers sensed the beginning of a decline in 2003. At that time we were subscribers and donors. As we realized the delusional grandeur of Mr. Graham plans to deprive our area of a cherished cultural assett, we stopped being “donors”. From that moment on, Mr. Graham failed to acknowledge our presence, even when in 2005, 50 watercolors of my wife Cionia, decorated Silver Hall’s lobby for the duration of the concert season.
When Mr. Graham wrote to the renewing subscribers that they all would have been made “charter members” of the Red Hill project, my wife and I stopped being ‘subscribers’ and refused being co-opted in a venture we did not support. Probably many others felt the way we did, and this is the reason of the “growing lack of support for the Festival’s classical concerts”, and not the present economic situation. The decline started during more prosperous times.
A patron, who until few days ago was not aware of the situation, wrote: “What was most revealing about all three of the conversations, was not the reporters’ ignorance of the controversy. More importantly, all of them were completely unaware of the Festival itself. The news director of New Hampshire’s Public Radio Network (a really knowledgeable guy) had never heard of the New Hampshire Music Festival. Extraordinary!”  Why?
Ms. Sylvie Thierry wrote this afternoon from Zurich: “…Also, John and I have not made any contributions since the minute there first was talk about any construction at Center Harbor. Do you know WHOM at NHMF I should send an email asking that my name be removed from the contributors’ list? If I write to David or Debbie I know I will not get a reply, as in the past… John Thierry had been a former board chairman and a large donor. He died a few years ago, and his wife moved to Switzerland.
Since 2002 the capital campaign has not been a success. In five years only a very small amount of money had been raised from the subscribers; in 2007 two donors gave $7M. This anemic fund giving however was heralded as great progress, which would allow building the so-called core project. The $30-35M goal was reduced to $10M; The Napoleonic plans were reduced to the construction of a smaller hall. And rather than operate full time as announced, it would only be functional for the six weeks of the summer season. During a meeting Rev. Hohlt and I had in 2007, Mr. McLear was made aware of the discrepancies between information given to the supporters at the annual meeting and of the deficit reported in the Income Tax Return. He then also agreed with the desirability of sampling the subscribers about the future plans for the NHMF. Shortly afterwards he reneged.
Recently when Mr. Graham inflicted the audience with his oratorical gift, interspersing it with very inappropriate humor (as the opening remarks in 2008), no mention is made of the Red Hill project. Did some donors reconsider?
Reading from Mr. Fogel website, we realize his and Mr. Graham unflattering plan to use us and the NHMF as guinea pigs for an experiment in “Romantic Excess”. Earlier in his websites, Mr. Fogel had written, and I quote “verbatim”:
“Almost nothing is as important to an orchestra as its music director search. The outcome will be central to what that orchestra is, artistically, for years to come…” Such a search resulted in the choice of Maestro Polivnik. Why then there is not a search now for a music director?
“From time to time when I visit an orchestra, or when I talk with conductors or executives, I encounter a problem that seems to be growing and expanding like a bad weed. That is the phenomenon of board members, usually one person, trying to take over the programming of a professional symphony orchestra…it often results in a mess…. Often what happens, I’m sorry to say, is that one person makes the mistake of thinking that his taste reflects the taste of everyone, and thinks he knows better than the music director what should be played. It is virtually always nonsense.”  Again, the conductor is the key, not someone in a managerial or board position.  As manager Mr. Graham made the musical choices, why is he trying to shift the blame for the decline in attendance to a stale repertory of which he was responsible? 
“In planning, the process is as important as the plan. Inclusiveness is crucial–board, staff, musicians, music director, volunteers, key community members all have a stake in the outcome, and all have unique perspectives to bring to the process. Their inclusion at all phases is a very important element of a thorough planning process.”
Fine words, but certainly not applicable to present situation. Has everyone, public or musicians, been consulted in all or any of the changes in their planning process?  Specifically what parts have lacked clear communication? Why the secrecy?