An open letter to the Officers, Board of Directors and Artistic Council of the New Hampshire Music Festival, as listed in the 2009 program book
13 July 2009
To: Officers: Edward J. (“Rusty”) McLear, Chairman; Susan B. Weatherbie, Co-Chair; David H. Graham, President; A. Cushing Robinson Livens, Secretary; Lewis A. Aldrich, Treasurer; and Board: Suzanne R. Beach, J. Barry Coughlin, Edward N. Dane, Chuck DiCecca, Peg Gavenonis, H. Eugene Jones, John L. Malm, Kathryn Warner Miller, Alida I. Millham, Isobel Parke, Pauline Sanfacon, Ron Sibley, Carol Snelling, Dr. Sara Jayne Steen, Eleanor Stoddard, Timothy L. Vaill and Albert K. Webster; and Artistic Council: Ken Burns, Van Cliburn, John Corigliano, Valery Gergiev, Gidon Kremer and Wynton Marsalis:
It is my belief that a very substantial portion of the audience of the New Hampshire Music Festival would like the summer portion of the festival to remain a series of concerts presented by substantially the current orchestra members. I hope that the board can very soon adopt our point of view. The changes which David Graham and Henry Fogel wish to make will make the festival unrecognizable.
There are historical precedents for the idea that “we had to destroy it in order to save it” and they have not worked well. If David Graham and Henry Fogel wish to have a sandbox to play with new ideas in, the ethical thing for them to do is build a new sandbox somewhere with a new name, and not to take our sandbox, with our name, which we love, and to which we have donated money and time for many years.
I have been a subscriber and donor since 1984.
The adventurous programming for which NHMF had already received many awards, and the brilliant playing of the more standard repertoire, were the first things that drew my husband and me to the festival. Soon we became friends with quite a few of the players and the conductor, and our son made friends with many “orchestra brats.” The orchestra’s bonding with each other and with many of members of the audience were hallmarks of the festival and its identity. The chorus members were another integral part of the musical community, attending many concerts and befriending many musicians.
When David Graham became the manager a few years after we started attending, he began pressuring the summer conductor to do a more standard repertoire. Since then we have heard a more traditional type of programming, and the audiences have indeed become larger. (Some of us who enjoyed the more adventuresome programming were sad to miss it, but we still appreciated the excellent playing and the musical community we had.)
I was extremely puzzled (an understatement) to read in the recent audience newsletter that the festival’s summer programming and execution are too traditional, not thrilling enough, not emotional enough, and that there is too much attention paid to the notes on the page. The traditional emphasis is the result of David Graham’s ideas (some of which may have come from audience polls).
I have heard Henry Fogel, the new “Festival Director,” say that when the changes have arrived that result from, among other things, re-auditioning the orchestra and having them submit three essays to show whether or not they agree with the “new vision” for the festival, then we will draw “national and even international audiences.”
To quote from a recent letter from David Graham to the audience: “We will be choosing performers precisely for their approach to music-making, one that is centered on a collaborative approach and that is bound firmly with the emotional content of the music — then communicating that emotional content with as much impact as possible.”
It is important to figure out whether the new setup will draw the local audience required for the transition that we are assumed to yearn for; it would seem wise to retain a local audience for the more remote future too.
Henry Fogel also spoke of having “curators” for a week or more. (Perhaps they are persons with whom the musicians are supposed to collaborate? None of this detail was presented to the audience before or after the board voted it in last November.)
I – and believe many others – would MUCH prefer that our festival continue to have a Music Director who is an experienced conductor. There are five exciting conductors presiding over the last five weeks of the festival. Paul Polivnick is listed in this summer’s program book as our Music Director, but his last concert was July 9, 2009 (one whole week this summer).
Nowhere have I heard or seen any evidence that these conductors are auditioning to be the next Music Director of our beloved festival. David Graham and Henry Fogel are experienced administrators. The festival’s office has always worked extremely hard and well to make it possible for our concerts to happen. I have no beef with the office in almost every way.
But if our new director is not a musician, there is something very important missing. “If you build it, they will come” requires a Music Director who is qualified. Henry Fogel has some exciting ideas, and the current players would probably enjoy participating in some of them, but he is not a music director.
I respectfully beg the board to stop dismantling the New Hampshire Music Festival, to hire a qualified Music Director, with the advice of your Artistic Council and other experienced musicians, and to treat the current orchestra as the tenured body that it has been for many years.
Very truly yours,
Warren, NH 03279 (summer) 603-764-9925
and Lansdale, PA 19446 215-393-8417