“Leading Tone” article

From “The Leading Tone”

The Newsletter of the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA)

Volume 26, Issue 1, Fall 2009



For fifty-seven years the New Hampshire Music Festival has enjoyed the reputation of being a New England jewel. Nestled at the base of the White Mountains and the Lakes Region, performances have been exciting audiences with both orchestral performances and chamber music programs. Members of this orchestra have been returning to New Hampshire for 10, 20, 30 and even some members for 40 years. Not only has this orchestra developed a true familial atmosphere on and off stage but this has also carried over into a relationship with the community unparalleled for many of the musicians in their home orchestras.


For the past few years the orchestra has been trying to seek recognition as a collective bargaining unit by the current NHMF administration. Efforts in this regard have been thwarted by various means and have left the orchestra in a precarious situation while trying to fight Management’s attempts to replace the ENTIRE orchestra personnel with musicians of their own choosing.  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 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. This reapplication process is, of course, unheard of in our professional music industry.


The current musicians began wearing purple ribbons during performances as a sign of their opposition to management’s plans. As the summer progressed and word of the dispute became widely known, entire audiences began wearing purple ribbons in solidarity with the musicians on stage. Growing out of the melee, the community formed a group under the name SOON, Save Our Orchestra Now! This group has been actively been pursuing the retention of this current roster of musicians as THEIR orchestra, not the new vision Management has for the festival. Pressure from the community forced “negotiations” between management and the orchestra committee.  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 their new plan have not been formalized

Historically, the NHMF has put a fifty-three to sixty piece orchestra on stage for a six week summer season.  The 2009 season saw a decrease, due to budget shortfalls, to forty-five players.  The personnel policy that the NHMF Orchestra has been working under since 1992 holds protection for the musicians, such as rights of contract renewal (tenure), allowance for personal leave and a dismissal process that includes peer review.  These are all usual terms found in any Orchestral collective bargaining agreement, and rightly so.  They are there to protect single musicians or groups of musicians from arbitrary or capricious decisions that reflect the self-interest of an individual or group.


Although the re-application process was later removed, the new personnel policy Management is attempting to put in place for the 2010 season would allow them to permanently replace 30 of us with 20 outside professional musicians and 10 students of Management’s choosing.  This represents a loss of half our Orchestra. They have removed rights of renewal and peer review.  There is no cap on further dismissals.  The half of our Orchestra who is invited back for 2010 could be dismissed in its entirety following next summer’s Festival.  Newly appointed Artistic Director, Jonathan Gandelsman, is expected to review, within a few weeks time, the players left in the orchestra next summer, with an eye on who to dismiss.  His decision to dismiss will be final.  No appeal.

The proposed Personnel Policy has many other flaws that are problematic to most members of the Orchestra.


Add to that the icing on the cake. Since the time of the agreement of August 14th Management has subsequently added language not agreed upon at the summer meetings with the Orchestra Committee.

New language Management recently inserted into the policy would further reduce the incumbent musicians in the event of there being a lack of funds.  The Orchestra committee agreed on August 14 to Management’s final offer at that time BECAUSE we were told that next year’s season would be funded through an anonymous donor. Also added to the policy was an illustrative scheduling model differing from the three models discussed over the summer. 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 suggested 25% increase in weekly pay, resulting in a wage decrease of 35%.

These items represent significant changes from what was agreed on August 14th, 2009.   This also represents a huge departure from sound orchestral management unheard of in the music world, and is a thinly disguised attempt to replace this orchestra with another one of Management’s choosing.

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.


Further details of this plight of the New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra can be read at the following websites:




Musicians of the New Hampshire Music Festival on Facebook


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 remains 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.


Members of the NHMF Orchertra Committee