Response to August 4th Letter from Management

August 9, 2009

Dear Friends,

As you know, this has been a trying summer for everyone who loves the New Hampshire Music Festival. We have all struggled to find our way forward: NHMF musicians, management, board, and you our faithful listeners and patrons. After a rough start, our musicians’ committee has been engaged in a good-faith dialogue with management about matters important to the whole organization. Progress has been made. On July 30, 2009, management took the re-qualification requirement of our long-standing musicians off the table. While it took a long time to come to this agreement, we are appreciative of management’s understanding of our interests about this matter.

Thinking about a recent letter from management to donors, patrons, and concert-goers regarding the future of the Festival, we believe there are some points we must clarify.

It was stated, “Given the increased costs and our limited financial resources, the number of musicians that will be employed next season will be smaller than the 2009 season complement.”

We acknowledge that these are extraordinarily challenging times, and many not-for-profit organizations are struggling, but we must note that it appears management is currently allocating tremendous monetary resources for the purposes of aligning a new Festival in the way of employing expert help—it would seem that the diminished resources dedicated to the stage product have taken their toll. Last season our orchestra numbered, at the very least, 53 players—this season it numbers 45. Indeed, guest conductors and patrons have commented on the challenges presented by having so few players in the string section when performing some of the works programmed this summer.

While our talks have brought the musicians and management somewhat closer together, it must be noted that a major sticking-point relates to the proposal that next season NHMF will be replacing some of its seasoned professionals with students. Musicians are open to new ideas and consider an augmentation of our professional orchestra with students an interesting possibility. We cannot abide the prospect of replacing professionals with students for many reasons, not least important among them, the quality of our performances and the loss of work.   

“The festival has experienced a steady decline in classical music attendance, in line with a national trend. Yet, despite aggressive marketing, the festival has experienced a steeper decline than the national experience.”

There has been little evidence of concert promotion in the Lakes Region by NHMF over the past ten years.  Specifically, there are no posters or flyers in any local businesses, only general festival information on the marquee at Silver Hall. The sandwich sign that used to be present at Gilford and Plymouth has disappeared.  Although an informational brochure is sent before the season to NHMF friends, we find few if any advertisements in newspapers, on radio or TV.  Instead, NHMF management has relied heavily upon viral marketing (word-of-mouth-publicity) for promoting our concerts.

“We have conducted these discussions with an open mind, ever respectful of the concerns the musicians have raised. This dialogue has been conducted in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation by festival management and musicians alike.”

We agree that recent talks have been constructive and look forward to more productive dialogue.  

“In 2010 we look forward to the next step: a new orchestra model that offers musicians, conductors and guest artists a more creative, exciting and collegial relationship.”

The musicians look forward to the same, but note that it makes sense to foster collaboration with meaningful methods of consensus building from the start; that is how trust is created and how real integration of thoughts and feelings is accomplished. If there is a specific plan in place for a new orchestra model, the means of facilitating it have been slow to develop though a clearer picture is gradually emerging. As noted above, we are concerned on many levels about replacing professionals with students.

“This [new orchestra model] will have a broader appeal, attracting a growing audience.  This will evolve to a better, healthier and financially stronger festival that will flourish for years to come”.

Change and experimentation can be exciting, but without a genuinely clear and transparent plan of action the musicians of the New Hampshire Music Festival fear for the survival of the Festival.

Looking forward into the 21st century, all of us have an interest in perpetuating the beauties of our art, the graces of which are necessary to any civil society. While the subject is complex, we want to offer a simple mantra by Michael Kaiser, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, who in his book, The Art of the Turnaround, writes with pragmatism and optimism about growing our performing arts organizations: “Good art, well marketed.”  

We have a wonderful resource in the New Hampshire Music Festival, worthy of note well beyond our region. The musicians appreciate our ongoing talks with management and are committed to achieving an outcome beneficial to the whole community—therein lies our success.

Thank you for your support. We are honored to have served you for so many years.

Members of the New Hampshire Festival Orchestra