in: News & Features

November 15, 2011

Storm at Monadnock Music

by

An email sent recently to Lee Eiseman, Boston-area classical music presenter for close to 40 years who is also publisher of The Boston Musical Intelligencer, for a recommendation for an artistic director for Monadnock Music as part of the restructuring “that better serves our community”(read posting here)  was met with surprise by BMInt staff. As the first notice of changes at the organization, it led to far more questions than it answered. This, and subsequent comments from some readers, such as that posted by Pulitzer-Prize-winning composer Melinda Wagner on the article we wrote about this upcoming past season here, have prompted this further article on the situation in Peterborough, NH.

During its three years of existence, BMInt has reviewed ten concerts of Monadnock Music, of which nine were highly favorable; this period is within that of the artistic directorship of Jonathan Bagg and Laura Gilbert, who took over from its founder, composer James Bolle, in 2006. Members of BMInt’s staff also have attended many concerts, both those with admission fees and free concerts, for the past twenty years or so.

Founded by Bolle in 1967 and run by him until five years ago, Monadnock Music provides ticketed concerts, usually at the Peterborough Town House, and many free concerts throughout the summer season in neighboring communities. When Bolle retired, he hand-picked three persons to succeed him, including Bagg and Gilbert as co-artistic directors. Bagg had been affiliated with Monadnock for 27 years; Gilbert, for 18.

The first question that occurred to BMInt is why the two were let go in hopes of replacing them with someone from the Monadnock local community, as was stated, when a request for names to replace them went out to a broad community, into Connecticut. And in these days of the prominence of email communication, what is the added value of somebody local? Another question was, given the apparent success of the co-artistic directors, whether there had been any discussion with them about adjusting programs and fees, or any other issues, or whether the reasons for termination were to be found elsewhere. And general questions came to mind: would replacing the artistic directors address the main concerns of the board? Are the concerns financial? Were there other major changes being contemplated? Last and most important, would this imbroglio impair or improve the future of Monadnock Music?

“My first reaction was astonishment,” said Margaret Johnson, long-time supporter and volunteer who began and headed up the highly successful Monadnock program “Lend an Ear!” for elementary schoolchildren. “I am baffled — deeply distressed.”

Miki Osgood, former staff member in charge of special events — arrangements for practicing and accommodations for musicians, volunteer coordination, etc. — who was let go in the reorganization, noting a change of direction, fears “the uniqueness of Monadnock is being jeopardized.” Additionally, she added, “Will Chapman sent out the end-of-year appeal the week before the ax went down…. People are saying, ‘There is no way I am giving to MM with this going on.’”

This was not what the board had in mind, according to President Michael Petrovick. “We needed to make a change. The entire model for non-profits is changing, especially with what is happening with available funds. We were going to be under more and more stress. We really needed to have our staff more involved in day-today fundraising, to meet with donors, patrons, on a day-to-day basis; it wasn’t working not having [Bagg  and Gilbert] accessible.” So the decision was made to extend the net to within a 150-mile radius of Peterborough, to allow the next artistic director — and it would be only one, Petrovick stressed — “to go to meetings and social events with ease. But I don’t think anyone would have handled it the way it was portrayed….  Believe it or not, the vote [of the board] was unanimous,”  he continued,  “but someone essentially high-jacked the process. … Unfortunately, it got a life of its own.”

Bolle indicated there had been difficulties, but, he offered, “For anyone coming in, it is difficult to deal with these eccentricities at Monadnock. It is a unique organization. There was bound to be a lot of tension.”

That portrayal of a neighborhood conflict was first made public in an article by Dave Anderson in the Monadnock Ledger Transcript on October 20, in which Bagg was quoted extensively. That article is here.

Contacted about his original source, Anderson said he heard from a few people in the community. Asked if he had heard from either Bagg or Gilbert, he responded, “They did not contact us first. I called them. And they responded to my questions.”

Petrovick stated that the one thing that came out of both the strategic assessment, which the board commissioned in 2010, and the audience survey, for which participation was solicited at each concert this past summer, “was not against the artistic directors. … The underlying message was that there was too much of them as performing artists and that concerts were featuring too much music in which they participated, or music played by their friends. … We had had that conversation with them on several occasions,” Petrovick  asserted.

Bagg said that is not true. The issue was never raised with them, he reiterated. Gilbert agreed.

As for the comment that Bagg and Gilbert used their friends, Margaret Johnson has a different view. “It isn’t their friends; many of them were the good old Monadnock musicians whom we all recognized. [Bagg and Gilbert]  have a pretty wide acquaintance and they are more than able to pick the good ones. Quality is what they are after.”

The strategic assessment “wasn’t bad,” Petrovick continued. In fact, it was “inconclusive, in that Monadnock Music has always has gotten mixed feedback because the programs are so diverse”; and so the board instituted the second survey this summer.

Osgood questioned the earlier 2010 survey run by the board at the onset of this change in direction. “It seemed as if it were set up as a bias,” she mused. “People chosen were not necessarily a cross-section… Some very intelligent individuals were not asked.”

The second survey this past summer was passed out to the audiences at eight concerts. To the question “What would you most like to see changed?” an impressive number — 69 out of 187 — responded with a variety of ways, some quite imaginative, of saying “nothing”; others called for “more”: more concerts, more locations: “move east!” “move to Texas!” “Bring a concert to Nashua.” Suggested changes on programming were for “more” of various types of music: Baroque, songs, Schubert, etc. (One said “Do not play non-melodic modern music.”) Most problems cited were with facilities: hard seats and poor air-conditioning. Basically, for the programming aspects, the survey results were overwhelmingly favorable.

Bagg noted, “This summer, we got the formula just right. We made the Peterborough [paying] concerts different enough from the free town concerts, so people would say, ‘This I want to buy a ticket to.’ We programmed Mahler, Wagner, Das Lied plus Siegfried Idyll, so that it felt big. …I think it worked pretty well.”

In further affirmation of the past season, Executive Director Chapman, who had been away for three weeks and recently spoke to BMInt upon his return, pointed out that in this past summer, ticket income was up 40% and donations to village concerts up 70%. “But having said that, people don’t restructure because we are trying either to adapt to new condition or anticipate a new environment. Everything we are doing is to ensure we sustain and stay on our mission.”

On the basis of the strategic assessment, the board was enlarged and reorganization was instituted: the staff and artistic director were to be under the executive director, who would answer to the board. Petrovick decided to throw his hat in the ring, so he said, “I recused myself from the board.” Riccardo Barreto, who had been president of the board for three months, resigned when his partner, Will Chapman, decided to apply and was appointed. Bagg and Gilbert, among others, felt Chapman’s fundraising skills were just what was needed.

However, once Chapman was on the job, Bagg and Gilbert said they no longer were invited to take part in board meetings. Chapman instructed them that reports they used to submit directly were to go to him, and he would present them.

“The artistic directors’ reports were a way of keeping the board informed about what grants we had gotten, what was successful and what not,” Bagg explained. When he and Gilbert questioned Chapman about the versions presented to the board, according to Bagg, Chapman “told me there was nothing ‘actionable’ in the report.”

Gilbert concurred. “Not only did he rewrite and leave out part of our report, but evidently, through channels that I’d rather not discuss, it was reported that the final artistic director’s report was his interpretation. He didn’t convey our words about what we thought were good and bad about the season.”

Asked about the assertion that he was rewriting reports, Chapman stated, “I am not going to comment on anything involving personnel.”

Bagg and Gilbert also dispute the assertion that they performed too often. “We had a huge plethora of performers,” Gilbert bristled, “and to keep things under a responsible budget, we played when we needed to. We were incredibly conscious of [this]; it was always one of the first and foremost things we made sure of. When you have good relations with your colleagues, they want to work with you and will do things they might not necessarily do for strangers. Why do they want to come? Because of our relationships, making music the way it should be made.

“We got absolutely the best. Musicians were paid $950 [for being at Monadnock] from Tuesday through Sunday, and they still had to pay their food and travel, and get to all the different venues. We provided a bed.”

Chapman stated that the new direction was “no criticism of Jonathan and Laura; they are excellent musicians…. There’s never been a problem with the programming. Musicianship, it’s not about. It’s about the basic business model…. It’s clear that the model has to change, but not the mission. It’s how it is executed.”

The financial picture is driving the board decisions, including the possibility of dropping the free town concerts. The organization received a lot of grants based on both the village concerts, and new music, Osgood stressed. The dropping of the latter has to be a concern. “Once they cut back, then OK, what happens to the grants?”

According to Anne Alexander, retired business manager of Monadnock Music, “Things were rolling around nicely…. The programming has grown, it has been spectacular, with musicians willing to come up here, not getting paid what they would in New York, but they are dedicated to this organization. I thought the audiences were increasing. They were not huge, and the free concerts of course always have large attendance…. [Bagg and Gilbert] deserve a lot of respect for their accomplishments.”

Of the reported aim to attract more people, Alexander noted, “It is a good goal, [but] I think there is a certain wait-and-see element to it. It is early days.”

Echoed Miss Johnson, “I think it just has to play itself out. Every organization has some critics. I don’t happen to hear them, but I suppose they are there. I hope fervently that MM will still continue and be of the same wonderful quality that it has been. It is a rare treasure, not a business model to be replicated.”

“I think it is going to work just fine,” stated Chapman.  “A lot depends on who ends up here. Obviously, there’s going to be teamwork. Coordination. Making sure we are meeting all our benchmarks, not only artistic and musical. [There’s] a level of rigor that I am being held accountable for. I think it’s healthy.”

13 Comments

  1. I was truly distressed to hear that Jonathan Bagg and Laura Gilbert have been dismissed as co-artistic directors of Monadnock. It seemed to me they personified what Monadnock is all about, the informality, the musicianship and the easy familiarity with the audience. Jonathan, in particular, had many contacts with those who attended the concerts. I cannot imagine why these two youngish stalwarts of Monadnock have been let go. Will there be some explanation forthcoming and what does this mean in terms of Monadnock’s mission for the future?
    I am something of a newcomer to the series, having spent two of the last three summers in nearby Troy. I hope to come back next year and hope that Monadnock continues in its spirit of community oriented devotion to chamber music.

    Comment by Daphne Abeel — November 15, 2011 at 5:08 pm

  2. This wonderful festival has basically been highjacked.  Clearly, Monadnock Music will now be “all about” Will Chapman and his “business model”.  I sensed as much last summer when Mr. Chapman, who has no stage presence, insisted upon giving pre-concert introductions—something Executive Directors shouldn’t and rarely do.  

    Comment by Melinda Wagner — November 16, 2011 at 9:56 am

  3. The mileage requirement seems like a move towards the provincial. The new Artistic Director will have to be local and frequently available–two stipulations which might lower the quality and diversity of a successful candidate.

    Comment by Anon. — November 16, 2011 at 10:39 am

  4. Norton stated, “…When Bolle retired, he hand-picked three persons to succeed him…”  Who was the third person, and what happened to them?

    Comment by Ann Adams — November 17, 2011 at 6:38 am

  5. Any community is bonded together by trust, respect, honor, confidence, hard work and inspiration over time, and the Monadnock region and Monadnock Music communities are charming examples of what could be called the small pond. Jonathan Bagg and Laura Gilbert as well as Miki Osgood and Christina Mienke earned the trust, respect, confidence and admiration of the Monadnock Music community through dedication, talent and inspiration for years. The trustees’ surprising lack of consideration for Jonathan Bagg and Laura Gilbert is reprehensible, and, by close association in the small pond, an awkward offense to the entire community, music audience and beyond. Unless the trustees publish an articulate apology and explanation to the musicians, staff and community, one doubts they deserve any further community trust or confidence, respect, support or participation.

    Comment by Holly Alderman — November 19, 2011 at 9:51 pm

  6. The third artistic director’s name was Alan Feinberg, the pianist. He was supposed to be first among equals as it were, of the triumvirate whom Bolle appointed.
    He did not last long. Rumor has it he was quickly forced out by Bagg and Gilbert. Don’t know what he is doing now, but he has not been back to Monadnock since.

    Comment by Ida Dunham — November 22, 2011 at 7:29 am

  7. Feinberg was let go by the board in a ruckus involving another bad seed executive director named Mark DeBinder.  Another excellent example of “great” board leadership.  The fish is always rotten from the head down.

    Comment by anon — November 22, 2011 at 9:59 am

  8. Funny, that’s not what I heard about Feinberg. I did however hear mixed things about De Binder. Anyway, there have been changes on the board since then as well.

    Comment by Ida Dunham — November 25, 2011 at 11:48 am

  9. December 1, 2011
     
    As a former Board Member, incorporator and patron, I applaud the recent changes at Monadnock Music and strongly disagree with critics. These steps are essential for the long-term sustainability of Monadnock Music and the unique music it produces. There is much unsaid behind the public comments that needs to be understood.
     
    Following Jim Bolle’s announcement of his retirement, Monadnock Music faced the question of how to replace its unique leader and improve aspects of its operations. Challenges included improving ticket sales; lessening the duplication between free and ticketed concerts; enhancing its performance venues; and growing local fund raising and development to allow program expansion.
     
    Bolle had been a strong local presence for decades, able to combine fine musicianship, excellent executive direction and development assisted by his wife Jocelyn, and a strong local presence that understood the community.  With his departure the organization struggled to find a combination of skills to replace him and to plan for its future.  A series of failed efforts to implement a model combining an Executive Director, a Development Director and an Artistic Director ensued, with the Board facing constant friction among these functions and difficulty in attracting key staff with knowledge of the culture of the organization, its music making tradition and its persona within the region. 
     
    In 2006, when I was on the Board, after several failures to find a model that functioned effectively with a full-time resident Executive Director who had overall responsibility for the organization and a non-resident Artistic Director triumverate, the decision was made to adopt a model without an Executive Director and to place artistic and overall organizational direction with Jonathan Bagg and Laura Gilbert, superb musicians who knew the organization but who lived far outside the region in New York and Raleigh-Durham.  The music making remained outstanding, but the fundamental structural and other issues that constrained the treasured musical resource we all love remained unaddressed. A new strategy built around full-time local presence, as was the case with Bolle, was essential.
     
    Change is always difficult, and it often requires courage and risk, as well as impacts upon existing staff, but without it Monadnock Music and its quality programming will not be secure.  Critics should follow the lead of Jim Bolle, who has refused to get involved in accusations and finger-pointing, and support MM at the time it needs it most.
                                                    Peter Kaplan

     

    Comment by Peter Kaplan — December 1, 2011 at 11:13 pm

  10. “There is much unsaid behind the public comments that needs to be understood.”

    We could not agree more with Peter Kaplan’s comment above, and that’s precisely why we decided to write an article on the changes at Monadnock. Readers of BMInt had said they were concerned — even  mystified.

    An effective leader prepares his employees and his public for change by explaining it and advocating for it. When the change comes as a shock it is a sign that the administration has failed to make a convincing case.

    Peter Kaplan’s later suggestion that the Monadnock Board and its executive director should be immune from criticism is specious. As the publisher of the Boston Musical Intelligencer I have a deep respect for critics and investigative reporters. Asking tough questions of authorities is a noble and essential pursuit. Often, it clears the air.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — December 2, 2011 at 9:58 am

  11. Peter Kaplan’s letter is a good start toward clearing the air.

    Comment by Norton, Bettina A — December 2, 2011 at 9:59 am

  12. With due respect to Peter Kaplan’s knowledgeable assessment, the fact remains that Monadnock Music’s artistic direction was doing exactly what it needed to, which is generate excitement and audiences with programming that garnered universal respect. What the festival needed was effective marketing and development, and better overall coordination, not an artistic director who resides locally. Despite having recently hired Mr. Chapman as executive director, which ought to have filled the need for a “local presence”, the festival still apparently seeks many of those skills: a current job posting lists a position in audience development, fund raising, grant writing, and development and community relations — some of the very things an executive director might be expected to do. ??
    An effective “re-structuring” ought to fix what was broken, not break what was fixed.
    Jonathan Bagg, former Co-Artisitic Director of Monadnock Music 

    Comment by Jonathan Bagg — December 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm

  13. *Setting the record straight: If I were a betting man, either Jonathan Bagg or Laura Gilbert posted the Anon post above. The truth is, Alan Feinberg was forced out by Bagg and Gilbert. They began their move on Alan early on in the 2007 season. I tried to protect Alan from their moves and threats but to no avail.

    I don’t believe I need to defend my position as ED or my person against the things Bagg and Gilbert have said about me and many others–They are just plain false. Monadnock Music became their agenda and any or all who stood in the way got rolled over by them. I am delighted that Alan will be back at the festival this year. He has the right qualities and leaves his personal affairs and agendas at home when working on behalf of the wonderful patrons of Monadnock Music. Chapman and Rose will certainly keep the tradition of Monadnock Music alive and well. What was broken at MM is now fixed–At last.

    Mark DeBinder, Former Executive Director of Monadnock Music

    Comment by Mark DeBinder — May 8, 2012 at 11:18 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, this comment forum is now closed.