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.”