Grand Teton Music Festival

Donald Runnicles leads the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra in July 2007. Three longstanding members of the orchestra were disinvited for 2020, leading to pushback from the festival's Players' Committee.

Three decade-plus veterans of the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra have not been invited back for the 2020 season.

The festival’s Players’ Committee sent out a press release Wednesday identifying the three musicians as bassoonist and contrabassoonist Juan de Gomar, violist Kristen Linfante and violinist Jennifer Ross.

De Gomar had played with the orchestra for 19 seasons, Linfante for 23 and Ross for 38, according to the release. De Gomar and Linfante were both members of the Players’ Committee, which represents the 230 or so musicians invited to play in the orchestra each summer. Linfante had been the chair of the committee for the past five seasons.

Grand Teton Music Festival President and CEO Andrew Palmer Todd declined to comment specifically on the three musicians’ status, calling the issue a “personnel matter.”

“The selection of this orchestra has been invitation only for its entire existence,” he said. “Each year there’s occasionally people that are not invited.”

But violist Martin Andersen, a 27-season performer in the Festival Orchestra who on Thursday spoke on behalf of the Players’ Committee said that in the past it has been “pretty rare” for musicians to be disinvited. When they were, it was for “artistic reasons,” he said.

The Festival Orchestra’s turnover rate hovers between 2% and 3% annually, Todd said. He declined to say what proportion of that turnover is due to disinvitation rather than individuals choosing to leave.

In the release, the Players’ Committee said the festival attributed its decision to disinvite de Gomar, Linfante and Ross to their “comportment” and “disruptive behavior.”

“I am not aware of musicians ever being let go for disruptive behavior or comportment,” Andersen said.

The violist said it appeared the festival’s claims were related to a series of town halls held throughout the summer of 2019, during which festival musicians voiced concerns about the artistic direction the festival was taking. Chief among those concerns was some musicians’ perception that the festival was pivoting toward becoming a “presenting organization” with a greater focus on “single concert guest artists” — Michael Feinstein, Kristin Chenoweth and Norah Jones were among this summer’s “GTMF Presents” musicians — and less on the Festival Orchestra.

According to Andersen, Linfante acted as a spokesperson for festival musicians during those meetings.

“The festival has so far refused to cite any specific instances” of issues related to Linfante’s, de Gomar’s or Ross’ “comportment” or “disruptive behavior,” Andersen said.

“What the committee is speculating is this has to do with these and other musicians’ advocacy on behalf of colleagues,” he said.

Though Todd declined to comment on that, again citing personnel matters, he said the organization had set the town halls up as a “more or less weekly opportunity to spend time with members of the staff and promote discussion.”

Though he confirmed that musicians shared concerns related to the festival’s perceived pivot during those meetings, he also noted that “the festival remains a proudly classical music festival.”

“The Festival Orchestra performed 15 times last year,” Todd said. “The core of the artistic program remains the Festival Orchestra.”

But as the festival has attracted bigger and bigger names, Andersen said, “there’s perception of disrespect of festival musicians by the festival.”

That’s in part because of a perceived transition from a “performing” to a “presenting” organization and in part because of other issues, which Andersen said included a de-emphasis of orchestra musicians on the festival’s website, GTMF.org.

“It really tears at the fabric of this feeling of community,” Andersen said.

In the release, the Players’ Committee states that “the musicians of the GTMF are considering their legal options as they strive to normalize labor relations between the Festival and its musicians.”

At present, Andersen said, “nothing’s been decided.”

A petition to reinstate de Gomar, Linfante and Ross is circulating online at TinyURL.com/festpetitionjh. At press time, it had collected over 1,000 signatures.

The festival musicians’ hope, Andersen said, is twofold.

“We would hope that [the festival] would change their minds and invite these wonderful, talented colleagues to participate in the festival this year,” he said, “and that we could somehow try to mend this crisis.”

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7062 or entertainment@jhnewsandguide.com.

(2) comments

James Warner

Being a season ticket holder for a few years, I've been deeply and consistently inspired by the orchestra offerings, and delighted with the extension of free concerts at St. John's, an increase in orchestra performers' play time. Interestingly the Seahawks football team made a decision after the last season to let go of some great talent, in what seemed on the basis of 'disruptive behavior,' which worried me. This season though the bickering between players and coaching staff is gone, and the team is doing much better. Thus I lean toward trusting orchestra administration on invitation strategy.

Konrad Lau

In case you were wondering, here is the way it works in the “real world”:

A Large Contributor to the Festival suggests a particular artist make an appearance.

The artist is probably a protégé’ of said contributor and the appearance is intended to boost the artist’s commercial image or public exposure.

Because the Festival is now beholding to the Contributor, the artist is scheduled to appear. He or she is “presented” to the audience and everyone benefits. The Festival gains vital financial support. The Contributor gains a tax write-off. The budding artists gains invaluable exposure to other patrons and orchestras world-wide.

Sadly, some artists fail miserably in making the connection between the temporal world (rent, beans and heat) and the spiritual world (the idealistic Utopian world).

No one is debating these idealist artists’ access to the First Amendment; however, exercising tone’s First Amendment rights does not insulate one from the ramifications of market pressures.

My suggestion to those feeling so bad for the ousted performers is to form another orchestra composed of Utopian musicians and those willing to pay for such.

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