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.”