Uproar as US music festival sacks 3 musicians for ‘disruptive behavior’

Uproar as US music festival sacks 3 musicians for ‘disruptive behavior’


norman lebrecht

November 20, 2019

Things are going down badly at Grand Teton, Wyoming, under CEO Andrew Palmer Todd.

Here’s what the musicians tell Slipped Disc:

This week, in a blatant and egregious attempt to silence its musician membership, the management at the Grand Teton Music Festival (GTMF) issued termination letters to three musicians and orchestra representatives on the grounds of “comportment” and “disruptive behavior”.

Two of the musicians, Kristen Linfante and Juan de Gomar, serve on the orchestra’s Players’ Committee. Linfante also serves as Chairwoman of the committee. The 10-member committee is chosen by election each year by the approximately 230 musicians that participate in the festival. Its role is to represent the collective voice of the musicians to the festival’s management and artistic leadership.

Juan De Gomar serves as bassoonist and contrabassoonist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and has been a member of the GTMF for 19 seasons. Linfante serves as Principal Violist of Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra and has been a member of the festival for 23 seasons. The third terminated musician, Jennifer Ross, is a recent musician representative to the Board of Directors at the Grand Teton Music Festival. Former Principal Second Violinist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Ross has participated in the festival for the past 38 seasons. The commonality among these three musicians is that each openly expressed grave concerns of the musicians at weekly scheduled “town hall” meetings organized by the festival’s management this past summer.

While town hall meetings typically provide a safe and open forum for discussion, these meetingsappear to have done the opposite. The terminated musicians expressed collective concerns surrounding new directions that the festival appears to be going in at the direction of President and CEO Andrew Palmer Todd – a shift that places more focus on the festival as a presenting organization of outside, one-off performers, and less focus on the foundation upon which the festival was built nearly 60 years ago – its internationally recognized orchestra, made up of musicians from the nation’s top orchestras and learning institutions that come together each summer for the 7-week festival.




  • Thomas Silverbörg says:

    Normal,happens ALL of the time, not only there. Stand up for what is right, and artistic principles, and you are TOAST.

    • GTMF Musician says:

      There is actually much more background to this story and the Grand Teton Music Festival CEO Andrew Palmer Todd, who has had a long history of conflict with GTMF Music Director Donald Runnicles. At the end of the 2018 festival, problems had escalated such that Runnicles basically gave an ultimatum to the Board that either Andrew Palmer Todd goes or he (Runnicles) goes. So the Board sacked Andrew Palmer Todd, but later Andrew went begging for his job back, and eventually some sort of compromise was reached and Andrew stayed on for 2019. Runnicles mostly kept quiet about all this, but it is apparent that he still is unhappy. Basically Andrew Palmer Todd is very self-centered, lacks any vision or leadership, and is trying to turn the GTMF into a collection of his pet projects, with little care or consideration for Runnicles or the fine orchestra that Runnicles has established.

  • Cautious Observer says:

    Oh, please. The real news is that despite all odds, this ramshackle musical group exists at all. Largely the scrap heap of late-career American orchestral musicians, they’d do well to terminate half their roster. These three are certainly among the lamest of the bunch. If the “artists” in question spent more time in the practice room and less time organizing meetings the entire ensemble would be better served. Kudos to the leadership for moving the program in the right direction–evidence of bold and brave decision making.

    • Bill says:

      Any examples of your “artistry” (besides this post) available for us to enjoy? Just so we can calibrate your standards…

    • Scott says:

      Wow you have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about. Ever hear this group play live?

    • Madeline Adkins says:

      I couldn’t disagree more. As a recent addition to the ensemble, I have had the profound joy of playing two Mahler Symphonies over the last two summers. Truly transcendent music-making occurs there thanks to the leadership of Maestro Runnicles and a dedicated group of musicians whose hearts are truly in the right place. I would hate to see this special place dismantled.

    • Ron. says:

      Your post is so full of logical fallacies, that I tend to think you made it all up.

    • Psychiatrist says:

      Can I happily assume that when you reach the scrap heap of your life, when in truth you will probably have a lot to offer the world, you won’t mind if some young dunderhead kicks your ass into the gutter?

    • Anon says:

      Dearest “Cautious”, This GenXer thinks you sound close enough to GTMF that you are in the know, yet you don’t recognize how well GTMF musicians sound together or how casual age discrimination worked its way into your flip response.

      I personally would like to know the rest of the story before passing judgment on the three individuals or the organization. I would also like to hear from the MD.

    • Rita Porfiris says:

      I suppose you think the NYT article below”15 Classical Music Festivals to See This Summer” is just about a gathering of lame hacks? Troll much? For the rest of you reading: As a member of this ensemble, I can tell you a few things: the musicians truly are from major symphonies such as the Met, NY Phil, Chicago Symphony, etc. We lose money every year (the weekly honorarium only covers 84% of the standard State Dept meals rate) to return to a place that was founded on the principles that it would be musician-led and constantly held to a high artistic standard. Players can be terminated for artistic reasons, and that comes from the music director. The only “meetings” organized are by the management, who apparently cannot take criticism as the musicians know how to do. It was at such a management-called meeting that these 3 musicians; representing the entire group, spoke out on behalf of their colleagues against decisions made by management. At least two of these musicians have recently won Grammys. There is absolutely no question of the artistic quality and achievement of these three. I agree with other posters that this does happen all the time; but usually not in the United States where freedom of speech used to be celebrated and tyranny frowned upon.


      • Amen, Rita. I know Juan and Jennifer well, and they are not only fine musicians but fine people. Cannot imagine any forum in which they would present themselves anything less than the classy people they are, devoted to their craft and to their colleagues. Have also worked with Runnicles, a wonderful musician who — rare among conductors — cares deeply for his players.

    • Katherine L SHANKLIN says:

      Uh, are you nuts. These musicians are all at the top of their game! And, since you are anonymous, I’m guessing you are not.

    • Ruth says:

      I’m a trained musician, retired US cultural diplomat and performing arts supporter and have attended symphony concerts for fifty plus years, hearing the world’s greatest orchestras on three continents. The GTMF orchestra has been a consistent joy to hear and exemplifies the best in quality, dedication, and collegiality. Long may the play in dignity and respect!

    • Greg Thymius says:

      They got where they are because they have spent a good deal of their lives in the practice room.

    • Friend says:

      You’re an absolute pathetic human being. For you to slander these 3 musicians for impractical reasons such as “hit the practice room..” tells me you’re one of 3 people associated with the festival … And if I can nail this in the head, And you wanna continue to run your mouth, Jeff Counts, you’ll find yourself in the shithole with no job in the US. You wanna act like a fucking hitman, which you’ve done in other orchestras. I’ll be happy to see your sorry ass in court.

      • FiddleSticks says:

        Hey Friend, I hate to point out the logic fallacy in your statement, but… do you really think Jeff, a guy who’s been there less than a year, is suddenly the decider in this scenario? Jeff is very much dedicated to the music, something you would know if you ever spent quality time with him. Please coffin your arrows for a real target, yo.

      • GTMF Musician says:

        I agree that it is unlikely that Jeff Counts wrote this message. Jeff was new to the GTMF last summer. He was clearly overwhelmed with the GM job and sadly was mostly ineffective. Part of the problem was that Andrew Palmer Todd dumped most of his work on Jeff, so that essentially all Andrew did last summer was attend concerts. This is just speculation, but it is likely that Andrew Palmer Todd himself wrote the “Cautious Observer” posting above. The message reflects his attitude toward the orchestra and is typical of the off-the-cuff comments he is known to make. And his purpose to posting here would be to relish in the controversy and feedback he knew it would elicit.

    • Dennis Ferry says:

      Who are you?

    • Dirk Slater says:

      Andrew, is that you?

    • A Musician says:

      To the Cautious A**hole from Jackson Hole…

      As far as I know, and I know well, what you call a ‘ramshackle’ organization was the premier orchestral Music Festival in these United States. It attracted players from all over the world and from the most prestigious orchestras, very fine top musicians who have earned a spot in these organizations by practicing 6-8 hours a day. ANY musician from ANY major Symphony Orchestra has probably practiced in real life as much time as your sorry ass has been alive. You’re most likely a pencil pusher of sorts at best and don’t understand one iota about what a musician’s life is all about. We care to make music, to build bridges between our Orchestras and the communities around us, to be an active part of building the future of all kids through music education. Many of the ‘scrap heap’ musicians you refer to have memorized
      entire works and performed them flawlessly. This ‘scrap heap’ as you say, has added so much to each Symphony Orchestra they’re a part of!

      Your denigration of my senior colleagues based on their age and experience level equals ageism and stereotyping and the GTMF doesn’t need an influencer such as yourself.

    • JH Concertgoer says:

      Can we all agree that this disrespectful comment was written by the subject of this article – Andrew Palmer Todd himself???

    • Judith Nelson says:

      Oh, please. The reason this festival continues to exist is that those jaded hacks from the cream of american orchestras, universities and chamber groups are willing to come to the Tetons for a pittance, to share the scenery and the comradery of playing with long-time friends in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and enjoyment. I played there for a number of years before joining the NY Phil, and I learned a lot from my older colleagues. I don’t know what motivates your poison pen, Cautious, but you’re way off base.

    • Mick the Knife says:

      look at the roster. Its an all-star group!

  • Paul Bertheim says:

    Well, one will likely never know exactly why the three were fired. Why does everyone immediately assume that it was about freedom of speech. Why is the assumption, almost always that the management is corrupt. Benefit of the doubt would indicate that perhaps something was said or done that was inappropriate or worse. Legal counsels don’t usually support firing because someone voice a contrary opinion and you can be sure legal counsel was brought in on this. And, as for the change, so, they want to move away from an orchestra centered festival to more general arts presenting. I feel for the musicians, of course, but the organization has the right to do this. Just as there was once a summer home for the NY Philharmonic (Lewisohn Stadium) or many players from the Met Opera (the Goldman Band), or national tours by the Met Opera and NYC Opera, those things have gone the way of vaudeville. This festival is changing and I would imagine they have no choice.

    • Jeffrey Holsen says:

      Considering the service record and biography the article states that these musicians have, I find it highly plausible that management has embarked clumsily on a project of culling musicians who exhibit the greatest experience in calling them out if needed, as well as knowing effective strategies for doing something about any decisions management makes that result in diminishing the orchestra’s scope and quality. If you have served on an orchestra committee you should know that is what they have spent their lives doing.

    • ROLF C ERDAHL says:

      Whenever the statement “they have no choice” is made, it usually covers up the fact that a choice has indeed been made. That choice being one the decision-makers don’t want to take the responsibility for, nor take the hit from the existing donor pool for making it.

      It appears from this report that President and CEO Andrew Palmer Todd wants to remake an established organization in his own image and brooks no dissent. That didn’t work too well when the previous management tried the same “they have no choice” ploy with the Minnesota Orchestra. Thankfully in that case the players and constituent community wouldn’t stand for structural changes that would have hamstrung and lobotomized a vital artistic force in the community and rose up with ideas, actions, and funding. The Exec. Dir. and Board members that instigated/went along with that failed artistic coup are are thankfully gone and no longer a factor. The MN Orch is stronger than it’s ever been, chiefly by sticking to and realizing in art and action the core principles and ideals of what an orchestra can and should be and do.

      If the new GTMF management wants to produce window-dressing one-offs, they can do that in the offseason or elsewhere. The Grand Tetons Music Festival is an ORCHESTRA festival. Any plans that forget the orchestra is core to the festival are short-sighted, narcissistic, and destructive. Nothing good will come of making the festival something is not and was never intended to be. It is a first-rate GTMF. It would be s 2nd-rate pale imitation of anything else if it follows the classical pop star formula apparently espoused by the “new guard.”

      Nothing new about cutting off your nose to spite your face. Orchestras that fail often follow this “business model.”

      Go start another festival if your new artistic “vision” is so compelling that you “have no choice” but to follow it. We’ll see how that goes.

      • Paul Bertheim says:

        The Minnesota Orchestra and The Grand Teton Music Festival are two very different animals. A vastly different donor base, season, labor agreement, etc. Do you think that Tanglewood survives on the Boston Symphony alone? This is a summer orchestra and festival, not a year-round gig.

        • Noah says:

          You are kind of babbling about this… BSO makesa ton of money off Tanglewood. Its a huge revenue stream for them (especially when they rent it out to Billy Joel ect…)

  • ClarinetistB says:

    Horrible!!! This will make that Festival a laughing stock.

  • In the know says:

    The three musicians were told by the management directly that their termination had nothing to do with artistic concerns, but rather their “disruptive behavior”

    • Bruce says:

      Oh. Well then. Glad that’s settled.


    • Adrianne says:

      Ah, and so, then, it’s all right in this world. Wha???? “Disruptive behavior” in an open forum. “In the know”, you HAVE to be kidding. You are NOT in the know…

      • Peace at all price says:

        One man’s “art” is another’s “disruptive behavior.”

        God forbid we ever be disrupted by anything artistic, whether it be a “Piss Christ” or the “Rite of Spring.”

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    The floggings will continue until morale improves.

  • Larry W says:

    Retaliation by managements or administrations for disagreeing with policy is nothing new. When those affected are members of a representative committee, a complaint can be filed with the NLRB. Their colleagues can support those who spoke for them by standing with them. Losing 60 musicians instead of 3 could not be ignored.

    • NeilG says:

      I don’t think GTMF has a collective bargaining agreement, in which case I’m not sure they can bring a complaint to the NLRB. Is that accurate?

  • Barbara Scowcroft says:

    Madeline Atkins, thank you for your thoughtful, and spot-on comments.

  • Roger says:

    I’m not sure what you can expect from an organization that pays its Music Director Donald Runnicles approximately 100 times what the musicians make, for a similar workload. This orchestra desperately needs union representation.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    GTMF is absolutely the best summer classical experience in the US bar none! The orchestra is fabulous and has been for the 40 years I have attended. The programming is terrific, as are the conductors. It’s the setting, in the Tetons, that makes it really special. And Walk Hall – the sound is phenomenal – unequalled by any other festival. You haven’t heard the Brahms 1st until you’ve heard it there accompanied by a thunderstorm. Or the Mahler 3rd or Das Lied in that intimate place. Or the Rachmaninoff 2nd concerto played on the composer’s own piano. Lordy, I hope no one screws up this festival. It’s fantastic – and one festival where I can go horseback riding and then go to the concert with my cowboy hat and boots on. Don’t mess it up!

  • Ludwig Van says:

    APT needs to go! His decisions are ruining the Festival.

  • Chuck Ullery says:

    I played in that wonderful orchestra for more than 40 years before I retired 4 summers ago. It was ALWAYS an excellent orchestra. Ling Tung, Eiji Oue, and Donald Runnicles were all excellent music directors, and the three fired musicians are among the most respected players in the business. I have played with all 3 and have great memories of the concerts and players at GTMF. I valued my time with those colleagues as much as I did my time with colleagues at the St Paul Chamber Orchestra.

  • Larry W says:

    11/25– This morning’s Performance Today broadcast featured Trio de Concert by Eugene Ysaye. Performing were violinists Jeff Thayer and Jennifer Ross, and violist Susan Gulkis Assadi of the Grand Teton Music Festival. They sounded fantastic. Given the recent turmoil created by the unfair dismissal of three orchestra representatives, it is good to be reminded of the excellent quality of the musicians that participate in GTMF.

  • Gregory Newton says:

    Same has happened to me in Symphony New Hampshire after 32 years as principal bassoon