Gunther Schuller says the bitter community battle over the Gunther Schuller says the bitter community battle over the Festival at Sandpoint must end, or he’ll pack his baton and leave.
“Stop your bickering, all of you, or else - in baseball lingo - I’m ‘outta here,”’ Schuller wrote in an open letter to the community Tuesday.
“I’m now 70, and will not waste my time with what has become a seething cauldron of antagonisms, miscommunications, jealousies and shortsighted decisions.”
In the four-page letter, the renowned conductor and composer defended the festival board, executive director Connie Berghan and suggested the community get together and stop “bickering like little children.”
Festival organizers came under fire last month for plans to split the three-week concert series between Sandpoint and Kootenai County.
Some community members feared the festival, and the big bucks it generates, would entirely leave Sandpoint. That prompted calls for Berghan to be fired.
On top of that, the festival is still warring with the city, sports groups and neighbors over use of Memorial Field, its main stage for for festival concerts. Because of complaints, the city voted to kick the festival off the field in 1997.
After 10 years as artistic director, Schuller said the ongoing problems have saddened and angered him.
Festival organizers didn’t know about Schuller’s letter. Nor did a group of business people, like restaurant owner Bob Bradley, who has fought the split concert proposal.
“He didn’t pull any punches, that’s for sure,” Bradley said after reading Schuller’s remarks.
“I think a vast number of people will take it as a lesson from the maestro, but not as a wake-up call. The bell already rang awhile ago and the community is taking up the gauntlet to support the festival,” Bradley said.
“Gunther was exactly right about enough screaming and shouting,” said festival board member Dave Slaughter. “It’s time to fix the problem, and it will be resolved.”
Festival President Sally Lindemann hopes the community will realize the letter is from Schuller’s heart.
“He’s not saying, ‘If you don’t play the game my way, I’ll pack my toys and leave.’ He just doesn’t want to be part of the bickering and see the festival torn apart.”
Schuller, a Pulitzer Prize winner, has long been credited for the success of the festival and is viewed as an artistic treasure by many in the community.
Schuller is also a shrewd businessman who understands the festival needs to change to survive financially.
“I don’t like the Beach Boys and the fantastic get-up costs involved any more than some of you in Sandpoint - however, remember that many others loved them,” Schuller wrote.
“I will tell you, had we not had the Beach Boys and Natalie Cole this summer, the festival would now be in really deep financial doo-doo.”
“If you really want the festival, help it to stay in town, and don’t fight us tooth and nail when all we are trying to do is figure out how to stay viable (and) competitive. … And now that I’ve had my say, you can also fire me too!”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT Festival organizers and concerned residents sit down next week and hash out solutions to the festival’s woes.
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