There will be no concert reviews of the Festival this year. There
were some lovely moments, some breathtaking moments even, but the pall
cast by the presence of the Festival's director, Dr. Mark Malkovich destroyed
our affection and loyalty to what had been fore us an annual event for
32 years. The following Letter From Farklempt summarizes what happened:
Believe it or not, the usually placid and unflappable Miss Finger was even more outraged than I.July 28, 2002
Director, Newport Music Festival
850 Aquidneck Avenue
Middletown, RI 02842
Dear Dr. Malkovich:
My wife and I have been coming to the Festival since 1968, when I was stationed at Quonset Point as a psychiatrist. We have had some of the most thrilling musical moments of our lives there—Lewenthal, Davidovich, and Gavrilov in the old days; Chiu, Jacquon, and Piers Lane today. I have shared reviews of these concerts on my website, which is read by several thousands of readers. We buy our tickets in advance by mail, usually attending 10-18 concerts per year.
You will not like this year’s reviews. The musical quality of the Festival remains superb, but, in terms of your personal attitude toward your subscribers, things have indeed changed. A relationship that had been marked by mutual respect and admiration has now changed on your part to one of contempt, indifference, and disregard. And the reviews will focus on you and your treatment of your concertgoers, rather than on the performances themselves.
Our first concert this year was at the Elms on the morning of July 12. I parked my car, and my wife took a seat halfway back in the hall about 30 minutes before the concert. To her surprise, she was asked to leave her seat, as the entire front section of the hall had been reserved for the Austrian-American Society. Only the last two rows remained.
We addressed you at the intermission with regard to this matter. Your response was, word for word, "On a list of priorities of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most important, you are a 1." We reminded you that prices have risen, but you said, "Every seat is a good seat, and it’s still a bargain at $35." While I see the necessity of raising prices, I need to remind you that a morning concert anywhere at $35/seat is exorbitant. There are concerts of equal caliber in New York every morning, and most of them are free, given at museums and schools of music. Moreover, since there is only one price, everyone should have a shot at the best seats. If I go to the Met or the BSO and I want the best seats, I expect to pay a premium for them. If I want to save money, I’ll sit in the second balcony or get an SRO ticket. I can understand how you would save the front row for you and your family, as well as your chosen few from Newport and/or Palm Beach, but to save nearly the entire hall for a tour group without warning those who are regular subscribers is quite unfair and insulting. At the least, you could let subscribers know advance that the event they have selected will be filled with a tour group, and regular ticketholders will be sitting in the back or outside. This gives them the opportunity to return their tickets ahead of time. Alternatively, you could sell the inferior seats at a lesser price or donate them to students or the elderly in the area.
What was most galling was your insistence that you were right, and we were wrong. Every impresario need not be arrogant and indifferent to all but his wealthiest supporters. A loyal subscriber base needs to be listened to, as well. Take it from a psychiatrist—listening does not mean obeying; it means making the other person feel worthwhile and respected.
To add insult to injury, we came half an hour earlier to the 5:30 PM concert at Marble House on July 22, only to find the entire hall reserved for a group from Cape Cod. We were offered seats in the vestibule, with no view, and the sound barely audible. We went to the box office table and asked for our money back but were told that there were no refunds.
I enclose the stubs from those tickets. You can send us a refund if you like, or if not you may keep the stubs and place them inside your program book.
As we looked around at the other wonderful concerts that we did attend, we were struck by two things—the large number of empty seats, and the absence of the people from Providence who used to come in droves to the concerts. I fear that with your catering to large groups and with the rise in prices, you have alienated your local base.
Next year, we shall not purchase any tickets in advance. When we are coming down to Newport (we also have a residence there), we will phone the box office, ask if there are seats and if there will be a tour group attending, and we shall buy our tickets piecemeal. And we will continue to give our philanthropic support to the Rhode Island Philharmonic and Trinity Rep, both of which treat their subscribers with dignity, courtesy, and respect.
You strike me as a man who does not tolerate adverse criticism well. You trashed Channing Gray in a long vitriolic letter to the Providence Journal, attacking him for wearing a baseball cap. This approach, mirrored in your response to us, may give you a feeling of satisfaction, but it does little to enhance a Music Festival that seems to be leaving behind its days of greatness.
Michael A. Ingall, M.D.
And so, the best thing about the Festival for us was being with good friends and family, enjoying the gorgeous weather of Newport, and the magnificent cuisine of Carol.
ADDENDUM: Dr. Malkovich called a week later, leaving a message on the machine of profuse apology. He said, in essence, that it was not we rated one on scale of one to ten, but rather our problem that rated one on a scale of one to ten. He then reiterated the same rationale for why it was necessary to do what he does, and how hard it is dealing with the INS since 9/11. He said he would return the money for the tickets we didn't use, and he did.