2023 Hot Springs Music Festival canceled

In this file photo, cellists rehearse the theme from "Star Wars" during the Hot Springs Music Festival on July 6, 2018. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

The Hot Springs Music Festival will not be returning to the Spa City this summer, the festival's board of directors announced recently.

"For the past several months, we have been evaluating different strategic partnerships. Recently, it has become clear that the necessary resources are not in place in time for this summer's festival," David Palmer, the festival's interim executive director, said in a news release.

This would have been the 25th edition of the festival, which was founded in 1996. It was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, board member Brittany Cooper d'Orsay said.

"There was a year off that year just because of safety and everything was closed down," she said.

"And then 2021 the mentors, who are the professional musicians, felt very strongly that in order for the festival to continue and survive, they really would need to do something, so they held a virtual festival. The issue with that was there really wasn't a lot of funding for that."

Palmer, the founder of Chamber Music Amarillo in Texas, was brought in as the interim executive director in February to try and revitalize the event for this past summer.

"We came up with the idea to do something in person, but smaller, and it was more chamber ensembles and have some concerts and just kind of evaluate the level of support from the community and the different partnerships and relationships and all of that," d'Orsay said.

"It was successful in that it happened. We didn't quite raise the funds that we had hoped to raise," she said.

The cost of the festival exceeds $300,000, d'Orsay said.

"Ideally, to run this festival at full force with people getting paid for their work and all that, we're looking at almost $316,000," she said, referring to a budget drawn up by Palmer. "It's a lot for a small nonprofit, but you also have to think about the number of musicians who attend, and the mentors."

While the event is expensive, Laura and Richard Rosenberg, the founders of the event, planned it to be a "momentous celebration of music and education," d'Orsay, who has been working with Laura Rosenberg for many years, said.

"We were having conversations back in 2020 during the pandemic when I wasn't even on the board, and her general feeling through all of this is it could be detrimental to the festival if you were to have a festival but does not really honor its legacy, I suppose," she said.

"She founded this festival to be a full orchestra with mentors, training apprentices and having it fill the city and being this large-scale, two-week momentous celebration of music and education."

D'Orsay said the Rosenbergs looked at communities around the country before deciding to found the festival here.

"For a number of reasons, they chose Hot Springs," she said.

"One was that it didn't have a full-time symphony orchestra, so there was that need in the community to support classical music.

"Another reason is that it had a very vibrant art community, even though it was missing that classical music piece, and then one other of the main reasons was the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts," d' Orsay said.

"Having that infrastructure of a place where the students and the mentors could stay is huge. So that would require having somewhere that has a residential high school or a college dormitory or something like that, and Hot Springs had that."

While the festival will not take place this summer, d'Orsay said the hope is for it to return next year.

"We are hoping to come back," she said. "We're not planning on going away."