Fans of one of Vermont’s most popular outdoor summer music events will need to make new plans — and in some cases, seek ticket refunds — after the Vermont Mozart Festival announced this week that it has canceled its 2019 summer concert series.
“Vermont Mozart Festival is currently reviewing opportunities and evaluating all options for the future, but will not have a summer season this year,” the nonprofit announced in a social media post on Tuesday, a week before the concerts were supposed to begin.
“The festival would like to thank all of its supporting venues, sponsors, musicians, and audiences especially NBT Bank for their unwavering support,” the post read.
The festival had 16 concert performances scheduled from July 17 to Aug. 4 at four main venues: Shelburne Farms, Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, the Burlington Country Club and the Charlotte Town Beach. One other date was listed for Burlington’s City Hall Park.
The public announcement was made several weeks after the venues were notified. Shelburne Farms spokesperson Holly Brough said organizers there received word of the cancellations on June 16. Charlotte town Recreation Director Nicole Conley said she learned about the cancellation in late June. Both of those venues had three performances scheduled.
The news came on the heels of festival director Michael Dabroski’s resignation, according to Gene Richards, who has volunteered to assist the organization’s board with communications since the shakeup. Richards is the director of aviation at Burlington International Airport, and has served on a variety of boards for community organizations. He said he’s spending some time on this at the request of the festival’s board.
“I’m not a board member,” he said. “I’m a volunteer.”
Richards said board members were caught off guard by Dabroski’s abrupt departure. “On June 16, Michael resigned as director with no notice,” he said.
Dabroski, the festival’s director for the past four years, then left on a trip to Cuba, leaving board members to scramble to figure out administrative details such as passwords to email and social media accounts as well as navigating office records, Richards said.
To date, Dabroski has not been involved with any transition planning or details involved as the organization handles the abrupt change in plans. He could not be reached for comment.
Before departing, Dabroski wrote a letter to the venues that said: “I write to inform you that the 4th season of 2019 Vermont Mozart Festival summer concert series is cancelled this year as the result of insufficient revenue and circumstances beyond my control. I apologize for the inconvenience. I am saddened that many will be disappointed to miss these concerts performed by talented musicians as part of a fellowship program. Thank you for understanding this decision, which is the most responsible, given the circumstances.”
Richards didn’t want to comment about the nonprofit’s financial standing in detail beyond saying that there is “very little money,” and that the first priority is to reimburse ticket purchases.
“We want to make sure ticket-holders get their money back,” Richards said.
Not all of the performances were ticketed events. The Charlotte Town Beach dates, for example, were free concerts with patrons asked to pay for parking, Conley said.
“It’s a nice treat to come out on a summer night to hear them play,” she said.
Concerts at Shelburne Farms and Trapp Family Lodge were ticketed; it was not clear if the Burlington Country Club dates were ticketed. Calls there were directed to the club general manager, who was not available Friday morning.
Richards said those holding tickets are asked to send an email to email@example.com, and provide their name, address and the number of tickets they purchased. Festival organizers will match messages with their purchase records in order to provide refunds, Richards said.
Once refunds are handled, Richards said the organization will set out to examine what went wrong, sort through finances, and determine what the next steps should be.
The cancellations leave holes in summer schedules for the venues that were booked. Organizers said the Mozart Festival performances were a highlight of their summer schedules but there are other shows on their calendars.
“We’re sad not to be hosting them,” Brough said. The summer calendar at Shelburne Farms still has many musical events coming up, including a popular summer concert series with the town recreation department, and several of its own shows booked into August.
Charlotte has its annual beach party this weekend and plans another celebration after construction happens on a new beach playground, Conley said.
The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe had six Mozart Festival performances booked. Those shows were held in the resort’s meadow, with concert-goers spread out on blankets and in chairs enjoying picnic.
Stowe Performing Arts also holds concerts in the meadow at Trapps; three were scheduled for this summer. The Vermont Symphony orchestra played last weekend; the Bumper Jacksons will play on July 21, and Ruthie Foster performs Aug. 4.
This was to be the fourth summer that Dabroski was leading the Vermont Mozart Festival, which was described as a “reimagined” after he took over. Before that, the festival had a 30-plus year run under original artistic director Melvin Kaplan.
Under Kaplan’s direction, the festival grew from a 10-concert series focusing solely on Mozart to a 19-concert festival highlighting the pantheon of classical composers and bringing in international-caliber artists from around the globe.
In the summer of 2010, the festival announced that composer and conductor Gil Shohat would succeed Kaplan moving forward, but in December of that year, the festival folded entirely.
A combination of the recession and poor weather drove down ticket sales, festival organizers said, and despite an outpouring of donations that nearly halved a nearly $400,000 deficit, organizers couldn’t find the financing to prop up events for 2011.
Under Dabroski, the festival was reinvented in 2016 as a musical laboratory of sorts, with young musicians recruited mainly from university-level music programs across the country to spend three weeks of their summer in Vermont. Musicians stayed at Champlain College, rehearsed and went out to the various venues to perform. Along the way, Dabroski included instruction on the business end of classical music, making the experience a fellowship of sorts for musicians at the start of their careers.
Dabroski had expanded the repertoire to include collaborations with musicians in Cuba. According to the festival’s website, the organization was involved with eight performances in Cuba in February, and two in the Dominican Republic in early June.
Richards said board members recently became aware of problems going into this year’s series.
On May 2, the festival posted a resignation message from marketing director Kevin O’Leary on its Facebook page: “It’s with a heavy heart I am announcing my resignation from VERMONT MOZART FESTIVAL. It’s been an unbelievable 4 years since my partner in crime and festival founder, Michael Dabroski, approached me with the idea of launching a festival in Northern Vermont. Since that time we have watched audiences grow, young musicians flourish, and an ever-expanding collection of venues committed to the festival’s mission of bringing accessible, classical music to as broad and diverse an audience as possible.”
On May 21, a fundraiser golf tournament, dinner and silent auction was held at Burlington Country Club, with entry fees of $125 per person or $500 per foursome.
At the start of June, Richards said, Dabroski told them that “people who were to play backed out.”
Richards said a big task ahead is to carefully examine the Vermont Mozart Festival’s business records to assess where it stands financially, and determine whether and how it might continue.
“We’re hoping the tradition will continue in some fashion,” Richards said. “But not this year.”