By Gillian English
On a recent warm summer evening at Shelburne Farms, families set up blankets and stand in line for ice cream as the opening notes of Mozart’s Symphony No. 26 ring out from the Coach Barn.
They’re here for the Vermont Mozart Festival.
Children with sticky faces run in circles, chased down by grandmothers in flower crowns. And as the orchestra transitions into a flute concerto, sprinkles of rain begin to beat down on concert-goers.
Arms over their expensive wooden instruments, the musicians scramble inside while audience members loyally grab their lawn chairs and file into the dimly lit barn. After the brief delay, the concert goes on as the rain batters the courtyard outside. It hasn’t gone exactly as planned, but the music is just as beautiful indoors and the crowd remains cheerful.
Welcome to summer concerts in Vermont. Dating back to 1974, the Vermont Mozart Festival is one of the season’s best known and attended. But despite its track record, organizers continue to broaden its reach and spread their passion for classical music.
“This group has existed for over 30 years,” says Michael Dabroski, the festival’s current leader and organizer. “Many people, generations of families, all came together and came to hear Mozart, and they also came for the experience, which included food and family, as well as the music.”
Dabroski was a violinist for the original Vermont Mozart Festival, which ended its 36-year run in 2010. In 2015, Dabroski bought the name and brought the festival back to Vermonters with a new mission. The new festival is a non-profit and provides new benefits for the musicians. “The program is centered on fellowship, so it’s education-based,” Dabroski explained. “These players come to Vermont to study, develop a career plan, a project, or a business.”
The lineup is comprised of 30 different musicians that hail from all over the world. There are musicians with doctorates from Yale University, Rice University, University of Southern California, and McGill University, as well as international musicians from places such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Palestine. Those interested in being a part of the Vermont Mozart Festival apply online. After they are accepted, they receive a binder of music that they are expected to learn before they come to Vermont for the festival. “There’s a young woman from Hebron on the West Bank and I believe music is going to be a part of the peace process. I’m helping her to create a school. The idea [at the festival] is to collaborate and have a network,” Dabroski said.
Beyond entertaining scores of Vermonters on blankets and in lawn chairs under sometimes-threatening summer skies, a goal of the festival is to spread music by allowing musicians to create more connections that result in new businesses and projects when they return home.
To accomplish these projects, Dabroski meets with the members of the group one-on-one to help them develop their ideas. Megan Wright, a violist attending Rice University in Houston, plans to create a festival of her own to benefit the veterans at Fort Hood when she returns home. “Michael’s kind of giving us the tools that we need to accomplish this kind of vision that we have,” Wright explained. “Creating this musical community is great in terms of networking, you make really good friends,” she added. “And just being told that if you have an idea, you can make it happen…that’s been very inspiring for me.”
For example, one of the French horn players will be returning to Cuba to start a French horn club to play concerts around the country. Dabroski taught classes in Cuba himself and plans to return to help start a music festival there. For the time being, he has brought players from Cuba here and on the nights when the festival is at the Hotel Vermont in downtown Burlington, Mozart’s symphonies will be accompanied by traditional Cuban folk music.
The recent concerts at Shelburne Farms sold out quickly. “That’s almost unheard of for classical music,” Dabroski noted. He added that while there were two shows, he probably could have done five. The show at every venue is different, however, so those who attend concerts at Shelburne Farms can still attend other concerts throughout the summer and have a unique experience.
For the next week, the festival will play there will be concerts at South Burlington Veterans Memorial Park, the Burlington Country Club, Charlotte Town Beach, Church Street in Burlington, and the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe.