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 cancelled 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. “The festival would like to thank all of its supporting venues, sponsors, musicians, and audiences especially NBT Bank for their unwavering support.”
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 spokeswoman 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, also on June 16, 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 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.
The festival’s director for the past four years, Dabroski then left for a trip to Cuba, leaving board members scrambling 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, according to Richards.
Before departing, Dabroski wrote a letter to the venues that said: “I write to inform you that the fourth 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,” he 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 explained. “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 the festival using the address firstname.lastname@example.org and provide their name and 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. Richards said board members recently became aware of problems going into this year’s series. At the start of June, Richards said, Dabroski told them “people who were to play backed out.”
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 the 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 to be held both in the lodge and in the resort’s meadow, said sales director Bill Hunt. He said he only received word of the cancellations in mid-June. Stowe Performing Arts still has performances planned for the Trapp meadow in June and August, Hunt said.
Three more Mozart performances were scheduled at the Burlington Country Club.
This was to be the fourth summer that Dabroski was leading the festival, which was described as a “reimagined” festival after he took over. Prior to that, the festival had a 30-plus year run under original director Melvin Kaplan. That ended amidst financial troubles in 2010.
Under Dabroski, the festival was reinvented as a musical laboratory 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 the participants at the start of their careers.
In the last year or so, 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 June 8-9.
Richards said a big task ahead is to carefully examine the 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.”