For more than 35 years, the Vermont Mozart Festival enthralled audiences with a series of outdoor concerts, but it folded under significant debt in 2010. Now a local violinist has decided to bring it back with a new business model.
The revamped Vermont Mozart Festival will be performing three weekends of concerts starting July 22nd. Most of the concerts are at the Veterans Memorial Park in South Burlington.
"I recognized how important Vermont Mozart Festival was to many families in Vermont, how important it was to businesses in Vermont, how important it was to music," says Michael Dabroski, leader of the Vermont Mozart Festival. "And I loved performing with the group in its last five seasons in beautiful places and playing Mozart, and so I thought, 'Why not bring it back? It seems to be a huge loss.'"
Dabroski told Vermont Edition he was inspired by community members who shared their positive memories of the former festival with him when he first floated the idea of reviving it. So he went about securing funding.
"NBT Bank immediately stepped up to sponsor the new Vermont Mozart Festival," Dabroski explains. "The whole idea was to try to find a sustainable model knowing the financial difficulties that the former festival incurred."
Dabroski says the new model includes bringing in young musicians, called fellows, from around the country to comprise the orchestra. They're not paid a salary, but their living expenses are covered, at a cost of about $3,000 per musician. During their three week fellowship they'll be staying in Champlain College housing.
But while they're not getting paid, they will be gaining new business skills. As part of the application, musicians had to submit an entrepreneurial business plan that reflected their passion and they'll be getting training in how to market themselves and make the most of their musical careers.
"I thought about the young professionals who are 21 to 29 years old who leave the leading music conservatories in the country with tremendous debts," Dabroski says. "And the unemployment rate is so high for classical musicians, and I couldn't find a program in this country that is teaching young professionals business skills. And a part of paying it forward is empowering the artists to also be a community leader, a business leader."
Twenty-nine musicians were chosen as fellows for the festival, representing a variety of music schools from throughout the country.
"The way the three-week festival is structured, we rehearse Mozart nine-to-five through the day" Dabroski explains. And they perform on the weekends. "But simultaneously the fellows are expected to write career development projects so they're learning what encompasses a business plan – marketing, the idea, budgeting reallocation."
Orchestra rehearsals will happen at the University Mall in South Burlington from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays beginning July 19 and community members are welcome to listen for free. The mall is also the festival's designated rain site. Dabroski notes that it's unusual for a mall to be the location for performances like this, but he highlights the advantages of the space, including air conditioning and safe parking, as well as the ability to draw in crowds who might not otherwise go to a classical concert.
"You can go to the mall, buy a pretzel," he laughs, "and then hear this incredible orchestra playing Hoffner's symphony or the 4th horn concerto by Mozart."
"It's accessible and I think the future of classical music depends on that," Dabroski says. He adds that accessibility is also reflected in the pricing for the festival's ticketed events. It's $15 for adults and free for children.
Dabroski says that in the spirit of trying new things, the festival has partnered with local yoga businesses to hold an outdoor "spa" where people can do yoga while the orchestra plays.
"People might come for the spa, but they're also going to hear the Mozart and they might hear it for the first time," Dabroski says.
Disclosure: VPR is a media sponsor of Vermont Mozart Festival.