The Vermont Mozart Festival opened the Evenings with Mozart series at the University Mall, Friday, July 22. Photo: Stephen Mease

Encore: Vermont Mozart Festival Returns in New Form

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Thursday July 28, 2016

Listen closely, and one may hear the familiar symphonies that once serenaded the Green Mountains years ago.

Those are the sounds of the rebirth of the Vermont Mozart Festival, a beloved series of indoor and outdoor concerts throughout the state that celebrated the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from 1974-2010.

The event folded six years ago due to financial issues, but South Burlington resident and violinist Michael Dabroski has brought the series back with new twists: it’s more accessible to the general public, it’s more affordable, it’s performed by a different makeup of musicians, and it takes place in a new set of venues compared to its predecessor.

Although there will be differences, as a former participant of the original festival, Dabroski hopes to revive the convivial atmosphere that drew people out in the first place and hopefully attract new listeners.

“I became familiar with the amount of families and neighbors who had attended concerts for the music and also for the experience to spend time together and enjoy food and conversation.”

It all started in the fall of 2015 when he discovered the festival name was available for purchase and use.

“Anybody could have rebuilt it. It was just a matter of who wanted to do it.”

So he did. He built Vermont Mozart Festival Inc., a nonprofit organization which aims to broaden its audience through exposure and affordability —tickets are $15 for adults and free for children up to age 18— at concerts year-round.

“We did an analysis: likely two to five percent of Chittenden County goes to classical musical concerts currently, and that’s a really low number,” he said. “We need to introduce musical performance —the music and experience—to the other 95 percent, because if we can introduce our idea of accessibility, likeability, great art, the concept of practice and performance—that’s an inspiration model for other types of musical businesses.”

The festival’s structural revamp is not only game-changing for the listeners, but Dabroski designed it to be an opportunity for young musicians, as well. Thus, he introduced a three-week Fellowship Program which elects up to 30 awardees ages 21-30. These fellows will perform the concert series while studying Mozart, writing business plans through musical entrepreneur workshops, and residing at Champlain College. The program runs from July 18 through August 8.
“I recognize that there are many college graduates who have incredible training on their instrument, but they’re seeking ways to build their own careers and their own businesses, and I thought I could provide a program that supports their interests,” said Dabroski.

Adding a fellowship element triggered donations from various parties, including its title sponsor, NBT Bank. The City of South Burlington, South Burlington Rotary Club, Burlington Country Club, and others who also sponsor the program.

Unlike the former Vermont Mozart Festival, which took place in locations like Shelburne Farms, the reincarnation invites the public to enjoy the summer concerts, dubbed “Evenings with Mozart,” in South Burlington’s Veterans Memorial Park, July 29-30 and August 5-6 (the weekend of South Burlington’s City Fest event). The series also takes place indoors at Burlington Country Club July 31 as well as August 7.

Some Vermonters have already gotten a taste of the event at the first installation of concerts this past weekend, July 22-23, which took place at the University Mall due to weather.

Despite not being under the open sky and stars, a large crowd came out to see the fellows star in a two-hour Mozart concert accompanied by local food and drink for a full picnic-music experience. Even Mozart himself, played by Paul Reynolds, made a grand appearance. Although visibly confused by the 21st century, “Mozart” set the tone with his enthusiasm for the festival’s revival, and expressed this through dialogue with Dabroski on-stage.

“Mozart, Mozart,” Dabroski said, taking Mozart’s hand. “You gave us such a great gift!”

Starting with Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 and polishing off the evening of July 22 with the popular Prague Symphony, the performance sparked a standing ovation.

“Michael and his team have done a phenomenal job,” said Maggie Leugers, South Burlington’s recreation and parks director and a spectator at the event. “I think it’s the right time and the right place. South Burlington is really thrilled to be a part of it…and it’s all for a good cause, it’s all for the people, and that’s what it’s all about.”

In addition to the summer concerts, The Vermont Mozart Festival Inc. includes a Mozart Spa, which, in partnership with Body Resolutions, incorporates yoga, tone, and cardio to the sounds of classical music in tandem with “Evenings with Mozart”. There is also Mozart Lite, which brings short classical works to Hotel Vermont’s Juniper Bar free to the public on August 2.

Mozart Rye, a pop-up live performance at Mad River Distillers, occurred earlier this month, and there is also Mozart Madness, a competitive three-on-three basketball summer tournament.

Committed to Social Change

The Vermont Mozart Festival adds to Dabroski’s portfolio of projects designed to make a difference in the community.

Recognized as a Manhattan School of Music “Notable Alumni - Entrepreneur/Industry Leader,” Dabroski has traveled and performed worldwide to share the beauty, message, and connection that classical music has to offer. He is also a summer participant at Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music and is the past artistic director of Music in the Great Hall, which is a world-class chamber music series serving Baltimore.

In 1995, Dabroski founded and directed the Adirondack Ensemble, and after moving to South Burlington, he founded the Burlington Ensemble in 2009. Burlington Ensemble stressed “Making Music with a Social Mission,” by influencing communities locally and even globally, as the ensemble traveled to Palestine in December 2013 to bring peace to the region and shed light on the plights that the people of Gaza have faced.

This humanitarian effort ties in with Dabroski’s project, Enclaves of Beauty, formed in 2013, designed to use artistic expression and performance to promote peace and provide aid and attention to those less fortunate. Over $36,000 has been donated to the United Nations Relief and works Agency for Palestine, Middle East Children’s Alliance and American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem for its Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, the Tree of Life Educational Fund, and Al Kamandjati from concert performances.

Then there is the Vermont Mozart Festival, aimed at exposing new ears and minds to the works of one of the greatest composers in history. One note at a time, Dabroski works toward unlocking new potential and opportunity for education and enjoyment.

“I believe there’s a very large audience, even in small towns, that could be affected positively, but it has to be introduced to the people--and that’s really the revolution in classical music.”

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent