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December 21, 2010

VT Mozart Fest Calls It Quits

Gil Shohat Thirty-seven years is a respectable run for any arts organization, but tell that to the musicians, staff and board members of the Vermont Mozart Festival. Not to mention the thousands of fans of the grand performances held in gorgeous locations around the state each summer. For my money, a perfect summer evening looks like this: a picnic on the grass at Shelburne Farms (avec vin!), a world-class orchestra striking up on the historic inn's porch, an Adirondack sunset reflecting off Lake Champlain.

But not enough people paid for that kind of summer night over the past few years, apparently — though Seven Days readers voted the fest the 2010 Best Outdoor concert Series, and Vermont Chamber of Commerce consistently named it a top-10 summer event. Moreover, the organization hired a high-profile artistic director, Israeli pianist and composer Gil Shohat (pictured).

Though fundraising actually improved in 2009 and 2010, ticket sales reportedly "sunk well below expected revenues," according to a press release. Two seasons marred by heavy rains did not help. VMF was left with a deficit of $325,000 after this summer's festival, said the release.

Today, the organization, founded in 1974 by Mel Kaplan, announced it will be closing its doors "on or before January 15." Said board president Richard Parlato: "I will miss all the wonderful summer nights and the magic of the music in our beautiful state."

Amen to that.

No doubt the VMF was an event worthy of being considered a "destination event," but over the past few years - perhaps 10? - the product did not change much and the reduced ticket sales likely represented those who had been there/done that and were not enticed enough by the glorious settings to endure yet another Mozart "Jupiter" symphony or Gilbert and Sullivan. After 30 + years of those same pieces, even the sunsets can't stave off boredom. I think the board realized too late that the artistic direction needed to change. That is the real shame.

But, not to worry, if I know Vermont musicians and entrepreneurs, there will be a festival that will rise from the ashes (they could call it the Phoenix festival!). The money and interest is there - someone just needs to put together the right programming - and stay relevant.

If you're not growing and innovating, you're dying. This group was a bunch of dinosaurs. RIP.

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