Michael Dabroski, Anne Bijur, Alec Webb, Sofia Hirsch
From September to April, the chamber group Burlington Ensemble plays a series of “90/10” concerts to benefit local nonprofits. The charities take in 90 percent of the proceeds — which means the musicians still have to be paid somehow. That’s where BE’s summer festival, Summer Serenades, comes in.
Now in its second full year, the festival has doubled in size — to 10 concerts at five venues over three weeks — and slightly raised its ticket prices to underwrite BE’s expanding community-oriented mission.
But BE’s founders, violinists Michael Dabroski and Sofia Hirsch, apparently can’t be trusted to offer purely mercenary fare even during the summer. One Serenades concert, at the West Monitor Barn in Richmond, will benefit the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps with 25 percent of its proceeds. And four more, at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn, will do the same for Vermont Food Education Every Day. VT-FEED is a farm-to-school collaborative project of Shelburne Farms, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont and Food Works at Two Rivers Center in Montpelier.
Shelburne Farms president Alec Webb says that when Dabroski and Hirsch first approached him about holding concerts there, “their community-oriented mission appealed to us” — particularly the group’s offer to support VT-FEED. The program is one of the many ways the nonprofit Shelburne Farms uses its 1400-acre working farm and historic buildings to promote and teach sustainable conservation practices.
Also appealing was the fact that BE brought back classical music to a venue long loved by Vermont Mozart Festival goers, Webb notes, but “on a smaller scale that’s easier to manage.” Summer Serenades audiences can still eat a picnic dinner on the lawn. But the concerts won’t be weather dependent, and, says Webb, the Coach Barn provides “a little more intimacy with the musicians.”
Since the Mozart Fest folded in 2010, the only classical music at Shelburne Farms has been the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s July Fourth concerts — of which the last two were rained out. “BE feels like a new idea that’s gradually taking hold,” Webb says. “They’re the little kid on the block.”
For his part, Dabroski considers it a “privilege” to work with Shelburne Farms. “When Alec and I first met, the Mozart Festival was still happening,” he recalls. “I think we’re in the spot of establishing a new tradition.
“And it’s better,” he avers. “There’s no rain [risk], and we’re putting money back into the community instead of into management and marketing.”
BE has no board or director and relies on its nonprofit partners to market the concerts to their members.
Dabroski and Hirsch chose a “night” theme for the festival, crafting a program of Brahms and Bartók for “Gypsy Night,” for instance, and pairing Britten’s Phantasy Quartet with R.V. Williams’ Phantasy Quintet for “Phantasy Night.” (No Phish is on the program.)
“Starry Night,” a program that will be played at the Basin Harbor Club in Vergennes, the West Monitor Barn and Castleton State College before closing the festival at Shelburne Farms, includes Giovanni Bottesini’s second double-bass concerto, played by Rachel Calin, and Mendelssohn’s octet. Double-bass concerti are rarely heard in concert, Dabroski notes, but audiences of last year’s Summer Serenades will most likely recognize the Mendelssohn octet, which has become BE’s signature ending.
Whether the stars will actually be out or obscured by more summer rain is, thankfully, of little consequence.
Burlington Ensemble’s Summer Serenades. Tuesday, July 23, to Saturday, August 10, 7:30 p.m. at various locations. $30 per concert; $150 for all 10 concerts. Children under 13 free. burlingtonensemble.com