According to the Press Herald, the four musicians of the Maine-based DaPonte String Quartet recently received letters in the mail informing them that their full-time, salaried jobs have been disestablished. The decision was made by the Friends of the DaPonte String Quartet, a nonprofit that was established to organize the group's affairs and finances.
The affected players are violinists Lydia Ford and Ferdinand "Dino" Liva, violist Kirsten Monke, and cellist Myles Jordan. The quartet has been together for 30 years, and while it's had other configurations of players, these four musicians have been performing for over 10 years. Each player had been receiving a permanent salary of $40,000 and was offered $10,000 as a severance payment.
The Friends of the DaPonte String Quartet say they are aiming to transform their nonprofit into a larger organization, which will offer a broader and more diverse range of music performed by a wider pool of musicians.
Furthermore, the board filed the necessary paperwork to change the organization's name to "Chamber Music Maine" with a larger vision in mind. That vision, however, clearly does not include the DaPonte Quartet full time, for whom and by whom the nonprofit was originally set up.
"It does feel a little strange to receive walking papers from an institute I founded," said cellist Myles Jordan.
"This is our livelihood, and it’s the livelihood we’ve built stone by stone, ourselves, over 30 years," he added. "[The termination] has been two years in the making, and it’s been perpetrated with great skill and discipline, and in complete secrecy."
According to Jordan, distrust and frustration have been brewing between the musicians and the board for some time, with the lack of diversity in the quartet's repertoire proving to be something of a sticking point for the Friends.
"They said our music is insufficiently diverse in its representation of women and people of color," Jordan said. "It’s true that most of what we perform is the music of European dead white men, but that’s what we’re trained to do."
The players plan to pursue legal action because they think it likely that the Friends acted in contradiction to the organization's bylaws. The Board, however, are already prepared for that eventuality: they have hired Ari Solotoff, a well-known local lawyer who specializes in the performing arts. Before he entered the legal sector, Solotoff was the executive director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
"Nonprofits regularly evaluate their programming with regard to carrying out charitable purpose," said Erica Ball, the Executive Director of the Friends of the DaPonte String Quartet. "What the board did was take action to change the compensation model for performers, which will help us accomplish the goal of providing more diverse chamber music."
In line with this, Board President Thomas Davis said the Friends organization is still willing to work with the quartet, but rather than a salary, the musicians would be paid per performance. “I know they are unhappy, but I’m optimistic we’ll work with them in the future,” Davis said.
The DSQ was formed in Philadelphia in 1991 and came to Maine in 1995 on a Rural Residency Grant from the NEA and Chamber Music America. Their upcoming concerts include a Benefit for Ukraine with pianist Diane Walsh performing the music of Schumann and Brahms. Held on May 22 at the Meetinghouse Arts Freeport, in Freeport, Main, the concert's proceeds will go to Partners for World Health Ukraine.
"The sole mission of the Friends was to support the quartet, and to say otherwise is completely disingenuous," wrote former board member and donor Kathleen Moses in a letter to the editor of the Portland Press Herald.
"The quartet has been enriching lives for nearly 30 years with their concerts, educational programs and workshops. The Friends of the DaPonte String Quartet has made a huge and shameful mistake," she said.