DaPonte String Quartet rehired, board members replaced

·4 min read

Jun. 15—The DaPonte String Quartet lives.

A little more than a month after the Midcoast-based classical musicians received letters of termination from the head of its nonprofit friends' group, a new board of directors has been established and has rehired the four members.

The resolution was reached with help from two attorneys who read about the plight of the fired quartet members — cellist Myles Jordan, violinists Ferdinand "Dino" Liva and Lydia Forbes and violist Kirsten Monke — and wanted to support them.

"What these musicians want is to play and bring their music to audience, not be entangled in litigation," said Eva Frank, who with Claire Robinson represented the quartet at no cost. "This is an excellent outcome."

Frank would not provide additional details about how the resolution was reached but said the former board members who had pushed to terminate the musicians agreed to step down, as did the executive director, Erica Ball. Frank also declined to share any documentation of the agreement.

Jordan said neither he nor the other musicians could discuss the terms of the agreement, but he said the musicians are ecstatic.

"I think this last month has taken time off all our lives," he said.

The quartet learned in a May 10 letter signed by Ball, who recently had been hired as executive director of the Friends of the DaPonte String Quartet, that their paid positions had been eliminated.

"The Board of the Friends of the DaPonte String Quartet has evaluated its mission and role in supporting the performing arts and has reached the conclusion that it is in the best interest of the organization to move in a different direction," Ball wrote. "The organization will no longer serve as a full-time employer of performing artists. As a result of this decision, I regret to inform you that your position as a salaried musician will be eliminated as of May 10, 2022."

Additionally, the friends' group that originally formed to support concerts and programming of the quartet and handle finances was changing its name to Chamber Music Maine and had plans to broaden its musical offerings with a wider group of musicians.

The quartet members, who each had been paid $40,000 annually, were stunned and vowed to fight.

"This is our livelihood, and it's the livelihood we've built stone by stone, ourselves, over 30 years," Jordan said last month.

The quartet originally formed in 1991 in Philadelphia, but its members moved to Maine full time a few years later. Jordan and Liva are original members, but the group has had several different lineups over the years. The current foursome has been intact for more than a decade and has been playing concerts throughout the state and beyond to a dedicated following and offering educational opportunities as well.

Jordan said he believed the decision to terminate the musicians last month was made because board members had been trying to exert more control, specifically over what music they should play at their many shows.

"They said our music is insufficiently diverse in its representation of women and people of color," he 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."

Ball, in an interview last month, acknowledged that the now-dismissed board members were looking for more flexibility and diversity in programming.

Before the former board members resigned, they appointed three new members, including David Shipman as chairman.

Shipman said he has been a fan of the quartet for years and is grateful that it will continue.

"I've been listening to string quartets for a long time and to have musicians of that caliber based in Maine is special," he said.

Jordan said he's been touched by the amount of support the musicians have received since news of their firings was made public last month.

"We had no idea we had any kind of impact like this," he said. "There is a real following for this music, and it's important to people."

The nonprofit also will now be known as the DaPonte String Quartet Foundation. According to Frank, the former board relinquished all claims to unspent donations, which means the money is now under the control of the new foundation.

It's not clear whether Chamber Music Maine will continue. Ball could not be reached for comment.

Ari Solotoff, an attorney who had been representing the friends group, said he could not provide additional details.

"It's my understanding that the parties have amicably resolved their differences and that there has been a smooth transition in the governance of the nonprofit," he said in an email. "Because I no longer serve as counsel to the organization, I am unable to comment further."

Frank, who was a prosecutor in Washington, D.C., for many years, moved to Maine more than 20 years ago with her husband, Halsey Frank, Maine's former U.S. Attorney. Robinson was a corporate attorney for Walt Disney for many years specializing in intellectual property.

The musicians have been rehearsing throughout the ordeal in preparation for possible shows this summer. Their next show is at 7:30 p.m. June 23 at the Union Church in South Bristol, and their full performance schedule can be found on their new website, dapontequartet.org.