Weird and woke: String quartet is fired by its board

Weird and woke: String quartet is fired by its board


norman lebrecht

May 15, 2022

This is a very strange story from Portland, Maine, about a string quartet that has been defunded because its board wants something more diverse.

The nonprofit Friends of the DaPonte String Quartet has fired the four musicians in the 30-year-old ensemble and is changing its name and mission to diversify its programming, a move that left the group stunned and angered.

Members of the well-known and prolific classical music group received letters in the mail this week notifying them that their paid positions had been eliminated. The friends group, which was formed to support concerts and programming of the quartet and handle finances, will soon go by the name Chamber Music Maine and plans to broaden its musical offerings with a wider group of musicians. 

Read on here.


  • Monty Earleman says:

    I don’t even have a snarky comment. Just….. wow……

  • Rita mathsen says:

    Talent first, not diversity.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    2023-2024 Orchestra Seasons United:
    All the Music, that’s Left

    This is the future of classical music, at least in the northern Atlantic portion. Put on your seatbelt, the BSO will soon have the anti-Beethoven year musicologists were calling for, and the NYPhil will ditch Mahler for Pulitzer Prize Winner: Lamar (Kendrick, that is).

    The Philadelphia will feature Cardi in B, with soloist Kim Kardashian (not be confused with the viola player).
    Yo-Yo Ma will play the Bach Cello Suites with DJ Khaled running the tables, and Eminem will get canceled for being Eminem.

    • WhatOne says:

      You should’ve had Lizzo in the Philly-Phil- she’s a classically trained flautist. She does however dodge questions about how her audition for Julliard audition went…

      • Tammy garber says:

        Ugh. Stop with pedo holiwoodworship. Jozstainmaxwell trial isnt being telivised cause people like you,. They cast johnny deps. Even when johny dep is on list for jet to pedo island. Even when spongebobs liscence says he lives on pedo island. Disney had a cruise that stoped on pedo island. Most a list celebrities INLCUDING THOSE GUYS you emntioned are on a list of visits to pedo islnad and you atill suport a pedofule? You pedo to? Why support a pedo. Gtfo and dye. We dont need ppl lk u

  • phf655 says:

    This seems like a cruel, heartless, way to treat musicians who have given of themselves over a long period. Maine’s demographics show one of the least diverse populations among the fifty states. As is often the case, one wonders towards whom this ‘diversity’ campaign is directed.

    • Jim C. says:

      Yeah. A letter? No taking them to lunch?

      Really, that’s so tacky, so unprofessional. And so hostile.

      • CRogers says:

        Your absolutely right-‘tacky and hostile.’ To add one or two more. It’s ignorant, disrespectful and spineless. If you’re going to fire/remove/let go of employees have the courage/courtesy to say it to their face! If there are facts I’ve over looked please correct me. I saw, in my own working life (in education and caring professions) lots of managements. I remember a talented, senior colleague, who had set up a department some years earlier, being relegated to the bottom of the pile without any prior consultation or even notice…….! It was shameful and deeply affected him. He took them to court and won. But what a mess that head teacher made of the whole thing. But irony of ironies the school went into ‘special measures’ and he had the last laugh!

    • Will Wilkin says:

      Perhaps Ms. Erica Ball who signed the termination letter is hoping the replacement part-timers will play HER compositions?

    • Tammy garber says:

      Yeah its not called diversity. This is called racist. You cant fire people for being white then say ots for diversity. That raciam. Firing someone based on color of skin, or hiring them based on skin color. Its racist.

  • John D’Armes says:

    “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.”

    That attitude is exactly why this group needed a change of mission and of personnel. True change in the world will never happen if people continue to think this way.

    • just saying says:

      So we shouldn’t even give this quartet a chance to broaden their repertoire? Just fire them on the spot? You don’t just pick up new music like changing an outfit. Programming new repertoire takes time and practice.

    • japecake says:

      So when do we address underrepresentation of white musicians in hip hop? Culture matters.

    • Herr Forkenspoon says:

      The quartet, nor any other musicians that I’ve known for the past 65 yrs. have had as a goal to “change the world.” We just want to play the music that we love and if enough people love it, we can make a living doing it.

    • Jim C. says:

      Then start playing rock and roll.

    • Donn says:

      That’s what MAJORITY by far want to hear. Why do I have 4 recordings of Beethoven 9 and zero of Nixon in China?

      • Jobim75 says:

        Actually, if not really diverse, Glass, Adams or Riley music is a good way to broaden the repertoire along with some south American composers, Chavez, Revueltas…

    • A Pianist says:

      Come on who actually believes this. Where did you come from to come here to say this? “True change in the world” you have to be kidding me.

    • Tamino says:

      „Change“ is not a virtue by itself. Change is just a process. Some people seem do dumbed down, they don‘t know what they actually aspire to. They then cling to buzzwords like „change“ and „diversity“.
      Diversity in itself is also not a virtue. It depends. Think about it…

    • Bill says:

      Like it or not, “European dead white men” created the greatest music the world will ever know. Neither your envy nor your vindictive political correctness can ever change that.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      @John: Wow, not even one neuron engaged, eh?

    • CE Muller says:

      Dear Mr. D’Armes,
      It’s called irony. They have spent years honing their craft and becoming specialist in chamber music while spreading joy with their music. If you don’t like what they are playing, go listen to something else, but do not take away from what they have accomplished.

  • Patrick says:

    “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.”

    Yes, we get it. You’re not alone. Many of us were similarly trained, but we adapt. You can, too. Sure, the board’s action is rude and heavy-handed, but you should take it as a hint. Diversify your programming.

    • just saying says:

      They weren’t even given a chance to adapt, it seems…

      • Monsoon says:

        The article says that they knew this had been brewing for a while:

        Although the letter was a surprise, Jordan said he and the others saw this coming.

        “This has been two years in the making, and it’s been perpetrated with great skill and discipline, and in complete secrecy,” he said.

    • Herr Forkenspoon says:

      It’s the board, not the public who are complaining. Read the rest of the article and the comments.

    • John D’armes says:

      Absolutely correct. Other organizations should take this to heart as well.

      The same old ways of doing business, reinforcing the same culture, with the same attitudes it’s not a way forward.

      But I think we’re finally waking up as a country.

      • Tamino says:

        Yes. Let‘s stop breathing. Damn old way of doing the blood oxygenation business. Not a way forward. Wake up! Don‘t breathe!

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        If you’re not being sarcastic you’re clearly very troubled. It’s like saying ‘Make chocolate but without cocoa beans’.

    • Jim C. says:

      To what?

      That’s like telling an English professor not to teach English any more.

      • Will Wilkin says:

        Now they call it “Language Arts.” As if “which particular language?” doesn’t matter….

    • Tamino says:

      Diversify? Why?
      If it happens to be dead white men who wrote the majority or the genius classical masterpieces, then that‘s the way it was. What‘s wrong with people who don‘t understand the concept of past, present and future?
      Playing a Bach Cello piece does not prevent a single person with a minority background to follow their dream to become an excellent composer themselves. To the contrary. Bach can inspire any human with open ears and an open mind.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Diversifying to a repertoire dominated by women and ‘people of colour’ would lead to audiences staying away in droves. It’s about quality. Dead white men have written the best music so far. Deal with it.

  • David Rowe says:

    Diversify, yes….but to what degree and for whom? According to the article the board told the current (now fired) musicians: “No more Beethoven or Schubert.” Yes, these are old, dead, white, central-european men whose work was created during an era of imperialism, patriarchy, exploitation, and slavery. They (along with many dozens of others) also happen to define the art form of classical music (even more so, chamber music) – without them, the genre doesn’t exist, or at least doesn’t exist in anything resembling how it has been admired, treasured, and understood worldwide for at least five centuries. Classical music has in fact been among the most inviting and welcoming of art forms for decades. Women, LGBTQ, and certain ethnic groups now comprise a large percentage of performers, administrators, and creators – in some instances far beyond their representation in the general population. And the repertory is changing as well, – I understand not quickly or radically enough for some, but organic change (rather than prescribed by a board or other agenda-driven administrative agencies) is how the art form has always evolved. No Beethoven or Schubert? Where exactly is the chamber music audience who will consistently purchase tickets for and support organizations programming no Beethoven or Schubert?

    • Doctor Herr Fankenstein says:

      Classical chamber music has a plethora of modern works that should be heard. Old fuddy-duddies who only play Beethoven, Shubert, & Brahms should be retired by music societies & replaced with ensembles that play Debussy, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Hindemith, Piston, Takemitsu etcetera in addition to infrequent performances of the old guys. If you want to hear Beethoven & Brahms you can attend student recitals at colleges.

      • Wannaplayguitar says:

        Herr Doktor I tend to agree with you, but it’s a conveyor belt grinding relentlessly to oblivion for most “classical” composers, (be they long dead or very much alive and still amongst us.)

      • Tom C says:

        Last I heard, Debussy, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Hindemith were all white, mostly European, and certainly dead.

      • Debra Yoo says:

        If you actually knew anything about the DaPonte Quartet and its programming over the years, you would know that they do play music other than “the old guys.” I’m sure you delved into it carefully before you characterized them as old fuddy-duddies.

      • Tamino says:

        Keep your ideology for yourself while we just try to enjoy the music, all music, all good music.

    • Jim C. says:

      I think the reality is that Schubert and Beethoven are too hard for these people. And so they come up with these righteous excuses.

      The question is, is Germany and Austria going to start rejecting them too for being too German and too Austrian?

    • Tammy garber says:

      No honey. Its called racsim. Firing ANYONE for the color of their skin is RACIST. Firing a black guy eo hire a more qualified white guy is illegal, and called racism. Said company can fire the white guy to hire a less qualified black guy and its called diversity. No honey. This wanst diversity this was double standard RACSISM. Firing anyone for the color of their skin is wrong. But only firing white for the SAME reason is considered okay. If they wanted to diversify, then all they had to do was hire some more people or put together a new group. But no they decided “lets get rid of this group caise they alm white”. Racsit. Simple as that kid. Stop trying to justify racism. Its wrong to treat someone different cause of their skin. G.o.y.

    • Tammy garber says:

      No its not diverse. Its racsim. Its racist to fire someone based on the color of their skin. Fire black for their skin ots called racist. Fire whites for thier skin color amd they say their are diversifying. Double standard racism.

  • japecake says:

    I’ll lend my full-throated support to this decision as soon as the demographics of hip hop, R&B, and reggae match those of the U.S. population as a whole.

  • Brian says:

    Everything woke turns to s***. How soon before we recognize it as a mental disorder?

    • V.Lind says:

      It’s more than that. It’s cultural fascism — not to say cultural suicide.

      I go to chamber music to hear Schubert and Beethoven and Haydn and Mozart — and Janacek and Shostakovich and other later composers who worked with the form. I do not care about their colour or their sex or their sexual preference or their religion or anything else except the notes they put on manuscript paper. Anyone who finds a new practitioner in the class of these immortals is welcome to join the repertory.

      How have so many people who appear not to give a damn about music got themselves on the boards of classical music operations?

      • SVM says:

        “How have so many people who appear not to give a damn about music got themselves on the boards of classical music operations?”

        Perhaps such people are gold-diggers whose real interest is to misappropriate endowments that had been created for the furtherance of classical music, and have the cunning to use the fig-leaf of “diversity” (which is an insult to the many musicians and board members who practise “diversity” without compromising on artistic excellence and without imposing positive discrimination). Do any of the baord members have family/friends who are going to benefit from the misappropriation, I wonder?

    • ToscasKiss says:

      Ding ding! You win the booby prize, for dragging out that word that’s been misused and shredded so much in the last little while, by people who really don’t understand the reality and meaning of it. Rhymes with “folk” and “poke,” which is what I’d like to do to most of the people using it these days. Oy!

  • Dark Caldera says:

    The lunatics are running the asylum.

  • Minnesota says:

    Seems odd that a “Friends of” group have this type of legal and financial authority without ongoing representation by the artists. They are masters rather than friends.

    • Larry says:

      I had the same thought also. Theoretically, the four can continue playing as a quartet using the Da Ponte name, since the organization is not using that name going forward.

      • SVM says:

        I am not sure the board are bothered about whether the quartet retain the name. The board are clearly after the endowment. The question is, cui bono?

        • Cat says:

          There is no endowment. Never was. All the monies are raised annually through a combination of grants and contributions from individuals.

          To answer another question, there is representatives from the musicians because they set up that way.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    I guess they weren’t that good “FRIENDS”

  • Monsoon says:

    “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.”

    My sympathy for the quartet ended here.

    What a lazy, “we don’t give a crap” attitude.

    Classical music isn’t going to survive if ensembles never program anything composed after 1920.

    And here’s the kicker: When contemporary music is programmed, audience usually like it. Just look at how popular Jen Higdon, Sofia Gubaidulina, Kaija Saariaho, John Adams, Philip Glass, and Tan Dun are.

    If an ensemble is willingly ignoring all of the great music that has been composed in the last 40 years through today, then they don’t deserve to receive such generous funding.

    • just saying says:

      “Music that has been composerd in the last 40 years through today”…so anything composed after 1982. That will definitely sell a lot of tickets!

  • David says:

    I guess they are under no obligation to support these people financially but it seems very cruel. Maybe slowly start funding more musicians and work with the group to broaden their repertoire. And banning Beethoven and Schubert entirely seems ridiculous.

  • MR DAVID W LEGG says:

    European dead guys wrote good music. A bit more uniformity would probably improve matters 🙂

  • Russell says:

    In truth “classical” music is a museum piece. I prefer to enjoy music for what it is regardless of the continent of era of its origins. But….
    The culture surrounding “classical” music is stultifying and aggressively Eurocentric. Orchestras that perform it wouldn’t be able to survive without grants. Imagine if theater of 2022 only consisted of the works of Shakespeare.
    The way this group was dismissed was ham-handed. But seriously, classical music world needs to evolve it’s aesthetic beyond the hero worship of European men from the colonial era of world history.

    • SVM says:

      When was it ever the case that classical music was widely a profit-making venture? As far as I can tell, classical music has, throughout history, almost always relied on patronage of some sort.

    • James Scott says:

      No museum could survive without money from the various levels of government either. Sports teams get huge support from their cities, etc. Pop/rock/rap artists could not survive if they needed to put on a show every weekend in the same city each time in decent sized venues. It takes them at least 6 months (probably much longer) to learn new material. Orchestras perform a new show (maybe two or more) every week. Chamber groups, less than that, but still more frequent new performances. Those musicians also become part of the community – teaching or coaching young musicians, and passing along their craft. Local restaurants/bars/coffee shops benefit from the concert patrons coming to their businesses. This is a false argument – without classical music, music education would slowly disappear, and the world would be left with a few people that strum 3 chords on a guitar without being able to read music.

  • Andrew Clark says:

    The arts in the US are circling the drain.

  • Ms.Melody says:

    I am not sure what I find more frightening: the fact that a classical music ensemble is punished for performing classical music or the fact that some people think this is in any way justified or even right.

    • Wannaplayguitar says:

      It is down to patronage, endowments, legacies etc. When they run out or expire, the tax payer doesn’t see why he or she should step in to the breach to fund, especially if the art form in question does not reflect his or her ethnicity, cultural experience (or musical taste)

  • Terence says:

    But who will go to the concerts?

  • Peter says:

    This does look like an extraordinary act of vandalism, against the musicians, by the administrators of the organisation intended to support them.

    I wonder if there is anything to stop the quartet from immediately reforming themselves, and continuing as before. Given their name is being dropped, perhaps they could even claim back the use their original name for the new group ?

    Might it be that the Friends have done this as a way of taking away any accumulated funds that the quartet has built up over the years ? (Maybe, but perhaps covid took most of that anyway ?). So they may have to start from scratch. But with established audiences, reputation and presumably quite some sympathy from the community they have performed to for many years, they could re-establish themselves.

    While the “friends” may end up friendless, and with neither performers or audiences. But perhaps what is left of the assets that they were meant to be looking after for the quartet.

    Good luck to the quartet members.

  • Emily says:

    Hope they’re not being canned because they’re older musicians. If they are, they should sue.

  • fierywoman says:

    It will be interesting to see if the old audience supports the new programming — or if new audience support actually appears.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Aw, come on! The audience will just flock to any old shite conjured up in the name of the God ‘diversity’. Automatically better than that Beethoven bloke, eh?

  • 125th St. says:

    I knew Erica Ball some years ago as a student composer. Always an ice cold personality who wrote music to match. It’s not too surprising to see her turn up again in this kind of story. But mostly sad for the quartet.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    This is a topsy-turvy story. The organization’s webpage (the DaPonte Quartet’s page: clearly states the Friends’ official mission:

    “The mission of the Friends of DaPonte String Quartet is to enable the DaPonte String Quartet to bring excellence in chamber music to both rural and urban audiences in Maine and beyond through performances, education, and personal contact.”

    (Watch that site in the coming days to see if it gets taken down. As of now, you can’t navigate to it from the Quartet’s homepage, but the page is still active.)

    I understand if the new executive director, Erica Ball, or members of the board want to pursue a different agenda, promote different artists or champion different repertoire. Those board members are free to join the another organization or start a new one. But their explicit job — for which every one of them must have been specifically recruited — was to support the DaPonte Quartet as stated in the mission above. The ensemble’s Support webpage (which HAS already been taken down) used to read: “DONATE! By Check: Payable to: Friends of DaPonte String Quartet”

    In other words, the Friends took in donations meant for the Quartet. If there’s an enterprising, public-spirited attorney in Maine or New England who’s willing to lodge a pro bono suit against every member of that Board and its executive director on behalf of the players, I will cheer that lawyer on to victory.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Don’t worry, I think there’ll be plenty…

    • Cat says:

      And they would lose as the actual DaPonte Quartet is not the four musicians that were fired but any musicians that are hired to be that Quartet. These four were employees like it or or not not of the Board that they created to manage their business.

      Have any of you actually been on non-profit Boards that had staff? Did you have to let staff go? There is a legal process here,

      • Byrwec Ellison says:

        As a matter of fact, I was on the board of an opera company 20 years ago. We didn’t fire anyone during my time, but we were on the losing side of a long-standing lawsuit that was concluded soon after I joined.

        Note that this isn’t the Board of the DaPonte Quartet but the Board of the Friends of the DaPonte Quartet, a fund-raising arm of the ensemble (see mission statement above). The legality of the firings will depend to a fair extent on the 501(c3) filings and contracts that established the Friends as a legal entity. I haven’t seen those, but this event is so extraordinary, the particulars may not have been anticipated or specifically laid out in the agreements. This move has the air of of a rinky-dink operation.

  • Junto Miguel says:

    There’s a false connotation that’s been pushed in American culture in the last 70 years, that classical music is the music of the privilege and snobbery. The reality is that most of the composer lived in abject poverty the likes of which no one today has any idea about. Have you seen many mass graves today? That’s where “posh” Mozart lays. Such people sacrificed their lives and dignities to leave something of the highest quality and value to the world. To want to shut up value because it doesn’t fit its unappreciative demographic is what every dictatorship does. If you have to choke and discourage real value, in order to get noticed, you’ve lost value from the start. Real value appreciates and loves value. It never tries to choke it.

    • guest says:

      Very few composers of the past, the ones we have all heard of at least, lived in abject poverty; Mozart had quite an affluent life-style (of course he got into debt, but who hasn’t from time to time); burial in mass graves was common practice in Vienna, for various reasons. But the composers of today are indeed at risk of living in abject poverty if today’s musicians won’t enthusiastically perform and promote their music, but instead stick safely to a museum repertoire. I take it that is the point of the present thread.

  • Tim says:

    Lawsuit aside, it’ll be interesting to see how long this foundation survives without what I would assume is its main source of revenue. Even the grants and donations are likely coming in due to the quartet. The audience for dead old white men like Beethoven and Schubert may be smaller than it was, but the audience for compositions by the president of this foundation, Dr. Erica Ball (who’s a doctor in the same sense that Mrs. Biden is a doctor) is non-existent.

    • Bill says:

      They both have doctoral degrees, and thus are both doctors, whether you like the terminology or not. They are not however medical doctors. Nor is this usage something that only takes place in the land of the woke. But it is a safe bet that just about anyone who objects has not actually earned a doctorate themselves, though some seem to have done advanced studies in being a schmuck.

  • MPMcGrath says:

    Sick world filled with people who apparently eager to follow perceived guidelines to the most irrational and inhuman of levels.

    Can we put a containment field around certain geographies more prone to such bizarre acts?

  • Guey says:

    Get woke, go broke.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    A string quartet… had a board?

    Well, is there anything stopping them from doing like Prince and reforming as “The Quartet formerly known as…”

    If there is a genuine demand for their services that should work.

  • Isaac Malitz says:

    I checked the background on this. To put things simply: There is a great deal of newer music, new performers that is high quality , and it is “good art” for a music series to take an interest in that. And it can entail engaging a larger roster of artists. And that’s what happened here. … So, the question to Mr. Lebrecht is: Did this matter involve some out-of-control woke-ness, or some slippery journalism by you(i.e. looking for an opportunity to tilt the facts and cry WOKE and get a few more hits)??

    • V.Lind says:

      How does a string quarter “take on a greater roster of artists” and retain its musical raison d’etre?

    • Piston1 says:

      I don’t see what’s slippery about Mr. Lebrecht’s journalism here; he includes a direct link to the newspaper story in the Portland Press Herald.

  • Jobim75 says:

    A shame, reverse racism and discrimination to fight against racism and discrimination, what a dark time…..

  • Music Lover says:

    Appears to be behind a paywall (at least in Canada) – ?

    • V.Lind says:

      I’m in Canada and it’s not blocked to me. If you have an ad blocker, disable it for that page.

  • mahler9 says:

    Such a wrong-headed, depressing decision. For the years I’ve attended concerts, I’ve been exposed to music by ‘diverse’ composers along with the works that drew me to the concerts. I was always happy to listen to the new (or lesser-known) music. Sometimes I liked it quite a bit, sometimes not. This has always been a good way to expose listeners to something different (‘diverse’ in today’s parlance). The self-flagellating and downright self-hatred of established cultural organizations is unlikely to do anyone any good. How is it not racist to fire people for playing music by white composers?

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    It seems obvious to me that if the Board wanted diversity, it could have it, by either bringing in other musical ensembles who provide the diversity they desire, as guests. A classically-trained group should not be forced to play musical genre that they are not interested or equipped to play. There are too many people who still love music of the past, because they realize that the “past” is never past when it describes the human spirit. And that is eternal.

  • Livingperson says:

    I hope audiences will not support any upcoming performances of this ‘new’ chamber music organization. Despicable on all levels

  • E Rand says:

    hahahahaha…….(breathing)…..HAHAHAHA! Leftists eating their own cooking – It’s the only consolation that remains during the demolition phase of Western Civilization.

  • Rob_H says:

    In the US we’ll be forced to listen to diverse music over great music because people who know very little about music tell us to.