From left, violinist Lydia Forbes, center, cellist Myles Jordan and violist Kirsten Monke perform for the crowd at Meetinghouse Arts on May 27. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Last spring, the members of the DaPonte String Quartet performed a benefit concert for the Partners for World Health’s Ukraine Emergency Response. The musicians had recently been fired by the nonprofit that oversaw their 30-year-old ensemble, and their future was uncertain. But when they walked on stage at Meetinghouse Arts in Freeport, the audience gave them a standing ovation.

Last month, the musicians played a concert in the same spot. They successfully fought their termination last year and got their jobs back, and a new board of directors is leading the nonprofit. So when violist Kirsten Monke took the stage, she felt a swell of emotion.

“A year ago, we really didn’t know if we were going to play quartets,” she said. “We didn’t know how we would continue, and we were standing on exactly the same stage.”

The upheaval last spring has given new life to the DaPonte String Quartet. The members say they have been buoyed by the community support they received. Anecdotally, they feel that attendance and donations are up, and they hope to start touring beyond Maine. Their ad for a violinist received more than 20 applications from around the world.

“We had no idea that our work in this corner of the country had really any impact at all,” said Myles Jordan, a cellist and one of the quartet’s founding members. “But apparently it does, and it’s important work. I mean, we knew it to be, but it wasn’t something that we could assume everybody else shared.”


Kevin Kwan Loucks, CEO of Chamber Music America, said he had never heard of a breakdown like this one. Many ensembles right now are considering how to address a decline in audiences since the pandemic, he said, but that innovation can’t happen unless everyone involved is working together.

“I’m really happy to see that a resolution has been reached, and the quartet can really go back to the work they have been committed to for 30 years,” said Loucks. “It does raise a lot of questions about sustainability and some of the challenges that face the chamber music field, but I think that everyone is feeling a sense of change and the need to evolve, and those are conversations you have to have in a collaborative fashion.”


The quartet formed in 1991 in Philadelphia, but its members got a grant that allowed them to move to Maine full time a few years later. One of the musicians with ties to the state formed a nonprofit that became dedicated to supporting their work.

The makeup of the quartet has changed over the years, but Jordan and violinist Ferdinand “Dino” Liva have been there since the beginning. Liva believes that over the years, the quartet’s presence in Maine has increased interest in classical music. They were based in South Bristol in their early years (they now rehearse in Freeport), and he said none of the area schools had a strings program, and just a handful of beginners made up the local youth orchestra. Today, the Seacoast Youth and Community Orchestras in Damariscotta have three groups and more than 40 musicians of all ages.

Ferdinand Liva, who used to play with the quartet but is now the administrator for the group, sells tickets at the door at Meetinghouse Arts before a Daponte String Quartet concert. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“That’s only one aspect of what we managed to accomplish here,” said Liva, who conducts two of those local orchestras. “We developed audiences in five or six different towns who are loyal and come to hear concerts all the time. We’ve had a fair impact on Maine over the years.”


Monke grew up in Brunswick but moved to California to pursue her career. Then she saw a job posting for a concert violist in Maine and joined the quartet in 2008.

“I live in Maine, and I make a living as a musician, and it’s kind of incredible to me,” she said.

Violist Kirsten Monke rehearses before a Daponte String Quartet concert. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Lydia Forbes grew up playing quartets until the early hours of the morning with her siblings in Massachusetts. She built a career as a violinist in the Netherlands before she moved back to the United States and joined the DaPonte String Quartet in 2005. She was impressed to see that the quartet wasn’t part of a university or a conservatory but had grown on its own.

“I was really struck by the love and devotion of the audience, the fans of this quartet,” she said.


Last spring, the four musicians received termination letters from the nonprofit Friends of the DaPonte String Quartet.


Each had been receiving an annual salary of $40,000 and was offered $10,000 in severance. The nonprofit, which had been formed to support the quartet and manage its finances, was planning to rebrand as Chamber Music Maine and broaden its offerings with a wider group of musicians. The board president said at the time that the organization still wanted to work with the quartet, but they would be paid by performance rather than salaried.

Cellist Myles Jordan rehearses before a Daponte String Quartet concert at Meetinghouse Arts. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Jordan said the board had been trying to exert more control over their music selection and did not find their programs to be diverse enough. But the musicians said that criticism wasn’t fair. Monke pointed to their tribute to Maine’s bicentennial, when they performed music from before statehood. The program began with songs by Mi’kmaq chief Henri Membertou, who died in 1611. Membertou shared these songs with a French explorer, who wrote them down and published them. The quartet interpreted them with strings.

“We play music that’s written last year, and we play music that’s written 500 years ago,” said Monke. “So it’s a huge spectrum of music, and our reason for choosing things is more about the music and whether something makes sense as a whole program and not to mark off checkboxes.”

Les Fossel, who lives in the Lincoln County town of Alna, was board president for a decade. He had retired from that leadership role before the conflict of last spring but remained a member of the board, and he said he felt strongly that the quartet should choose their own music. He did not want to discuss those arguments but said he tried to mitigate the conflicts between his fellow members and the musicians, to no avail.

“The bond of trust was broken, and I couldn’t put that back together again,” he said.

Attempts to reach the former executive director and other board members for this story were unsuccessful.


From left, violinist Lydia Forbes, center, cellist Myles Jordan and violist Kirsten Monke walk out on stage for a Daponte String Quartet concert at Meetinghouse Arts last month. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The musicians were devastated – and then amazed by the support they received in phone calls, online comments and letters to the editor in newspapers. Among the people who contacted them was Eva Frank, who worked as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., for many years before she moved to Maine. Frank also had years of experience on nonprofit boards, and her best friend, Claire Robinson, was a corporate attorney for Walt Disney specializing in intellectual property. Frank told Jordan that she and Robinson would look into the matter for free.

In an interview last month, she would not disclose the details of the negotiations or their resolution, but said the former board did not follow proper governance or honor the musicians’ contracts.

“They did not follow their own processes for, for example, changing their mission,” said Frank.

Ultimately, the former board members and executive director agreed to step down. Frank is on the new board of the renamed DaPonte String Quartet Foundation, which also includes the musicians themselves.

“I view this organization as much bigger than the current board and the current musicians, so my effort has been to make the organization as strong as it can be through proper governance procedures,” she said.



The head of the new board is David Shipman, who has attended DaPonte String Quartet concerts for more than 20 years. He has even commissioned a piece from them based on “What the Light was Like,” a poem from the 1980s by Amy Clampitt, who spent many summers in Maine. Shipman got to know the musicians better as they worked on that project together, and when he heard last year that they had been fired, he was outraged.

“For 30 years, they’ve been here and have all these people who are so attached to them,” he said. “It’s like our baseball team or something.”

He said he hopes the quartet can revive its workshops for young musicians and travel more for performances outside of Maine. A couple members also said they would like to establish an endowment to support the quartet beyond its roughly $200,000 in annual fundraising.

Jordan said the musicians are all perhaps “a little paranoid” from their experience and made sure the people on their new board were aligned with their mission.

“The group is actually unchanged as a matter of esprit de corps,” said Jordan. “Everyone realizes we’ve had a very close call, but we’re in a better situation than we were.”

They did not have to look far for a trusted administrator. Liva was recovering from major surgery last spring when he and his fellow musicians were fired. While his job was reinstated, his health prevented him from returning to performing. He resigned his position as a musician but remains on the payroll as staff.


Without Liva, the group has been performing as a trio, often accompanied by a guest pianist. They are auditioning for a violinist and hope to hire someone by the end of the year. Otherwise, Forbes said she feels like nothing has changed.

“My idea of growth is to be the best musician I can be and to be as good for the quartet as I can be,” she said. “This takes all my attention, and in that sense, what happened last year is like having an irritating fly come into the room when you’re trying to work; you swat it away or open the window and let it out and then keep going.”

Fossel is no longer involved with the quartet but sees it as an institution in Maine. He said he hopes the group continues to seek out new venues and partners across the state to grow their audience. (He suggested, for example, that they play in the future at the Abyssinian Meeting House in Portland, a historic Black church that is being restored.)

Attendees line up outside Meetinghouse Arts before a Daponte String Quartet concert. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“You’re going to have to go to the audience,” he said. “The audience is not going to go to you. The quartet can do that. It’s exceedingly difficult to move a string orchestra around Maine.”

Among its newly acquired audience members is Caron Murray of Portland, who was introduced to the quartet by Forbes, a student in her yoga class. The violinist would bring her instrument inside during the winter so it wouldn’t get too cold. Murray is a singer-songwriter and a yoga teacher, and she developed a love of classical music from her father, who joked about the four Bs: Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and The Beatles. Murray attended her first concert last year at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland.

“When I watch them, I feel I am truly experiencing music,” she wrote in an email. “Their performances rise to the level the creator intended.”

Bill Reagan has been going to the quartet’s concerts and studying the viola with Liva for years. Recently, he heard a string performance of “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran and suggested that the quartet cover popular songs on occasion to draw more young people to their audience. Last year’s drama has only increased their profile, he said.

“It got some real publicity to the group and definitely got more people coming to watch and listen,” he said. “It was kind of a good thing in some ways.”

The quartet recently announced its first summer series with concert dates in late June and early July in South Bristol, Waldoboro, St. George Peninsula and Surry. For more information, visit

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