The president of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network said Friday the future of classical music on the network’s radio stations is unclear in light of long-term programming plans and the impending departure of popular “Morning Classical” radio host Suzanne Nance.
In a telephone interview, MPBN CEO and President Mark Vogelzang said the network recently completed a strategic plan that calls for more news and information programming on its radio stations, while maintaining its presence of classical music.
Listeners immediately expressed concern for the future of classical music on MPBN, which in April announced it had to lay off as many as 10 employees because of reductions in state and federal funding and difficulty raising donations in the still-recovering economy.
Maintaining the presence of classical music on MPBN could mean many things, including moving it from MPBN’s primary stations to a dedicated, 24-hour station of classical music, or streaming classical music on the Internet.
What the network does will depend largely on what it can afford to do.
“We can offer more news and information, more programming and more choice. But with all of that, we need the financial support to get there,” Vogelzang said.
Vogelzang said that since Nance just announced her departure for a classical radio station in Chicago this week, it’s too early to say exactly what will happen with classical music on MPBN.
Nance plans to be with MPBN through August. Her program represents the only block of classical music on MBPN during the day on weekdays. There are national classical programs on the network — including opera and symphonies — at night and on weekends.
Classical music fans fear that MPBN will follow a national trend of taking music off its primary station — 90.1 FM in the Portland area — and moving it to a separate network to accommodate more news and talk.
Jack Riddle, a member of the board of the Portland-based opera company PORTopera, said he feared Nance’s departure will signal the end of support for opera and vocal music on Maine Public Radio.
“She is a wonderful person, as well as a wonderful advocate for opera. She has really taken up the cause of opera, and been an advocate for it. She has done much good. We have enjoyed the benefits of that through increased ticket sales and advocacy. That is our concern. How can she be replaced?”
At a regularly scheduled PORTopera board meeting Friday morning to discuss the upcoming production of “La Boheme” and future productions, the conversation quickly turned to Nance and PORTopera’s response to her departure, Riddle said.
“We all agreed that we have to get on the management (at MPBN) and tell them there is a concern out there that this whole area (of music) that she has represented so well will be ignored,” Riddle said.
Freeport listener Carl Tubbesing said he was encouraged by Vogelzang’s stated commitment to classical music, but that he is worried the station might move its classical-music programming from the airwaves to a digital stream.
“I hope it continues to be an on-air commitment and not just something they put on the Internet,” he said.
Tubbesing said he has participated in recent discussions with Vogelzang about the possibility of a second MPR station dedicated entirely to classical music, an option he supports.
“I would be all in favor of something like that,” Tubbesing said.
Vogelzang said it was too soon to discuss a replacement for Nance, or how MPBN will fill her 9 a.m- to-noon slot on the radio.
“It’s far too early to tell. This news just happened (Thursday),” he said. “But what I can tell you is that the first thing we want to do is celebrate Suzanne’s time here. We want to have a chance to say farewell in a proper way. I think a lot of our listeners and fans want to have that opportunity, as well. That is something we would like to be able to facilitate, and give people a chance to thank Suzanne for her contributions to the arts community in Maine.
“Beyond that, we have two months to assess what to do.”
Nance vowed to work with MPBN to ensure classical music remains a part of its offerings. “It is my hope to be helpful with the network going forward. I want to make sure music is a part of MPBN and is a part of its resource,” she said.
Chicago is familiar to Nance. She studied voice at DePaul University, and began her singing career there. Her professional return to Chicago coincided with a visit she made to the city several months ago.
While in town, she reconnected with radio colleagues, who urged her to apply for the opening at WFMT, a commercial classical music station. Until that invitation, she had no intention of leaving Maine. The combination of hosting an afternoon-drive show with the opportunity to produce the Lyric Opera of Chicago broadcasts was too tempting to turn down, she said.
She will miss many things about Maine — the landscape, the arts-centric culture, the kindness of the people.
“But mostly I will miss our listeners. When I arrived here, I made it my mission to find out what people wanted to hear and find the pulse of Maine. They responded. They presented themselves, and said, ‘Here we are and here is what we are all about.’
“They have helped me find my voice. It’s because of the people of Maine and MPBN that I am where I am today,” she said.
Nance, who announced Thursday that she is leaving MPBN for WFMT, will be back in Maine regularly. Her fiance, Matthew Thornton, lives in Cape Elizabeth and is not planning to move.
She begins her new job Oct. 1.
The Lyric Opera of Chicago broadcasts she will produce are carried internationally, including in Maine on Saturday afternoons.
Nance said she was “probably more shocked than anybody” that she took the Chicago job. She has been in Maine for six years, and has grown very close to her listeners and a large network of friends and associates in the arts across the state.
She began in Bangor, and moved to Portland a few years ago.
“When I got to Bangor, I very quickly discovered that the people of Bangor were so amazing and welcoming. And then I soon realized that the state is made up of those kinds of people, just very creative, resourceful, welcoming, hardworking people. That’s the fabric of the state,” she said.
In addition to her radio career, Nance works as a professional singer. Her career has taken her around the globe, and she said she has especially enjoyed singing in all corners of Maine.
Nance has served as MPBN’s music director, and hosted the popular “Morning Classical” radio show since 2007.
— Staff Writer J. Craig Anderson contributed to this story.
Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: