Boston Landmarks Orchestra Seeks Donations After ‘Cursed’ Summer

The classical music group that performs for "free" at the Hatch Shell typically banks $10,000 in attendee donations each summer. Not so this year, when the weather didn't cooperate and the group didn't come close to their goal.

Since Harron Ellenson first started working with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra in 2007, the group of classical musicians that puts on free weekly shows at the Hatch Shell each summer, the weather has never been so temperamental.

“It was bizarre this summer; it rained, or there was a threat of rain on every single Wednesday when they were supposed to perform,” said Ellenson, the group’s executive director, adding that it lasted right until the night of their final show. “It was so strange! Mother Nature was awful.”

Likening it to some kind of “summer curse,” Ellenson said the storms that seemed to only show up in the hours before—and sometimes during—their free shows forced the Boston Landmarks Orchestra to cancel or move four of their events between July 16 and August 27. On top of that, the overcast skies often kept attendees away from what’s usually a packed field in front of the Hatch Shell, she said.

“When it rains on the Oval, the grass is so wet and you don’t want to sit. People don’t come out. And when we move the event inside of a church, it’s not the same; people love to sit on the Esplanade. It was just—what can I tell you, it was not fun,” she said.

The dwindling attendance, matched with venue changes or cancellations, ultimately led to a significant dip in donations, bringing in just $2,500 from the crowd, down from the $10,000 that the organization typically raises from concertgoers each summer.

Now, with the season over and the shows wrapped up, the orchestra is hoping people will still show support by donating online.

In a notice sent on Tuesday to supporters on their mailing list, Ellenson detailed the uncooperative weather this summer, and asked people to help them meet their financial goals. “I think people think because something is free, it doesn’t cost anything to put it on, but you have to pay the [Department of Conservation and Recreation], and musicians, and print the programs, and pay for the tech crew—all that kind of stuff,” she said. “Even the ambulance there on standby. It all costs money.”

Although the Boston Landmarks Orchestra gets most of their funding from grants and sizeable private donations, the $10,000 they usually rely on from donations from attendees helps to keep them afloat.

“The money goes into the general fund to help offset some of the costs. But the [donations we raised] don’t even begin to cover our costs, and every little thing helps. That’s why I decided to take out the mailing list, and tell people what happened” Ellenson said. “It really was the worst summer we’ve ever had.”

Luckily, people have already responded favorably to the orchestra’s call for help.

Ellenson said that the email blast was well received, and some contributions have started to trickle in. “A person in the office said a lot of donations have come through online,” she said. “We really have had people calling in, giving donations.”

Laughing off the weather that seemed to stalk the concert series through mid-summer, Ellenson said she’s optimistic that the curse will be lifted, and with the help of supporters they will reach their goal. “Maybe next year it will be better,” she said.