Mid-Shore Symphony Society halts operations
WYE MILLS — After 45 consecutive years of presenting Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts on the Eastern Shore, the MidShore Symphony Society has suspended operations and the outlook for resuming operations is not promising.
“The basic issue becomes cost,” said Pete Dillingham of Rock Hall, who recently retired as Society president after 10 years. He said it costs the Society $25,000 per concert to bring the orchestra to the Todd Performing Arts Center at Chesapeake College, where it has performed for many years.
He said financial difficulties began back in 2008 and that over time, 18 percent of subscribers and donors to the Society have left for one reason or another and that while others replaced them, there were “never really enough to meet the critical mass.”
The Society is funded by ticket sales, donations and grants from the arts councils of the Mid-Shore counties and the Maryland State Arts Council, but Dillingham said of the arts councils that “there’s only so much they can do.” At the end of the most recent 20152016 concert season, the Society had a $7,500 debt to the orchestra, he said.
This past season, ironically, was a good one for the Society, he said, because it opened with the always popular holiday performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” followed soon thereafter by a concert featuring BSO Music Director Marin Alsop. Even so, the 897-seat concert hall at the college was not full for either concert, according to Dillingham. And while the number of walk-up concert attendees has increased recently, most are not donors, he added.
BSO concerts have drawn people from Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline and Dorchester counties as well as from Salisbury, Seaford, Del., Dover, Del., and Annapolis. One couple, he said, used to come all the way from Towson. Concert goers have said they enjoyed attending concerts at the college because it is easy to reach and has free parking, he said.
Dillingham said the BSO has been “very good to us,” and has not increased the $25,000 cost of concerts for the past decade even though he was told by the former BSO president that the actual cost to the orchestra of putting on the concerts is closer to $42,000.
“The BSO standard never changed — the music was great, the selection of compositions was fantastic. It met everybody’s expectations,” he said, noting that the orchestra is playing more on weekends “and those weekends are not available to us on the Shore.”
Another factor is that the 85-year-old Dillingham has recently stepped down as Society president, citing personal reasons, and that so far it has been difficult to find a successor within the organization or outside of it. A number of board members said they would continue to serve, but looking ahead, he said that “I don’t see that it’s got a future” unless someone can come forward who has the ability to resuscitate it.
Nancy Cook of Queenstown, a retired music teacher, has been the Society’s secretary for many years and agreed with Dillingham that the BSO has been “good to us financially.” She said the arts councils have also been good to the organization and that the decision to suspend operations is a big disappointment.
Chesapeake College has been a good partner, she added, and has made a number of improvements to its concert hall over the years that have greatly benefitted the orchestra concerts.
Cook said there used to be six concert societies around the state that put on BSO concerts and that the Mid-Shore Symphony Society is the last of them.
“It’s been a privilege to work with Pete. We’ve worked well together, and his leadership of (the Society) has been wonderful,” she said.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has been sponsored on the Eastern Shore by the Mid-Shore Symphony Society for 45 consecutive years, but the Society has suspended operations, citing financial issues as the main reason.