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A $55 Million Gift Aims to Ensure the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Recovery
The anonymous donation will buttress the endowment of an ensemble still rebuilding from a 2011 bankruptcy.
By Michael Cooper
June 6, 2019
The Philadelphia Orchestra, known in recent years as much for the fiscal woes that drove it into bankruptcy in 2011 as for its vibrant performances, announced Thursday that it had received a major ship-righting gift of $55 million.
The donation, which the ensemble said had been made by “individuals who have chosen to remain anonymous,” will help it recover from a difficult period — and allow it to capitalize on its artistic success under its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who also took on the same role at the Metropolitan Opera this season.
“This enables us to author the orchestra’s next chapter with greater confidence and with greater ambitions,” Matías Tarnopolsky, who became the orchestra’s president and chief executive officer in August, said in a telephone interview.
It is a rare bright spot at a gloomy fiscal moment for many orchestras. Just last week, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra abruptly canceled its summer season as its management tries to cut the number of weeks it employs its musicians. Earlier this year, the players of the storied Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike for 47 days, eventually accepting pension changes they were resisting. In the fall, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s orchestra struck briefly before accepting a contract that guaranteed fewer weeks of work.
The Philadelphia story is in a different key. The orchestra will devote $50 million of the new gift to beef up its endowment, and use the other $5 million for operating expenses.
Robust endowments are crucial for orchestras these days. With ticket sales covering a smaller and smaller portion of the costs of putting on concerts, ensembles are more reliant than ever on philanthropy and investment income from their endowment funds. The new gift will bring the value of Philadelphia’s endowment to roughly $212 million — more than the New York Philharmonic’s, which is around $200 million.
This will translate into more money to run the orchestra. Philadelphia draws a set percentage each year from its endowment, and the $50 million infusion will allow the orchestra to draw $10.8 million next year, up from $7.9 million this year. The orchestra’s annual budget is around $50 million.
Philadelphia is still rebuilding after fiscal challenges led it into bankruptcy in 2011. The ensemble, which historically had 105 musicians, fell to 95 after it imposed a hiring freeze during the bankruptcy; it now has 97. The players held a brief strike in 2016 over concerns about pay, but this March the players and Mr. Tarnopolsky agreed early to a new four-year contract that guarantees labor peace, offers modest raises, allows for more Sunday concerts, and promises to add two more players in coming seasons.
And artistically the orchestra has been on a roll. David Allen wrote in The New York Times in 2015 that “it might be that no American orchestra sounds more alive,” and Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s contract keeps him in the music director position until at least 2026.
The orchestra said only that the new gift came from a donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation supported by unnamed people who said that the donation represented “an expression of confidence in the artistic and organizational leadership of the orchestra.”
The gift is among the largest in classical music — especially when it comes to money that can be used for endowment funds and operations, as opposed to capital expenses; the lure of shiny new buildings and the offer of naming rights is often enticing to donors. Other major donations in recent years include a $100 million gift to the San Diego Symphony in 2002, an $85 million gift to support classical music in Cincinnati in 2009, and a $50 million gift to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s endowment from the Annenberg Foundation in 2003.
Officials said that the gift would be announced to the Philadelphia players on Thursday morning by Richard B. Worley, the chairman of the orchestra’s board of directors, Mr. Nézet-Séguin, and Mr. Tarnopolsky. Then, on Friday, the orchestra will travel to New York to perform works by Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev at Carnegie Hall.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/06/arts ... estra.html
Wonderful bit of generosity. But still only a stop-gap, even if a long one.
For a change, the donors haven't demanded that some part of the auditorium be renamed for them, and instead prefer to remain anonymous. Apart from modesty, this keeps other organizations from trying to get money out of them.
Yep! It just about covers the cost of a luxury apartment here in Manhattan. After that, the maintenance is up to you!
Thanks, John. I hadn't thought about that. Whatever their motivations, a big thank you from this Philadelphia Orchestra subscriber to Mr. and Mrs. Anonymous!
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