A time of gifts: Curtis gets $11.5 million

A time of gifts: Curtis gets $11.5 million


norman lebrecht

December 15, 2014

Never fail to be astonished at the munificence of US music supporters. A $20m gift for LA Phil last week, $11.5m for education this weekend.

Press release follows:




PHILADELPHIA, PA—December 15, 2014—The Curtis Institute of Music announces a combined $11.5 million in gifts from Board Chair Nina Baroness von Maltzahn, including a $10 million endowment gift to establish theNina von Maltzahn President’s Chair held by Roberto Díaz. Baroness von Maltzahn has directed an additional $1.5 million from the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation to support Curtis On Tour, the school’s global touring initiative and the program which first introduced her to Curtis in 2007. Her gifts are among the largest the school has received in its 90-year history.

“Since becoming board chair in June I’ve been even more impressed by the excellent work of the school’s leadership to envision the best possible education and training of these young musicians,” said Baroness von Maltzahn. “These gifts reflect my confidence in the administration and also my passion for Curtis’s programs and for student support.”


    • NYMike says:

      Of course, nothing is said in this article about returning the orchestra to its previous complement of 95, its season to 52 weeks nor restoring salary levels to pre-2012 lockout.

  • william osborne says:

    We don’t even need to comment about the fact that the Curtis gift came from a Baroness. Arts funding in the USA has become so class oriented its almost a parody.

    It’s important to put these numbers in perspective by drawing international comparisons. Germany and France both spend about $12 billion per year on the arts. The $20 million given to the LA Phil would only be 1/6th of one percent of the arts funding in each of those two countries.

    The USA has about 4 times the population, so a per capita comparison would be reduced to 1/25th of one percent. In short, we shouldn’t be fooled by these seemingly large numbers. The rich aren’t really generous with the arts which is why so many of our cultural institutions are chronically unstable, and why only a small demographic representing the wealthy is adequately served — the Baroness crowd. Says something about the ethos of Curtis too…

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Any time any city in the US wants to have publically-funded arts institutions, they’re free to do so. Nothing is stopping them.

      • william osborne says:

        Nothing, eh?

        • V.Lind says:

          Nothing except a chronic and historic refusal to support anything through public taxation. What do you expect from a country that cannot get a grip on the concept of universal health care.

          I do hope you are not alluding to the economic problems of the US, be it cities, states or nation. As if there were not similar and worse problems in Europe, where both health care and the arts manage to be publicly, if shrinkingly, funded.

          That the US depends upon the whims of the rich, of whatever class, to have an arts scene at all is one of the most depressing things about the US.

        • Greg Hlatky says:

          Nothing. Cities seem to have a boundless appetite for money-losing ventures; why not their own symphonies and opera companies?

          If the wealthy gentry Leftists in San Francisco, for example, want to tax themselves to subsidize one or more full-time, publically-funded classical music organizations, it will neither pick my pocket nor break my leg. The Board of Supervisors (http://www.sfbos.org) all seem to be social-justice types so your advocacy will certainly fall on fertile soil there.

          Even a single successful example will serve as a model and inspiration for us cousin-marrying knuckle-draggers here in flyover country.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I understand your well reasoned arguments about the arts and demographics in the USA. But I don’t get your last sentence about Curtis. What do you think they are doing wrong and would you suggest instead?

      • william osborne says:

        Petros, Curtis is seen by many as unusually conservative. It’s a very small school strongly centered around the Philadelphia orchestra with the 19th century ethos that implies. It is housed in a smallish, mansion style building on the relatively posh Rittenhouse square and couldn’t grow if it wanted to. The ritzy atmosphere imbues the school with the feeling that classical music is something oriented toward a financially privileged elite. And this in a city with some of the largest and most horrific racial ghettos in the world.

        This backward view means that areas essential for training modern composers, like electronic music, are largely ignored. This has long been a problem in Philly. At one point, the Penn music department was threatened with the loss of accreditation if it didn’t establish an electronic music studio. The response at the time was to put a small synth in a closet size room in the media department and call it a studio where it gathered dust. Things have improved a bit at Penn, but not so much at Curtis.

        And Curtis plagued by the irony that it is an orchestra school, but that most of its elite string students want to be soloists and would rather die than play in an orchestra — consigned to a hell of 30 years of playing in unison with a bunch of people equally unhappy and frustrated. Another irony is that its wind faculty focuses almost entirely on orchestral playing even though the large majority of the students in this elite school will never find a decent orchestral job in the USA. I think they might follow the trend of teaching a few classes on “entrepreneurship,” but that’s just an American rationalization for cranking out highly gifted artists whose society will screw them.

        To put it colorfully, it’s a blue-haired lady school stuck in a 19th century ethos that literally betrays its students. On the other hand, it’s a good place for Baronesses. And to be fair, Curtis isn’t alone in this sensibility in the States. The Europeans aren’t a whole lot better, but at least they offer a lot more employment for classical musicians.

        • william osborne says:

          As an illustration of the larger context, Philly has the 9th largest metro GDP in the world, but ranks 175th for opera performances per year. And yet Curtis cranks out opera singers and orchestra musicians into this void decade after decade. We need fewer Baronnesses and more public funding to reach the cultural levels we should have, and to reach a reasonable demographic with classical music. When that happens, the Baroness style classism of places like Curtis will happily become a thing of the past. In the process, Philly might even do something about its massive ghettos which are a disgrace to humanity.

        • Curtis Student says:

          As a current student at Curtis, I wanted to let you know how incorrect and misinformed your comment is.

          “It’s a very small school strongly centered around the Philadelphia orchestra with the 19th century ethos that implies.”
          –While the Philadelphia Orchestra is a major influence on Curtis, ensembles-in-residence like 8th Blackbird, and other contemporary music groups also have very strong relationships with the students.

          “It is housed in a smallish, mansion style building on the relatively posh Rittenhouse square and couldn’t grow if it wanted to.”
          –In the last five years, Curtis has built (Lenfest Hall) and purchased several buildings on Locust Street, more than doubling in square footage.

          “The ritzy atmosphere imbues the school with the feeling that classical music is something oriented toward a financially privileged elite.”
          –Curtis offers free concerts and recitals over 200 times a year. Many concerts are outreach related, and Curtis travels to schools and other community groups to perform and engage.

          “This backward view means that areas essential for training modern composers, like electronic music, are largely ignored.”
          –Very wrong here. Do you know any of the current and recent composers? Electronic music has become central.

          Your second to last paragraph is so generalized that I won’t bother to address it. Instead, find this list that shows where Curtis students went after graduation this past year: http://www.curtis.edu/about-curtis/curtis-education/student-outcomes/

          Curtis is a modern school that trains and educates its students for traditional and modern classical music careers.

          Why all the hate?

          • william osborne says:

            Actually, your post is a good example of the clever rationalizations that hinder progress by denying reality.

            + Especially the wind students at Curtis are almost entirely oriented around orchestral careers. This has not been changed by the residencies of new music groups. Eighth Black Bird gives only two concerts a year at the school while the Philadelphia Orchestra is an overwhelming weekly presence all year round.

            + Even if the school has expanded its facilities, I’ve seen no change in the policy of keeping the student body to the size of one orchestra and one opera company and all being given full scholarships.

            + All schools of music offer free concerts. The outreach programs at Curtis are superficial and do not change the basic nature of the school. They serve more as alibis and public relations than anything else. The ethos of elitism remains (as the above about the student body illustrates.) The school has the lowest rate of applicant acceptance of any educational institution in the country. True change in the ethos of the school would require much more fundamental change that would be almost impossible for Curtis.

            + The curriculum, faculty, and facilities for electronic music are extremely limited. Curtis and its grads have little distinction in the electronic field.

            + The list of students getting jobs on the url you mention shows how few grads get jobs. We might also note they are almost entirely orchestral, which contradicts your claims about the broader musical education presumably being given. And one should note that positions in places like Wichita are extremely low paying part time jobs.

          • william osborne says:

            We might also note that not a single opera singer is listed as having gotten a job on the site you mention. Outside of part time employment, such positions are virtually non-existent in the States. By contrast, Germany has 83 houses, mostly with resident ensembles. American singers thus flock to Europe to find work.

            We might also note that the site you mention doesn’t even include a category for grads working in new music.

          • william osborne says:

            A search of the Curtis website does not show a single listing for jazz, even though 43% of the population of Philadelphia is African American. I think one of the percussion teachers teaches jazz, but jazz is not listed as a category in the performance area faculty. It illustrates the remove of the school from its social environment — a Rittenhouse Square enclave for baronesses.

            Already in 2001, a Mayor’s report noted that Philadelphia had 14,000 abandoned buildings in a dangerous state of collapse, 31,000 trash-strewn vacant lots, 60,000 abandoned autos, and had lost 75,000 citizens in recent years. Since then, the ratio of the white population decreased by over 10% through white flight.

            And yet so much of the classical music world ignores these problems. Schools ranging from Temple University to Mills College to even Yale are situated essentially in the midst of massive ghettos but treat them as a sort of parallel universe that barely registers on their consciousness.

  • MusicHappens says:

    The best training? Really? That piano faculty….

    • NYMike says:

      You mean the piano faculty that tutored Lang Lang and Yuja Wang?

      • musician says:

        No doubt Curtis has very fine piano faculty… unfortunately you chose two famous but musically deficient examples. Two names that would come up when arguing from the opposing point of view…

  • NYMike says:

    Oh, and the woodwind, string and brass faculty producing many principal players in US orchestras?

  • Milka says:

    One can only imagine the work it took to pick up that 11.5 ml

  • Anon says:

    William, why are you so negative? You come on this site and every single comment your write is dripped in hatred and pessimism. People go to Curtis to get a classical music education. Many students that I know who went there hope to get a job in a professional orchestra. What is wrong with that? You are misinformed and, frankly, sound like a sad, unhappy person.

    • william osborne says:

      Actually, I’m just the rare American who looks at classical music, its neglect, and its relation to its social environment. (Much more about that in my posts above.) And yes, it makes me sad, as it should any person who has even a basic human decency. And it deeply informs the kind of music I compose. In many ways, it’s a question of integrity and commitment (something not especially present on a site predominated by anonymous posters.) To change classical music, we need to first change the insular and socially blinkered mentality of so many classical musicians. The best place to start is with a major reorientation of our schools. With its 19th century aesthetic and baroness donors in a city on the brink of destruction, Curtis is an especially interesting place to start.

      • Anon says:

        “as it should any person who has even a basic human decency” wow. Get off your high horse, William.

        Dan you name a school that does uphold your seemingly unachievable ideals? Because, to me, it seems that you are willing to rant and rage on many articles here, but offer no real solutions.

        • william osborne says:

          El Sistema is an example. Tens of thousands of impoverished children studying music, many achieving very high levels, some filling positions like the MD of the LA Phil. Might be something for Philadelphia which is not only the poorest of the top 10 US cities, but also has the highest rate of deep poverty at 12.2%. The number of people living in deep poverty in Philly is equal to the entire population of Salt Lake City and affects 60,000 children who face daily problems with hunger. See:


          And of course, we see that these are exactly the social conditions created in a society whose economic philosophies center classical music around a financial elite. Add to that $10 million donations to Curtis from baronesses and it literally becomes neo-feudalistic.

          Countries that neglect their cities neglect the arts. It is unfortunate these observations and all they imply are too radical for some of the Curtis folks around here, but of course it’s to be expected. Those who chose not to face social reality tend to create empty, antiquated art, which pretty much defines many of our music schools. Hence the loss the classical music’s relevance and status.