John Williams donates a small fortune to the LA Phil

John Williams donates a small fortune to the LA Phil


norman lebrecht

September 02, 2018

The composer and conductor John Williams and his wife, Samantha, have made ‘a significant pledge’ to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Centennial Campaign, the orchestra has announced.

It won’t say how much, but significant would not be less than six figures in a campaign that is chasing $500 million.

The gift, says the LA Phil, ‘provides for the naming of the John and Samantha Williams Creative Chair, which endows the position currently held by John Adams.’

The composer said: ‘Support of the orchestra presents us all with an opportunity to strengthen and maintain the cultural life that is indispensable to our community.’


  • luigi nonono says:

    I believe one has to donate well over $500,000 to endow a chair, and if enough to provide the salary, then it would have to be over $2,000,000.

  • Mark says:

    Why does the LAP need $ 500m ? I’m sure it will get ! LA & Calif swimming in wealth

  • Paul Wells says:

    Here’s a website explaining the rationale for the Centennial campaign, if anyone prefers reading over assuming they know.

  • william osborne says:

    They want to expand their endowment, but it is still absurd that the campaign half billion dollar campaign for this one orchestra is about 3.5 times larger than the entire National Endowment for the Arts. This is a prime example of American winner-take-all hogging.

    The budget for the LA Phil is off the charts and plainly a disproportionate use of funds in a city that needs far more diversity in its arts support. LA’s budget is almost twice the NY Phil’s even though costs of living in NYC are even higher, and even though the NY Phil has a similar range of activities. It is about 50 times higher than the New Mexico Philharmonic which serves an Albuquerque/Santa Fe metro area of about one million people. It is it about four times larger than the Houston Symphony which servers our 4th largest city. The examples are countless. Compare the budgets of our top 20 orchestras:

    Los Angeles Philharmonic $120M (2017)
    Boston Symphony Orchestra $84M (2013)
    San Francisco Symphony $78M (2017)
    New York Philharmonic $75M (2016)
    Chicago Symphony Orchestra $73M (2016)
    Cleveland Orchestra $53M (2014)
    Philadelphia Orchestra $50M (2014)
    Cincinnati Symphony $47M (2015)
    Atlanta Symphony $38M (2014)
    National Symphony $36M (2015)
    Houston Symphony $34M (2017)
    Minnesota Orchestra $33M (2018)
    Dallas Symphony $32M (2013)
    Pittsburgh Symphony $31M (2018)
    St Louis Symphony $30M (2018)
    Baltimore Symphony $28M (2016)
    Seattle Symphony $28M (2015)
    Detroit Symphony $27M (2014)
    Indianapolis Symphony $28M (2018)
    San Diego Symphony $20M (2011)

    And remember, most major European cities have multiple full time orchestras while US cities have only one. (The only exception is NYC which has a paltry two for a metro area of 18 million people.) London, for example, has five full time orchestras. If I have time, I’ll send a list of EU cities with multiple, full time orchestras later today. With our top orchestras hogging so much money, we will never have the sort of rich, varied, and democratically distributed orchestral landscape Europe has.

    • william osborne says:

      The current budget of the Berlin Phil is about $54 million. And no, national health insurance and cost of living doesn’t account for the LA Phil’s budget being $65 million higher. Similar story for all of the EU’s top orchestras.

    • MacroV says:

      LA’s budget also reflects its control of the Hollywood Bowl. I don’t know why it’s $36 million more than Boston which has Tanglewood, but that’s still the primary factor for its larger budget.

      The LA Phil is a top-class orchestra with a lot of ambitious initiatives. They provide a good living to a large group of brilliant musicians, and they seem to have found a way to make it all work financially; good for them.

      And the “London has 5 full-time orchestras” is apples-and-oranges: There is no London orchestra that presents 30+ weeks of subscription programs (repeated 3-4 times each); most play one-offs at home and tour frequently, and how often do we read about even the mighty LSO not being able to fill the house for even one performance? And if you’re counting the RPO among those five, don’t; as others note elsewhere, they barely play a classical season in London, filling their schedule with tours to places where people still think it’s an orchestra, or with various pops shows.

      • william osborne says:

        Regardless of how many performances London’s five full time orchestras do, EIGHT full time London orchestras end up creating far more performances per year than LA could ever dream of having. And this is to say nothing of London’s two full time opera houses, while LA has the equivalent of about a six week season. There is nothing about LA that explains why its budget is over twice the Berlin Phil’s except the dysfunctionality of America’s arts funding system. The breakdown of cost per concert would also show how inefficient LA is.

        Many Americans think it’s normal for major cities to have just one full time symphony orchestra, but that is not the norm internationally. In Europe, cities comparable to those where our top orchestras are, usually have about five to eight full time orchestras. For example, London has 8, Berlin 7, Munich 7, Paris 6, and Vienna 7. They usually aren’t as well paid as our top orchestras, but the cities provide full time employment to 5 to 10 times as many classical musicians, which requires a much higher outlay of funding.

        This is possible due to Europe’s public arts funding systems. With so many more orchestras per city, they reach a much larger demographic. They also provide a much richer training ground for conductors and composers, which is one of the reasons Americans are relatively rare at the top in these fields, especially for a country our size. Below I list the full time orchestras for each of these five cities I mention, though one could add Barcelona and several other EU cities to the list. Even Mexico City has multiple full time professional orchestras.

        + London Symphony Orchestra
        + London Philharmonic
        + Royal Philharmonic
        + Philharmonia
        + BBC Symphony Orchestra
        + BBC Concert Orchestra
        + Royal Opera Orchestra
        + English National Opera Orchestra

        + L’Orchestre National de Radio-France
        + Orchestre de Paris
        + Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
        + L’Orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris
        + Ensemle Intercontemporain
        + Orchestre de Chambre de Paris
        (The Paris Opera Orchestra has 170 members since the services must be rotated to meet demand.)

        + Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
        + Bavarian Radio Unterhaltungs Orchestra
        + Munich Philharmonic
        + Bavarian State Opera Orchestra
        + Gärtnerplatz Opera Orchestra
        + Munich Symphoniker
        + Munich Chamber Orchestra

        + Vienna Philharmonic
        + Vienna Symphoniker
        + Vienna State Opera Orchestra
        + Vienna State Radio Orchestra
        + Volksoper Orchestra
        + Klangforum Wien
        + Tonkünstlerorchester
        (The VPO and State Opera Orchestra use the same personnel, but the ensemble has 149 positions so that they can rotate the services.)

        + Berliner Philharmoniker
        + Konzerthausorchester Berlin
        + Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
        + Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
        + Orchester der Staatsoper Unter den Linden/Staatskapelle Berlin
        + Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
        + Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin

    • Gary says:

      The LA area also has the Pasadena Symphony and the Pacific Symphony, not to mention other smaller outfits like Long Beach.

    • A.L. Hern says:

      The relative sums raised by an entity, whether it be a symphony orchestra, opera company or university has little to do with worthiness or need and everything to do with the skills of the fund-raisers they employ, whether they are specialists in that field, or the head of the organization, itself. It’s why some poor-to-mediocre administrators are compensated lavishly and, often, excessively in such posts: they raise far more money than they draw in salary.

      Thus has it always been.

    • jtrevino says:

      Europe could probably learn a thing or two from LA Phil in terms of a democratic distribution. The demographics of an LA Phil audience are far more socioeconomically diverse than the average orchestra in Europe, without needing 5 or 6 orchestras in the seat to reach these audiences.

  • Rob says:

    It’s the thought that counts.

  • Showfar says:

    I hope the State of CA does not Tax them so 500mil becomes 10 mil.

  • Mark says:

    I would urge no small donations from ordinary folk ! Let the wealth of LA and Calif fund the exorbitant projects ,costs and salaries !