Music teacher leaves $4.7 million to her orchestra

Music teacher leaves $4.7 million to her orchestra


norman lebrecht

November 08, 2018

Jane H. Kesson was an annual subscriber and regular attender at Philadelphia Orchestra concerts.

She taught junior high school, lived with her parents and never married. Ms Kesson died last year.

Today, the Philadelphia Orchestra came into $4.7 million from her will.

Read Peter Dobrin’s excellent report here.

The worrying thing is that $4.5 million of her money is being spent on paying off the deficit of the last two years.

Surely they could do better than that? There must be a worthier way of commemorating this generous lady than just paying off past mistakes and old debts. It doesn’t ring right.




  • Doug says:

    Is it not an endowment gift? Most bequests are. I’ve never heard of a gift of that sum coming in to an orchestra without stipulations.

  • Kathleen says:

    You might be interested in this story, as well: as

  • Herr Doktor says:

    God bless you, Jane Kesson. Thank you for the amazing final lesson you’ve taught.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    Helping to ensure the future of the Philadelphia Orchestra is a very worthy cause. Bravo for her gift to classical music!

  • Caravaggio says:

    Agree that the misuse seems crass and opportunistic. Most ungracious to squander the woman’s gift for past incompetence. If I were executing her will/estate I would be livid and would demand wiser use of the funds, in writing, or else cancel the check before they cash it.

  • Derek says:

    Yes, it would be nice to recognise her generosity in a more distinctive way.
    How does the Philadelphia orchestra with its quality and standing wind up with deficits anyway?
    It doesn’t make sense. It is well supported at home and has successful tours. What has gone wrong?

    • Robin Smith says:

      You can download the Financial Statements for the Philly using your favourite search engine. They are pretty clear and relatively straightforward to follow. They make huge pure trading losses which are covered by the generosity of their supporters. I believe this is fairly typical of American Orchestras.

  • Jon H says:

    Or do you give money to the orchestra you don’t love as much that manages money perfectly?

  • Sharon says:

    She may have given the money knowing that the orchestra was in trouble. However, I am uneasy that so much money is given to the arts when in my opinion there are more worthy causes, like legitimate food distribution organizations (although I know orchestras generate employment and promote tourism). I am sure that they will name something after her

  • Bruce says:

    Kesson’s only stipulation was that $200,000 of her gift go into the orchestra’s endowment, and it has. The rest the orchestra has used to close what might have otherwise been budget gaps in the operating budget for fiscal years 2017 and 2018.”

    Looks like they followed her wishes. I would guess that with her financial acumen (described in the article), she had a pretty good idea of what they would use the rest of it for, and that was apparently okay with her.

  • Anthony Boatman says:

    They should honor her gift in perpetuity by presenting a concert each season in her memory.

  • MacroV says:

    Money is fungible. Yes, it would seem better for all $4.7 million to go the endowment – which would throw off about $235,000 to the operating budget each year – but the money to plug the deficit would have to come from somewhere. And her gift lives on in the program they are naming after her. And now the next $4.5 million in donations can go to the endowment.

  • Mark says:

    That dear Miss Kesson deserves every commendation for her generosity. But she should have probably attached some conditions to the bequest. Of course, it’s possible that she would have been pleased with her funds helping the orchestra in any way.

  • No need for hand-wringing. What she wanted to happen has happened.

    The article indicates that she knew exactly what she was doing in the way she donated the money, specifying how much was to go to the endowment and how much was not.

    And the orchestra has recognized her generosity by naming a relevant educational program after her.

    At 90, she comes from the lucky generation that began their careers in the post WWII era and were able to ride successive boom/bust cycles to substantial wealth by working hard, living economically and saving in good times.

    It was a rare alignment of events that will probably never happen again.

    Not without WWIII.

    • DJ says:

      You must be joking. Teaching Junior High after WWII in no way would have given this woman the opportunity to save that amount of money, no matter how frugal or how good an investor she might have been. That is a fairly low paying job. She must have inherited or been willed money.

  • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    Her generosity is inspiring, but I wonder if this money could have been put to better use in support of music education in the public schools.