Breaking: Life just got $55 million easier for Philadelphia Orchestra

Breaking: Life just got $55 million easier for Philadelphia Orchestra


norman lebrecht

June 06, 2019

An orchestra which has lived for years under fear of insolvency has just been given a new lease of life.

Press statement:

Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) has made a $50 million gift to the endowment of The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. The gift came from a donor-advised fund at SVCF and represents an expression of confidence in the artistic and organizational leadership of the Orchestra by individuals who have chosen to remain anonymous. Additionally, SVCF has awarded $5 million from the same donor-advised fund to support current and future Orchestra operations. The total grant of $55 million is the single largest gift in Philadelphia Orchestra history.  

“This exemplary act of generosity is overwhelming,” said Richard B. Worley, chairman of the Board of Directors. “The impact of this gift will be felt for generations. I know it will also serve as an inspiration and invitation to others to strengthen the Orchestra for the future. The donors have my deepest respect and admiration. I could not be more grateful.”

“This profoundly meaningful gift is testament to the unique place of Yannick and The Philadelphia Orchestra on both the world stage and in the richly varied communities of Philadelphia,” said President and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky. “This extraordinary act of support recognizes our readiness to write The Philadelphia Orchestra’s next chapter and sets us on a path to achieve artistic goals, create an expansive future for classical music, and further the place of the arts in an open and democratic society.”

“This is an amazing and deeply moving moment for me and for all of us in the Philadelphia Orchestra family,” said Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. “In all that we do, the musicians of the Orchestra and I seek to create joy through music. With this tremendous support, we look forward to sharing that joy widely and in new, groundbreaking ways in the communities of Philadelphia, across the country, and around the world. Words are simply not enough to express my heartfelt gratitude.”

There is no clue who the donors might be.


  • Carl says:

    The orchestra has been on a much better financial footing for several years. Your reference to borderline insolvency is surprising and inaccurate. Lovely news item though!:)

  • anon says:

    Let’s see how quickly (mis)management will run thru that money on some ill conceived renovation of the hall or some other vanity project or bloated administration.

    There is a lot of truth to the musicians’ gripe that orchestras find themselves in the mess they are in more from poor management than poor economics or poor attendance.

    • chris says:

      “…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…”

    • NewContemporary says:

      To add to and clarify Chris’s comment, this gift goes into Philly’s endowment, so in reality they won’t be touching this money at all. Rather, they are able to increase the amount of interest they draw from the endowment from 7.9 million this year to 10.8 million annually. An incredible gift with someone who is truly considering the long term health of the group, and actually the opposite of what you’re implying.

    • anon says:

      Let me amplify what I’m saying:

      Management knows how to cut, cut, cut, and they are compensated and measured by how much they save.

      Boards and musicians should hold management to a much higher standard than that: how much have you raised compared to your peers?

      Every board and every orchestra should demand to know why their CEO didn’t get $50 million dollars when their competitor in Philadelphia just did.

      It is only fair, afterall, management decides on musicians’ compensation based on how they compare to their peers in other orchestras.

      The same should hold for the CEO, and his compensation should be cut every year he fails to raise as much money as a peer orchestra.

      What’s good for the gander is good for the goose.

      • drummerman says:

        Your lack of understanding about the orchestra business is breathtaking.

        • anon says:

          Which part do you fear more, that management be held to performance standards, or that management be compared to their peers?

          Management SHOULD be afraid, when the talent, the actual service provider, the actual money maker, i.e., the musicians themselves, demand management performance accountability.

        • barry guerrero says:

          OK, demonstrate yours then (understanding about the orchestra business).

  • Mick the Knife says:

    That is just fantastic!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    If you’ve been following their radio broadcasts on Sirius XM satellite radio, I’m sure you’ll agree that Philly is sounding wonderful these days. However, I guess this does sort of underline W. Osborne’s point about “winner takes all” in the U.S., as ‘silicon valley’ (San Jose) could use a real hall and a serious symphony orchestra of its own. The talent is there, and certainly more ‘talent’ would move there if they were offered a contract and real a salary to at least manage rent. More Mahler symphonies, for example, are being performed in Santa Cruz than in San Jose. Regardless, I’m happy for a great orchestra and a relatively young conductor who will give them a lot of mileage over the coming years. The hall isn’t a detriment to those radio broadcasts either.

    • NewContemporary says:

      This is tricky. Silicon Valley has a host of issues when it comes to its philanthropic and artistic ecosystems, so it’s hard to say that San Jose’s performing groups were even competing for the same money as Philly. Just because the grant came from a Donor Advised Fund through SVCF, that doesn’t mean the person is a Bay Area native. SVCF is the largest community foundation in the nation and represents multinational levels of giving. (That said, people with that level of wealth are not often tied to one area, and live somewhat transient lives. IE Sanford and Joan Weill). It is true that there is plenty of money flowing around in the area, but outside of the San Francisco Symphony, most other groups have not been able to fully tap into that potential. Huge reports could be written to try and dig into the issues of the Bay Area with still no clear answer.

  • Larry says:

    Just when we think that no one in America cares about classical music anymore!

  • John Kelly says:

    Great stuff

  • Jeff says:

    Orchestras a very expensive endeavors. Nice to see that some folks understand that and step up in ways that really make a difference long term.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Only in America are “orchestras a very expensive endeavour”, and only a few of them. Mainly due to the bloated salaries, especially to a few star musicians, and the bloated administration. Sure, we all want to ensure that the musicians get a decent salary, but what is paid to senior managers, soloists and music directors is way beyond that.

  • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

    Man, I sure wish my local orchestra could be gifted $55 million, even if it wasn’t to save them from financial breakdown …

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Absolutely brilliant investment!!

  • fflambeau says:

    Cements the Philadelphians as one of the world’s premier orchestra for a long, long time. It’s great news. They have done lot’s of international work for decades.

  • Zenaida says:

    Although I had never heard of this foundation, their website states “SVCF formed in 2007, and we are proud that since then we have awarded more than $6 billion in grants locally, nationally and globally. Of those grants, more than $3 billion has gone to support charities in the nine-county Bay Area in California”
    Here is a link to their Board of Directors

  • WH says:

    Happy for the great Philadelphia Orchestra, which has a wonderful history.

  • fflambeau says:

    Note that this gift is not FROM the Silicon Valley Community Foundation but though them. It was made by a couple who with to remain anonymous and have given to the orchestra in the past.

    More here:

  • fflambeau says:

    The endowment of the orchestra is now $192 million.

    • NYMike says:

      Plus owning the Academy of Music. However, it’s still not enough considering Boston’s approx. $600 million. Still waiting for mgt. to restore 8 roster chairs out of the 10 removed after ’11 bankruptcy and salary levels commensurate with LA, SF, etc.

  • fflambeau says:

    Some estimated endowments (rough figures with numbers NOT in financial order and note from different sources so what is in the endowment may differ plus dates are different):

    1. LA Philharmonic: $255 million (2015);
    2. Philadelphia Orchestra $192 million;
    3. Chicago Symphony, $379 million;
    4. Boston Symphony $488 million;
    5. St. Louis $223.2 million;
    6. Cleveland Orchestra, $192 million;
    7. Atlanta Symphony (has exceeded $25 million for player’s endowment; no general figure given; (figures are unclear and info not clear at all);
    8. San Francisco Symphony: $99 million (figures are unclear and info not clear at all) (very poor info in reports);
    9. Seattle Symphony: $33.3 million in 2016;
    10. N.York Philharmonic: $203 million (2018);

    Note: these figures are very unclear and may be “comparing apples with oranges”. Strangely, the orchestras seem to be hiding financial info. (annual reports are long on pictures, short on info. which is usually couched in terms like, “annual giving was up 3.2 % last year”).


    • NYMike says:

      Add Symphony Hall and Tanglewood ownership to Boston’s $488 million and Boston’s net approaches $600 million.

  • Bill says:

    I am betting, given the timing, that John Bogle estate has something to do with this. John loved the orchestra, as does his wonderful Wife Eve