Cleveland Orchestra is stunned by record $50 million gift

Cleveland Orchestra is stunned by record $50 million gift


norman lebrecht

September 30, 2021

The orchestra in one of America’s most rundown rustbelt towns has just received a staggering gift of $50 million from a family of supporters, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation. It is possibly the largest single grant ever received by a US orchestra.

By way of gratitude, the orchestra has renamed its hallowed hall. Formerly known as Severance Hall after the founding benefactor John Long Severance, it will now become the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Concert Hall.

The building name will transition from Severance Hall to Severance Music Center.

Dr. Jehuda Reinharz, President and CEO of the Mandel Foundation, and Stephen H. Hoffman, Chairman, said, “The Mandel Foundation has made this grant because of the Mandel brothers’ deep commitment to the vitality of Cleveland and a belief in the value of the humanities to shape an enriched spirit of life. The world-class level of music of The Cleveland Orchestra is the embodiment of both, and with this gift we hope to help ensure that it will be available for generations to come.”

Franz Welser-Möst, Music Director, said, “As the Orchestra prepares to embark on its 104th season, we are moved and inspired by this remarkable recognition of our work. The musicians and audiences will feel the benefits of the Mandel Foundation’s gift almost immediately, starting with the upgrades to the building which will allow us to continue capturing video for our digital offerings.” 


  • Monty Earleman says:

    “One of America’s most rundown towns”??? You obviously haven’t been to Cleveland in the last 30 years.

  • Tom Chambers says:

    The hall is still Severance. The main auditorium inside (1 of 2) will become the Mandel Concert Hall.

    • Marie says:

      Thank you for clarifying b.c. this!

      • Concertgoer says:

        It is a shame when people in their “generosity” enforce recognition. A truly generous spirit wants nothing back. Ah well, the world will always think “Severance Hall” Cleveland, just as it thinks “Orchestra Hall” Chicago!

  • Mick the Knife says:

    The Cleveland Orchestra is definitely a treasure worth preserving. If I was living in Cleveland, I would definitely have season tickets. Many thanks to the Mandel family!

  • “… it will now be known as the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Concert Hall.”

    Unfortunately, it used up all $50 million to expand the marquee to fit that name.

  • CA says:

    Severed Severance. Don’t think they were really all that “stunned” if they have renamed the hall already….

  • Michael Ferri says:

    norman lebrecht is the rundown rustbelt of music critics

  • DirtLawyer says:

    Parts of Cleveland — like any major city — may be rundown, but the area around Severance Hall? It is fabulous. So is downtown. I love looking around there when visiting Cleveland Clinic for heart checkups.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Splendid news. I lived nearby in Kent, Ohio for 9 years and attended many concerts.

    This website has debated the merits of Wesler-Möst in recent times. I can’t help thinking that the orchestra deserves a better Music Director, but the epithet ‘Worse-than-most’ is thoroughly unworthy.

    • PFmus says:

      His other nickname, mafia-style, is Franky the Welcher, similar to his colleague Eddy the Wart, but not nearly as bad a moniker as Chucky the Twat…

  • Guest says:

    One would hope that other orchestra boards and managements would see this and realize that downsizing and cheapening their product is no way to garner support from the community

  • john humphreys says:

    Severance Hall severed from Severance. Oh well – $50m a fantastic gift. Almost as lovely as the gift I received two days ago from Fritz Curzon – George Szell’s inscribed music satchel which had been given by Szell to Sir Clifford Curzon.

  • Cleveland fan says:

    The building’s name is only changing from Severance Hall to Severance Music Center. This merely points out that there is more than one auditorium in the building. The main auditorium is being renamed to honor the Mandels for their massive donation. The small auditorium used mainly for chamber music and lectures will continue to known as Reinberger auditorium.

    Just don’t mess with the acoustics.

    • Stephen Owades says:

      Just as the big concert venue at 57th Street and 7th Avenue is still known as Carnegie Hall, even though that name formally applies to the entire building and the room itself is now “Isaac Stern Auditorium.” Everyone still knows it as Carnegie Hall, correctly do.

  • Chicagorat says:

    To every Orchestra its due.

    Some distinguish themselves for exemplary performances under the leadership of exemplary conductors. They deservedly receive such phenomenal backing.

    Other Orchestras and their management, 300 plus miles to the west on I-90, are more focused on making sure their Music Director is pleased and gratified, in every meaning of these wide-ranging words. Fittingly, they have fallen into irrelevance (try to find them in the NYT Fall classical music guide

    • Lothario Hunter says:

      oh yes yes … last week his Majesty was roaming Orchestra Hall, wailing since the prestigious New York Times took no notice of his new contract! we glimpsed one actual tear!

      But the anguish soon dissipated …. consolation and gratification is always at hand at Symphony Center!

    • George says:

      They are in the guide for a concert performance of Otello.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    I have visited Severance Hall at least once every five years on business trips over many decades. It is in my opinion the most beautiful hall in America.
    Cleveland is no rundown rust belt has-been; it once was that but no, no, no, not these days. The orchestra is surrounded by world class medical research and facilities, which fuel much of the economy. The Cleveland Clinic’s heart center is America’s top and has been for many years.

    One major point should be made: $50 Million in Cleveland is worth a heckuva lot more in Cleveland than those big towns, so it’s a big bang for the buck.

  • japecake says:

    “Eff you, Severance! What have you done for us lately?”

  • Jeffrey Levenson says:

    The San Diego Symphony received $100m from Irwin Jacobs twenty years ago.

  • Anon! A Moose! says:

    “The musicians and audiences will feel the benefits of the Mandel Foundation’s gift almost immediately, starting with the upgrades to the building which will allow us to continue capturing video for our digital offerings.”

    In other words, quick, spend it before the musicians start to get ideas about raises.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I’m going to add something that will ruffle some feathers, although I have found this to be true in nearly every case I’ve encountered. When I meet people who’ve come out west from Chicago, they’re rather cautious and guarded at first. But once they think they can trust you, then begin telling you all about how wonderful Chicago is! You up wondering why they ever left the place. People from Cleveland, on the other hand, are genuinely nice and immediately begin apologizing for Cleveland. Regardless, I’m thrilled that such a great orchestra has received such a great gift.

  • mary says:

    Portion of the $50M will go towards constructing a methadone clinic in the lobby for locals. Part of the diversity program.

  • Michel Lemieux says:

    Cleveland is a tale of two cities. It has a poverty rate of 31% and a very high crime rate. It still, however, has wealthy neighborhoods as well as yuppie neighborhoods.

    It does have dismal weather, a corrupt city government, and bad schools.

    On the plus side, real estate is very cheap. You can buy a large Victorian house for a fraction of what it would cost in LA, San Francisco, or New York.

  • jack hayes says:

    What ever debt Cleveland and its orchestra owe to the Mandels, it should be noted that none of this would be interesting (or, perhaps, even possible) if it weren’t for George Szell.

    • AL says:

      Thanks to you Jack for mentioning the two magic words. George Szell is and always will be the the true reason the Cleveland orchestra was able to climb to the highest level of artistic renown throughout the world. They can fix the hall, change the names but never return to the glory days of the 50’s and 60’s no matter who is at the helm!

    • MacroV says:

      CVD once groused that “we give a good concert, and George Szell gets a great review.”

      Cleveland had good conductors before Szell; I bet the orchestra was pretty good then, too.

  • James Weiss says:

    Re-naming the hall is disgusting. How about giving the money for altruistic reasons and not for a naming opportunity? Give the money and refuse the name change.

    • True North says:

      A large donor to a university in my area was incensed recently when he found out that his donation did not extend to having his name printed on every diploma henceforth issued, as he had expected it would be. (He didn’t get his money back).

  • Audit Audit Audit says:

    Yes! Finally enough money to open an office of diversity and inclusion, fund Covid tests through 2030, and increase salaries (for everyone except the musicians) by 66%.

  • MacroV says:

    That’s a great gift; I wish some of the far wealthier people in my hometown of Seattle would make a similar gift to its excellent but not quite as well-funded orchestra.

    I understand such a big gift usually comes with naming rights, but slicing naming rights like salami gets tiresome and confusing – now the building is Severance, the hall is Mandel. Will they name the stage for yet someone else? And “Severance Hall” is a great brand, known everywhere in the music world. I’m glad Boston sticks with “Symphony Hall” and Chicago with “Orchestra Hall” (or Symphony Center – don’t know how much money Mr. Symphony donated).

    • sam says:

      Well, since you asked, recall that it is at Carnegie Hall, in the Isaac Stern Auditorium, on the Ronald O. Perelman Stage

      Naming rights remain for the following: stage left, stage right, center stage, backstage, the podium, the doors leading to the stage, the flag pole holding the American flag, the American flag itself

    • GCMP says:

      In Chicago, Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall is the name of the building. When they went the Symphony Center renovation/expansion route they sort of forgot that. Then they wanted to name the auditorium inside, having forgotten it is already named for Sylvain Wyler who funded one of the earlier attempts to improve the acoustics. When Mrs A. Watson Armour III wanted to make a mega-gift she had to settle for having the stage named.
      When they collected all the other donations (Fadim Balcony, etc.) I believe that those came with set periods of years after which they can be renamed.
      Since Northwestern University went through a kerfluffle after renaming their football stadium (which they had named IN PERPETUITY and forgotten the definition of IN PERPETUITY) anything that get named/renamed in Chicago is subject to scrutiny.

  • Monsoon says:

    The Philadelphia Orchestra received a $55 million gift in 2019. And in 2003, received $50.

  • Cincinnati Symphony retiree says:

    2009: Classical music in Cincinnati will remain one of the Queen City’s crown jewels, thanks to a just-announced $85 million gift from philanthropist Louise Dieterle Nippert. The gift — 75% of which is designated for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra — will benefit the CSO and by extension, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet who utilize the CSO’s services.

    75% of $85 million is $63,750,000. Therefore, this also qualifies as one of several gifts in excess of $50 million given to various American orchestras. I am in no way belittling the extraordinary gift just received by the Cleveland Orchestra, only questioning the thoroughness of this reporting.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    Let’s not split the atom here, the editor used the word “possibly”!

    Since the CSO is a beneficiary, let’s ask the more important question: can the Nippert gift be earmarked for Muti’s daily Chicago “cruises”? Alexander would welcome that solution, which would take some of the negative publicity off his shoulders!

    • Cincinnati Symphony retiree says:

      Please read before you snarl. The Nippert gift benefits the Cincinnati Symphony, not Chicago. “CSO” is used by both orchestras, therefore one needs to pay attention to the context.

  • fflambeau says:

    Interesting contrast with San Antonio, featured in another article here. The Texans have no history of giving or much of a history of the love of classical music.