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Music to a philanthropist’s ears

When the New York Philharmonic revealed its schedule for this year's Asian tour, writes Bruce Love, one date in particular caused worldwide diplomatic debate: Pyongyang.

The appearance marked the largest contingent of Americans to set foot in the totalitarian country since the Korean War and included musicians, journalists, and patrons who paid $100,000 per couple to make the trip.

Rather than drawing harsh criticism from the Hawks of US diplomacy, the 26 February performance in the North Korean capital was met with extreme curiosity and, for some, bemoaned resignation that it would do little to warm relations between the two countries.

Yet, albeit 16 months late and in the midst of Condoleeza Rice's frenzied attempts to produce an improved international legacy in the final months of the Bush administration, North Korea has now taken significant steps towards diplomacy with the US by agreeing to provide detailed information on its nuclear programme.

At the time of the tour, the Bush administration kept its distance from the event. Rice happened to be in Seoul for South Korea's presidential inauguration but played down the performance as an act of diplomacy.

However, it is hard to imagine that the tour did not soften the resolve of the North Koreans in the same way that "ping-pong diplomacy" helped ease relations between the US and Maoist China in the 1970s. One North Korean official commented quietly to a Western diplomat at the time that the tour was "something big".

While most philanthropists don't assume that they are helping to bring about world peace when supporting an organisation like the New York Philharmonic, it is nonetheless from a desire to help make something beautiful that most of the symphony's supporters get involved.

The New York Philharmonic's Director of Development, Melanie Forman, says the organisation has fostered a true community of music lovers within its highest contributing patrons. The Leonard Bernstein Circle, for instance, is exclusively for the most generous patrons of the Philharmonic and presents chamber concerts and annual dinners where patrons can mix with the musicians and directors of the orchestra.

Patrons can aid the orchestra in a number of ways. The New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks series, for example, are being presented by New York philanthropists Didi and Oscar Schafer, who proffered a $5 million gift over five years to sustain this popular series. The Philharmonic is also embarking on a campaign to endow every chair in the orchestra for periods of 10 to 25 years.

"Each chair, from the first violin to the percussion, can be named in honour of someone close to you, either in memorial or in recognition," says Forman.

She says the orchestra is also reaching out to the next generation of patrons, providing a multigenerational approach for families to help foster philanthropy in their younger members.

"The Young Patron Programme is for the under-40s who personally give more than $1,500 a year," she says. "With their own special events and concerts, this is a great way to involve younger members of the family in supporting the arts."

Through opportunities like Open Rehearsals, special events, and tickets to benefits, Forman says patrons are able to gain a closer relationship to the Philharmonic, enriching their own lives as well as those of their fellow New Yorkers.

It is possible to earmark donations specifically towards the many extensive educational programmes offered by the New York Philharmonic, which take classical music into the classrooms of New York, if that is an area of interest.

Bill Mears, lawyer and longstanding patron of the Philharmonic, says the next generation is a great concern, both for him and his clients: "Will the next generation appreciate classical music and support it? Patronising the Philharmonic is a great way to take direct pleasure from philanthropy but you must like classical music to begin with."

Mears serves on the Bankers and Lawyers advisory board, of which he is a former chair. He gives talks to patrons on how to get the most out of their philanthropy and says that the interest factor is most important of all.

"If you are going to give your time or talent to an organisation, then it needs to be in an area that you enjoy. You will get a lot of satisfaction from giving back to society and enriching culture if it is in an area that interests you."

Just off Central Park, on the Upper West Side between 62nd and 65th Streets, the Lincoln Center is a hub of culture in Gotham. In this tightly packed four block complex is the home of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet and several other resident performing arts companies.

The New York City Opera offers a range of musical programmes and performance series that patrons can sponsor. Jennifer Zaslow, the company's director of development, says donors are typically individuals and families who strive to keep what is a very expensive art form alive: "Each production requires underwriting, which depending on the costs, is usually around $2 million per production."

Zaslow says that donors who underwrite a production typically have a great love for opera and are interested in access to the personalities and the creative process involved in staging a world-class performance. Their satisfaction comes from expanding their knowledge, meeting the talent, and acquiring an experience that cannot simply be bought with a ticket to a performance.

"Patrons have the opportunity to be part of the creative process. They can participate in auditions and workshops, and host private events on opening night."

For regular donors who give $25,000 a year or more, Zaslow says the New York City Opera has reintroduced its Leadership Council, which organises a variety of exclusive events. These range from pre-rehearsal lectures and attendance at rehearsals, to special concerts and dinners in private homes.

"These are substantive experiences that bring the patrons into the company's community," she says.

Later this year, a select 25 patrons will be invited on a trip to the Paris Opera, where they will lunch and talk with Gérard Mortier, the current head of the Opéra National de Paris and who will take the role of New York City Opera general manager in 2009.

It is a time of great change at both the New York City Opera and its home at the Lincoln Center, as any casual passers-by would well know. Much of the complex is under scaffolding as many of the buildings, especially the Opera's home in the New York State Theater, are undergoing renovation.

This has provided a unique opportunity for civic-minded philanthropists.

In a joint effort, the New York City Ballet and New York City Opera recently received a $100 million gift from oil billionaire David H Koch, New York City's wealthiest resident. The pledge, which will be bestowed over the next 10 years, will be used to renovate the Theater. As well as helping the Opera to refurb its historic home, Koch's donation gives him naming rights to the building, which will be renamed the David H. Koch Theater in his honour.

Very rarely do naming opportunities of this magnitude come up in New York City, but Zaslow says potential patrons should not feel like they've missed out, simply because Koch has claimed one prize on offer.

"There are a number of opportunities for people to help us improve the quality of this great building," she says.

This November, at the building's naming ceremony, patrons will be requested for a number of interior naming opportunities. The beautiful portico overlooking the Lincoln Center's plaza will be up for $15 million, while naming rights for the promenade will be $25 million. The smaller donor lounge can have your name on it for $5 million.

Gifts of this magnitude do not often come up and are strongly contested when they do.

If your family is interested in a more personal touch to supporting the arts, why not purchase an historic musical instrument for an up-and-coming prodigy to play?

It is often said that of all artistic pursuits, music is the most rewarding. Whereas art can be appreciated in the viewing, instruments can also be appreciated in the playing. That is the spirit behind Chicago-based organisation the Stradivari Society, which through patrons and private collectors, loans quality instruments to deserving performers who could not afford the instruments themselves.

Geoffrey Fushi, chairman of the Stradivari Society and co-founder of acclaimed string dealers Bein & Fushi says many families and individuals take great satisfaction in accomplishing dual investment and philanthropic goals by purchasing a quality instrument and loaning it to a talented musician.

The organisation's remit is to find the world's most promising artists and unite them with outstanding Italian instruments. Bearing the legendary violinmaker's name, the society finds Strads and the slightly lesser known Guarneri del Gesù violins in order to help young performers launch and sustain their careers. "Our patrons have found their relationship with the Society and the extraordinary young artists that are selected as recipients to be immensely satisfying and rewarding," says Fushi. "They are especially gratified that they have helped keep our classical music traditions alive."

Virtuoso performer Timothy Fain, who through the help of Buffalo, New York philanthropists Clement and Karen Arrison, plays the "Moller" violin, which was constructed by Francesco Gobetti in 1717.

A New York City resident, Fain regularly appears at the Lincoln Center. He has featured in the Mostly Mozart Festival with the Orchestra of St. Luke's and the Chamber Music Society.  "I had been interested in owning a rare instrument for a long time – but I wanted the instrument to be played, not just to be kept in a vault," says Clement Arrison.

"When I found out about The Stradivari Society, I knew I could accomplish something of value for young violinists. I've been a patron for over seven years and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am benefiting from not only collecting rare instruments but also from hearing them being played by great musicians."

Recently, Janine Jansen, a star in her native Holland, made her US debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Playing the 1727 "Barrere" Stradivarius, which is loaned to her by the Elise Mathilde Fund through the Stradivari Society, Jansen has been able to seal her reputation as one of the most talented and successful violinists of her generation.

Loan agreements usually entail strictures such as payment of any insurance premiums, the performance of private recitals for the donor, and regular inspections by The Society's curators. Instruments must stay in physical contact with the musician when travelling. The case must stay closed when the instrument is in it, and no one else is permitted to play the instrument.

The patronage is extremely rewarding for both artist and patron, says Fushi. When a quality violin can cost upwards of $3.5 million, it is nearly impossible for most young musicians to purchase their own instruments. In return for lending out an instrument, the patron retains a valuable investment whilst also experiencing the enjoyment of it in the hands of a talented musician.

"Patrons receive special concerts in their own homes or the venue of their choice, showcasing the artist and their instrument," says Fushi. "This is a wonderful way to entertain friends, family, and business associates."

Through the Stradivari Society, benefactors also receive invitations to special private events, giving them the opportunity to network with other patrons, world leaders, and major philanthropists.

It seems it is this network of like-minded philanthropists, brought together by their love of classical music, which becomes its own reward for those choosing to patronise the arts. For these people, no greater reward can come than to know they are helping to keep classical music alive and to share their experiences with individuals and families similarly inclined.

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