Tuesday, May 21, 2024

With $40 Million Gift, New York Philharmonic Jump-Starts Dudamel Era

The New York Philharmonic has a sparkling home: the recently renovated David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center. It has a charismatic new conductor: the superstar maestro Gustavo Dudamel, who will take the podium in 2026.

And now it will start its next chapter with a groundbreaking gift: the Philharmonic announced on Tuesday that it had secured a $40 million donation from the financier Oscar L. Tang, a co-chairman of its board, and his wife, Agnes Hsu‐Tang, an archaeologist and art historian, the largest contribution to the endowment in the ensemble’s 181-year history.

The donation will be used to endow the Philharmonic’s music and artistic director chair starting in the 2025-26 season, when Dudamel, the 42-year-old leader of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, becomes music director designate.

Gary Ginstling, who took over as the Philharmonic’s president and chief executive in July, described the gift as “visionary” and said it would allow the ensemble to “reimagine what a 21st-century orchestra can be and ensure that the Philharmonic’s music-making will serve future generations.”

Dudamel, who has spoken of his desire to expand the Philharmonic’s social programs, possibly by creating a youth education program similar to one that he started in Los Angeles, praised Tang and Hsu-Tang.

“Their deep belief in the power and importance of art has been self-evident from our first encounter and is something that bonds us closely,” he said in a statement. “I’m certain that we will accomplish extraordinary things and build many beautiful bridges together.”

The gift is a coup for the Philharmonic, the oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, which has been led by giants including Mahler, Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein.

Just a decade ago, there were concerns about the Philharmonic’s future, given the languishing efforts to renovate its lackluster hall and questions about its artistic direction and financial health.

But it has seen a revival in recent years, stabilizing its finances and, with the help of Lincoln Center, pushing through the long-delayed $550 million renovation of Geffen Hall, which reopened last year. In February, the Philharmonic announced it had signed Dudamel, one of the world’s most in-demand maestros.

Tang, who has served on the Philharmonic’s board since 2013, said he hoped the gift would help usher in a “new golden age” under Dudamel, with a focus on music education and social change, as the Philharmonic works to connect with new audiences, especially young people and Black and Latino residents. Tang recalled coming to New York to start his career on Wall Street in 1962, when Bernstein was music director and the Philharmonic had a broad audience.

“We like to think of returning the New York Philharmonic back to an age of prominence and leadership, which existed when I came to New York,” he said. “We wanted to encourage that and set the tone for the next stage of what hopefully is the transformation of the New York Philharmonic.”

Hsu-Tang, who has worked on international cultural heritage protection and rescue, advising UNESCO in Paris as well as the Cultural Property Advisory Committee under President Barack Obama, said the gift reflected the couple’s confidence in the Philharmonic’s new leaders.

“We support institutions that are game changers — that want to make changes, that act on changes — rather than institutions that were forced to make changes because of the pandemic,” she said. “This is not just a golden age for the New York Philharmonic. It’s a renaissance for New York, and it’s a renaissance for music, arts and culture.”

Hsu-Tang, who also serves as chair of the board of the New‐York Historical Society, and Tang are among the city’s most prominent cultural philanthropists. In 2021, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that the couple had pledged $125 million to help rebuild its wing for modern and contemporary art, the largest capital gift in the museum’s history.

Now retired, Tang was a founder of the asset management firm Reich & Tang in 1970 in New York. Born in Shanghai, he was sent to school in America at 11, after his family fled to Hong Kong from China during the Communist revolution.

After the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, he teamed up with the architect I.M. Pei, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and others to establish the Committee of 100, a Chinese American leadership organization for advancing dialogue between the United States and China.

Tang and Hsu-Tang have also championed efforts to fight racial discrimination. In early 2021, the couple founded the Yellow Whistle campaign to combat anti‐Asian hate, distributing 500,000 free yellow whistles emblazoned with the slogan “We Belong.”

Their gift represents around a fifth of the Philharmonic’s endowment, which totals about $221 million. The funds will be used to support programming and education, in addition to compensation for the music director.

While Dudamel does not become the Philharmonic’s 27th music director until the 2026-27 season, he is gradually increasing his commitment to the orchestra.

On Tuesday, the Philharmonic announced that he would come to New York in April for a festival celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts, which have helped introduce new generations to classical music. Dudamel, who had not been previously scheduled to appear this season, will lead the ensemble’s spring gala concert and participate in educational activities.

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