The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association announced at its board meeting Thursday afternoon that two Chicago philanthropic institutions, the Zell Family Foundation and the Negaunee Foundation, have given the parent body of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the largest gifts in its 123-year history -- $17 million from the Zell foundation and $15 million from Negaunee.
The Zell foundation contribution, announced by billionaire Chicago real estate tycoon and former Tribune Co. board chairman Sam Zell and his wife Helen, will provide for the naming, in perpetuity, of the position of CSO music director, a post Riccardo Muti has held since 2010 and whose tenure recently was extended with a new five-year contract through the 2019-20 season.
The $17 million Zell gift will make the distinguished Italian maestro, 72, the first “named” music director the CSO has ever had. Under terms of the gift, he will hold the endowed position for the remainder of his term here, as will future CSO music directors, according to the orchestra.
The Negaunee Foundation gift, the second-largest in the association’s history, is to provide annual operating support and endowment funds to support, also in perpetuity, the work of the CSO’s education and community engagement wing, the Institute for Learning, Access and Training. It will be known from now on as the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Northbrook-based private foundation makes grants to arts organizations around Chicago, from the Art Institute to the Chicago Botanic Garden to Kartemquin Films, according to tax documents. Its assets totaled more than $75 million in 2011, the most recent year for which records are available.
“One of the things I wanted to make sure about before leaving this institution was that it had a really stable and secure (foundation) moving forward,” said Deborah Rutter, who on June 30 will step down as president of the CSO Association to become president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. “This is a sort of cherry on the cake for me.”
“I wanted to make sure we would be able to name and endow the position of the music director, also to name and endow the institute and to have a global sponsor for the orchestra as a whole. The orchestra is in a fantastic place, knowing it has this kind of vital support going into the future.”
The CSO Association has enjoyed longstanding relationships with the Zell Family Foundation, the Negaunee Foundation and Sam Zell and his wife Helen Zell personally, Rutter added.
“Both foundations really made these decisions and committed to (the gifts) just within the last month, but certainly we’ve been talking to them about the role they play with our institution for a longer time,” she said. “We only signed one contract yesterday, the other about three weeks ago.”
The Zells and the Zell foundation have underwritten and sponsored many CSO concerts over the last decade, including programs led by Muti during the first years of his tenure. Their gift was made to the CSO association’s endowment and general operating funds.
Named after a native American word meaning “foremost” and “leading,” the Chicago-based Negaunee Foundation was created in 1987 to celebrate the arts and education in the Chicago area. It too has a long history of support for the CSO and the programs of its learning and training institute that goes back to the early 1990s, and has been among its largest annual supporters. Many of the institute’s community initiatives are spearheaded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, CSO Judson and Joyce Green creative consultant.
“We are so grateful for this visionary and transformative gift,” said association board chairman Jay Henderson, of the Zell foundation gift, in a statement. “Creating a lasting legacy here by endowing this (music director) position is a fitting way for Helen, Sam and the Zell Family Foundation to show their dedication and support of all that our music director does.”
The Negaunee foundation gift, said Ma in a statement, “ensures that (the music institute) can sustain and grow its use of music to contribute positively to our culture, our community and the lives of others.”
Tribune reporter Heather Gillers contributed.