Pull Up a Chair: Behind a Big Gift To New York Philharmonic

Earlier this year, Oscar Schafer assumed his new position as chairman of the board of directors of the New York Philharmonic, succeeding Gary Parr. Schafer and his wife Didi have been steady supporters of the Philarmonic, and since 2007, have presented the New York Philharmonic’s Concerts in the Parks, which have allowed people to hear free outdoor summertime performances. Schafer has also been on the board of the Philharmonic since 2007 and has been chair of the nominating and governance committee since 2008.

Back in 2007, the couple gave a $5 million gift to Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York and the couple's Schafer Family Foundation has a New York focus. Past grantmaking has involved arts and culture institutions such as Second Stage Theatre, Theatre Development Fund, Lyric Chamber Music Society, and more. 

Now comes recent news of a $25 million gift to New York Philharmonic by Schafer and Didi. Most of that, $20 million, will help build the Philharmonic’s endowment as well as the renovation of its concert home. The rest, $5 million, will fund continuing support of the Philharmonic's Concerts in the Parks series. As the Schafers put it: "The New York Philharmonic is both a signature of this great city and a national treasure... Strengthening our endowment will ensure that the philharmonic is able to fulfill its mission long into an exciting future, as we create a world-class twenty-first-century concert hall to be home to our world-class orchestra."

That last point the Schafers make about endowment is key, and what stands out about this gift is timing. For one, the gift was announced on opening night of the Philharmonic's 174th season, its first performance in David Geffen Hall, which was renamed on the heels of a big gift.

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But despite Geffen's $100 million, the Philharmonic is still working to raise its share of the renovation costs, estimated at $160 million, and another $200 million to double its endowment and the reserves it needs to cover annual operating expenses. Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts will chip in with the remaining costs.

With Schafer having recently been appointed chair of the board of the New York Philharmonic, it makes sense that the couple would take the lead with a big gift, the largest from an individual donor in the outfit's history. You'll also note that a portion of the couple's funds went to Concerts in the Parks, something that they have been supporting for years. As we often say at Inside Philanthropy, past philanthropy matters, and the Schafers are clearly committed to these summertime concerts.

It's unclear how much Schafer is worth, though one estimate puts his net worth at around a half-billion. He chairs Rivulet Capital, LLC, a private investment partnership. His foundation has been around since 1986, though of late, annual grantmaking hasn't exceeded $1.5 million, and has usually been much lower.