Classical Music Popularized in San Francisco

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  • 2005

The San Francisco Symphony was the first orchestra to feature radio broadcasts—in 1926, funded by local philanthropists. Almost 80 years later, in 2005, another generation of philanthropists (Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr.) offered a $10 million grant to bring San Francisco’s classical music to the Internet, television, home video, and local schools, through a program called Keeping Score. The result of this long pattern of philanthropically supported audience cultivation, argues Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, was “to turn the San Francisco Symphony into the most adventurous, audience-friendly orchestra in America.” By 2012, the symphony had won 11 Grammy awards, and was playing for 600,000 fans every year.

The San Francisco Opera has similarly benefitted from popularizing technology funded by philanthropy. The Koret Foundation purchased equipment that allowed the Opera to record productions for showing in movie theaters nationwide, beam free live simulcasts to parks and public spaces, and create DVDs for public schools. Living donors John and Cynthia Gunn made a record $40 million grant that allowed the commissioning of new operas. And Dede Wilsey offered $5 million to modernize the business office, saving the opera $1.5 million every year in administrative costs.

Together, gifts like these have put classical music on a much solider footing in San Francisco than in most other places.