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Eccles Foundation supports Utah Symphony to the tune of $5M

Published November 12, 2013 9:56 am

Philanthropy • The gift launches a $20M drive to bolster an ambitious artistic agenda.
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The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation has donated $5 million to Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, launching a $20 million "Campaign for Perpetual Motion" in support of an ambitious artistic agenda that includes international touring and at least one recording project.

The initiative was announced at Friday's Utah Symphony concert in Abravanel Hall, where music director Thierry Fischer led the orchestra in Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" and Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 2.

The Eccles Foundation's donation is "an incredible gift from them and a commitment to our future," USUO president and CEO Melia Tourangeau said in a telephone interview. "It's launching a $20 million effort — to bring the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera to the next level. The idea is to stabilize the organization and see us into the future, which means taking care of all our employees and investing in them, as well."

Tourangeau noted that Fischer's vision is to bring the orchestra to the prominence it enjoyed under Maurice Abravanel, its music director from 1947 to 1979. During those years, the orchestra made 110 recordings and toured three months of the year.

"Everybody knew who the Utah Symphony was," Tourangeau said of that era.

While it's critical that the orchestra is well-known locally and throughout Utah, Fischer and Tourangeau believe the organization should also serve as a cultural calling card throughout the world. Hence, plans for the "Perpetual Motion" initiative include tours to the East and West coasts, a return visit to Europe and the orchestra's first-ever performances in Asia, in addition to a statewide tour during the Utah Symphony's 75th-anniversary season in 2015-16. Specifics on the tours, recording and broadcasting projects, and a special 75th-anniversary commission will be revealed later, the USUO said in a news release.

Violist Joel Gibbs is chairman of the orchestra committee, representing musicians' concerns to management. "We are certainly excited about the good start that the campaign is off to and the ambitious goal they have set," Gibbs said. "I am very happy that our board is setting lofty goals to grow and strengthen the organization."

Board president Pat Richards updated orchestra members about the campaign at a recent rehearsal.

"I do like that the fund-raising goals are attached to new, interesting projects — that the funds are not being asked for just to help us squeak by, but that the campaign is being used for new possibilities," Gibbs said.

The news comes as orchestras nationwide, including those in Chicago and Minnesota, struggle financially in the wake of the recession. Although the Utah Symphony's circumstances have been less dire, the pinch has been felt, too. The orchestra musicians agreed in a 2011 contract extension to waive $1.1 million of their salaries over three seasons.

"You've got to build a story that's going to motivate and excite your community," Tourangeau said. "We actually did balance our budget this past year, and we've got a great trajectory moving forward."

The organization's budget was $18.6 million in the 2012-13 season and is projected to be $19.1 million in 2013-14.

"Despite the challenging times orchestras are facing throughout the country, we're confident that the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera is not only weathering the storm, but also moving forward with renewed enthusiasm among patrons, growing audiences and tremendous fund-raising success," Lisa Eccles, president and chief operating officer of the Eccles Foundation, said in an email. "Thierry Fischer's talents and leadership, and the plans for the 75th anniversary programming and tours here in Utah as well as nationally and internationally, are very exciting and generating amazing momentum that bodes well for USUO's strong and vibrant future. We're so pleased to be a part of this along with so many others!"

The Eccles Foundation has long been a high-profile supporter of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, with donations totaling more than $32 million over the years.

"We have a long-term partnership with USUO that began with Uncle George and Aunt Lolie Eccles themselves 30 years ago, and a firm belief in the importance of this great organization," Eccles Foundation chairman and CEO Spencer F. Eccles said in a news release. "We know that having a strong arts community – including a vibrant symphony and opera – translates directly into the future strength and economic vitality of our state."

Spencer Eccles is an honorary co-chairman of the campaign, along with Jon M. Huntsman and Carolyn Tanner Irish. Campaign committee co-leaders include Scott and Jesselie Anderson, Lisa Eccles, Kem and Carolyn Gardner, Gail Miller and Kim Wilson, and Joanne and Bill Shiebler.