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Curtis Institute receives big boost to its endowment

The gift is one of the largest in the school's history.

The Curtis Institute of Music's 1726 Locust Street building on Rittenhouse Square.
The Curtis Institute of Music's 1726 Locust Street building on Rittenhouse Square.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The Curtis Institute of Music has landed a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor family, the music conservatory announced Thursday.

“We’re thrilled. It’s really a vote of confidence in the school and the direction of the school and everything that’s going on,” said Curtis president and CEO Roberto Díaz. “It means so much in so many different ways to us.”

Curtis is in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to raise $200 million for endowment, $30 million to upgrade facilities and infrastructure, and $20 million for the annual fund by its centenary in the 2024-25 school year.

The new gift, one of the largest in its history, puts the endowment portion of the campaign goal past the halfway mark, Díaz said.

The donors behind the gift asked to remain anonymous. Asked what their reasons were, Díaz said:

“We didn’t ask. When they said, ‘This is what we’re asking for,’ we said, ‘Fine, we respect that.’”

Diaz said the donors “have been around the school and the mission of the school for a long time.”

The gift will help Curtis expand aspects of its organ program. A new organ will be commissioned for Field Concert Hall. The summertime Philadelphia Young Artists Organ Camp, previously run independently by Curtis organ department head Alan Morrison, will be brought under the Curtis wing and expanded, and it will become tuition-free and include room and board. In 2022-23, the school will expand a program that places students as organ scholars in Philadelphia-area churches to explore organ liturgy and church repertoire.

In addition, Curtis will create a summer workshop for young string quartets to work with the school’s resident Dover Quartet.

The new endowment money will also allow Curtis to expand the need-based financial assistance it offers students starting in 2022-23. Curtis is entirely tuition-free, but students still incur expenses and debt for living, travel, and instrument purchases.

The intention is that every student who applies and meets the need criteria will be awarded assistance to take the place of loans they would otherwise need, says Curtis spokesperson Patricia K. Johnson. “We know the amount of debt our students have taken on historically, and we expect to be able to meet those needs each year with this gift,” she said.

Previous large gifts to Curtis include a $55 million contribution in 2016 from then-board chair Nina Baroness von Maltzahn. H.F. “Gerry” and Marguerite Lenfest have supported the school with various gifts, including a $30 million challenge grant that helped to build Lenfest Hall.

Mary Louise Curtis Bok gave the school $12.5 million in 1928, shortly after the school was founded. Adjusted for inflation, that gift in 2021 dollars would be worth nearly $200 million.