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Board Chair Kovner Gives $20 Million to Juilliard

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A $20 million gift to The Juilliard School from its chairman, Bruce Kovner, was announced on January 17. The exceptionally generous gift to the endowment, earmarked specifically for the School’s Historical Performance program, ensures that the operating costs of the two-year-old program will be fully funded in perpetuity. 

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Kovner, 66, who retired at the end of 2011 as chairman of the Caxton Associates hedge fund, and President Joseph W. Polisi began talking about the possibility of an early-music program at Juilliard about five or six years ago, Polisi recalled in a recent interview withThe Journal. Kovner provided startup funding for the master’s-level program, which began in 2009 under the artistic direction of violinist Monica Huggett. In its first two years, Kovner gave grants to cover the program’s approximately $1 million in annual operating costs. Students enrolled in the program receive full-tuition scholarships.

The gift goes into Juilliard’s endowment, which, as of December 31, was valued at $762 million. Since the School’s policy is to spend about 5 percent of the endowment’s market value annually, the new $20 million fund is sufficient to cover all expenses of the Historical Performance program, including the salaries and benefits of its faculty and staff,  instrument purchases and repairs, and performance-related costs each year. 

“As time goes on, through prudent investment management, the endowment will continue to grow so that it can keep pace with inflation and contribute additional funds to the program’s budget each year,” Polisi said, adding, “this will ensure that the program is always fully funded and does not divert resources from other parts of the School.”

Kovner’s interest in Baroque music is long-term; he is himself a harpsichordist. In addition to creating a world-class program, one of the goals in creating it was to make Juilliard “an anchor in the local and national historical performance scene through student and faculty ensembles,” Polisi said, referring to Juilliard415 and Juilliard Baroque. 

Another benefit is that Juilliard musicians in various disciplines can have the opportunity to use period instruments. Having that experience “gives our musicians another arrow in their quiver,” Polisi said. And having studied the French bassoon, which is very similar to Baroque bassoon, Polisi knows firsthand the pleasures of music played on historical instruments. “There really is quite a difference in sound for the active listener,” he said.

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