Baroque Bonanza: Juilliard Gets $20 Million For Early Music

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The Juilliard School has received a $20 million gift from Bruce Kovner, the hedge fund titan who co-founded the $10 billion Caxton Associates, the conservatory announced on Monday. The gift will endow its program in historical performance, which was founded in 2009 and trains graduate students in music from the 17th and 18th centuries.

"The big donation has been a great confirmation to the Historical Performance Program at Juilliard that we are doing good work,” said Monica Huggett, the program’s artistic director, in an e-mail from her home in England. "Bruce Kovner really likes baroque music."

Kovner, 66, who recently retired as chairman of Caxton Associates, is Juilliard’s chairman as well as its top donor. In 2005, he gave the school its largest gift in its history, a $25 million bequest that supported scholarships, salaries and operational expenses. The following year he donated a trove of 139 precious music manuscripts to the school that he acquired at auctions over a decade. Kovner has also financed the period performance program since its inception in 2009, giving an average of $500,000 to $1 million annually, according to The New York Times, which first reported on the latest gift.

A powerful figure in philanthropic circles, Kovner has also donated widely to conservative causes. He is the former chairman of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group, and has given more than $100,000 to Republican candidates and causes since 2010.

Juilliard’s historical performance program is in its third season. The tuition-free program focuses primarily on instrumental music from the High Baroque era (Vivaldi, Handel, Bach) but it has also collaborated with Juilliard’s vocal arts program on fully staged operas. Guest lecturers have included luminaries like Fabio Biondi, William Christie, Harry Bicket, Nicholas McGegan and Jordi Savall. It recently announced it will add two new majors in viola da gamba and plucked instruments (lute, theorbo, Baroque guitar) starting in fall 2012.

Music critics and insiders have frequently complained about New York's early music scene, arguing that it lacks suitable venues for period performance, that audiences here prefer more modern fare, and that educational institutions that support period performance research and training are lacking. The latest gift may help dispel some of that criticism.