The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association has received two of the largest gifts in its history: $17 million from Chicago-based philanthropists Helen and Sam Zell via their Zell Family Foundation to support the CSOA’s endowment and general operating funds, and $15 million from the Chicago-based Negaunee Foundation to support the CSO’s Institute for Learning, Access and Training.

The gifts were announced today (June 12) by the CSOA’s Board of Trustees. The Zells’ gift provides for the naming, in perpetuity, of the CSO’s music director position, held by Riccardo Muti since 2010. The Institute will be renamed in perpetuity the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

“Sam and Helen Zell have been longtime friends of the Orchestra, and since 2010, they have become my personal friends as well,” Muti said in a statement. “I am honored by this demonstration of great affection for the CSO through this generous gift. Endowing the position of the music director is a remarkable gesture of ongoing support of the Orchestra now and into the future.”

In a statement, CSOA President Deborah Rutter said, “This commitment [by the Negaunee Foundation] to the work of the Institute is truly remarkable. By endowing the work of the Institute in perpetuity, the Negaunee Foundation will significantly increase the CSO’s ability to use the power of music to transform and enrich the lives of hundreds of thousands in greater Chicago and across the globe. [It also will sustain] the Institute’s longstanding community, education,  family and training programs, including the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. We could not be more grateful.”

Founded in 2008, the Institute aims to integrate, highlight and expand the CSO’s education and engagement programs, which annually benefit more than 200,000 children and adults of diverse sociocultural backgrounds. These programs include family concerts such as Once Upon a Symphony; school-focused curricula and programs such as Orchestra Explorers and Dream Out Loud, and the CSO’s training arm, the Civic Orchestra, the only such ensemble affiliated with a major American orchestra.

The Zells are longtime CSO supporters. Since 2007, Helen Zell has served as a CSO Trustee and a member of the Board’s Executive Committee. Along with funding and sponsoring many CSO concerts over the last decade, the Zells and their foundation have supported the music directorship and concerts during the first years of Muti’s tenure. Under the gift’s terms, the endowed position will be held by Maestro Muti for the rest of his tenure, and by all future CSO music directors.

The Negaunee gift will help to realize one of Muti’s long-term goals: to extend the reach of classical music and to strengthen the CSO’s relationship to underserved communities. “Performances alone are not enough,” Muti said. “Having a treasure like this Orchestra, we have a responsibility to make it accessible to as many people as possible. This gift will ensure that the talents of the CSO will be shared throughout Chicago and around the world.”

Established in 1987, the Negaunee Foundation supports the arts and education in the Chicago area. It has been a major donor to the CSO since the early 1990s and also has been one of the largest annual supporters of the Institute.

“Great musicianship and great citizenship are only possible when individuals work toward something bigger than themselves,” said Yo-Yo Ma, the CSO’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, appointed in 2010, who has focused his work on the Institute’s programs. “This extraordinary gift from the Negaunee Foundation demonstrates a commitment to both, and ensures that the CSOA can sustain and grow its use of music to contribute positively to our culture, our community and the lives of others. This gift is a testament to the leadership of the CSOA, the exceptional musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Civic Orchestra, and the work of the Institute and its board over the last six years. I am humbled by the generosity of Negaunee and on behalf of the CSOA, incredibly grateful for this support.”

In a statement, CSOA Board Chairman Jay Henderson also expressed his gratitude to the Zells and the Negaunee Foundation. “The generosity and commitment by Helen, Sam and the Zell Family Foundation are both rare and steadfast, and we have been the fortunate beneficiaries of that generosity time after time. Creating a lasting legacy here by endowing this position is a fitting way for them to show their dedication and support for all that our music director does,” he said. “I offer my sincere thanks to the Negaunee Foundation for this incredible gift in support of the Institute’s work. Donors like these are critical to the quality of life in our city; the Negaunee gift will ensure that the CSO remains a vibrant organization, not only in presenting extraordinary music but also in increasing access to that music and to the musical resources of the CSO.”