Atlanta Life and Culture

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Updated: Atlanta Symphony receives $1.25 million gift to endow musician position

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s push to rebuild its ranks, a major issue in the stormy nine-week player lockout that delayed the 70th anniversary season, has received a boost in the form of a $1.25 million Musicians’ Endowment Fund pledge.

The gift from longtime ASO patrons Sally and Carl Gable is an incipient one in the ASO’s drive to add 11 endowed full-time positions by the end of the 2017-18 season.

“We’re just committed to a vibrant, thriving future for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra,” Sally Gable said on Thursday. “We’ve been going to concerts for 50 years, since we arrived in Atlanta in 1964, and we love the symphony and know and love (a number of) the members. I can’t imagine living without the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.”

The four-year collective bargaining agreement forged by the musicians and management of the ASO and its parent nonprofit, Woodruff Arts Center, in November calls for the orchestra, which was reduced from 88 full-time musicians in its 2012 contract to 77 this season, to grow back to at least 88 by the new pact’s end.

“I think everybody now is just pulling forward and looking forward to the future,” said Gable, who said she’d like to see the ensemble grow to 95 and return to touring internationally.

As a first step in that rebuilding, the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation gave the arts center a $38 million gift in December that included nearly $8 million in endowment matching funds for the ASO. The Gables’ initial $500,000 payment means that the orchestra now has $1 million in cash in the Musicians’ Endowment Fund.

The cost to endow a musician chair in perpetuity is $2 million to $2.5 million, so the ASO must raise approximately $25 million over the next four years to meet the contract’s terms.

“We have significant work to do,” arts center President and CEO Virginia Hepner and interim ASO President Terry Neal wrote in an internal arts center announcement of the Gables’ gift. “But we have great plans in place to help us achieve our goals.”

A team of Woodruff and ASO administrative and board leaders has been organized to pursue gifts for the Musicians’ Endowment Fund, including Neal, arts center vice president of advancement Janine Musholt and ASO director of development Jessica Langlois. Even ASO music director Robert Spano is expected to play a role.

The Gables, both retired (he was a corporate attorney and manufacturing business executive, she a church music director), endowed the Atlanta Opera music director’s chair in 1987 that is currently occupied by Arthur Fagen. Their ASO gift will endow the chair of principal harpist Elisabeth Remy Johnson.

For eight years starting in the 1970s, Sally Gable sang with the ASO Chorus. She called performing under the direction of the late Robert Shaw “one of the great, great experiences of my life.”

The Gables authored the 2005 book “Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House,” recounting their multiyear effort to restore a 18,000-square-foot villa built in 1552 by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio near Venice, Italy, with 104 frescoes, 44 pairs of shutters and 24-foot ceilings.

Since it has no central heat, they were in Atlanta this fall, following every development of the bruising lockout, as management sought to stem 12 consecutive years of red ink and the players fought cuts that they and their supporters charged would rob them of major-league status.

Sally Gable said she believes it’s possible to have both a balanced budget and artistic achievement, if others contribute to the Musicians’ Endowment Fund.

“I can think of a hundred people right now in Atlanta who’d be interested in (endowing a chair) because there are so many of us who love the orchestra.”

Does she plan to personally encourage them to donate?

“Oh, yes,” she replied, without hesitation.

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The AJC Features Team spotlights arts previews, reviews, profiles, news features and breaking news on Atlanta's cultural and life scene.