Emory Chamber Music Society scores $1 million grant

Amid the harsh headlines about the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s accumulated debt and musician contract crises, there is some positive news for metro music lovers.

The Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta (ECMSA) has received a $1 million challenge grant from a local foundation, with the goal of keeping a string quartet as artists in residence at Emory and in Atlanta for perpetuity.

ECMSA, which has had the Vega String Quartet in residence since 2006, has been given three years by the donors, the Abraham J. and Phyllis Katz Foundation, to raise the matching funds. But the music presenter plans to begin immediately, launching the campaign at concerts opening its 20th anniversary season on Friday at the Michael C. Carlos Museum and Sept. 22 at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.

“We will need some major donors from another foundation or very generous private sources,” artistic director William Ransom said, “but just as important are numerous smaller gifts.”

In celebration of its two decades, ECMSA will present its entire 23-concert schedule for free this year. Since there is no cost to attend the concerts, Ransom said in an email, “We will make a pitch at every program for donations in place of tickets.”

ECMSA has never finished a season with a deficit, but as a program of Emory, its annual budget is “difficult to put into one number,” said Ransom, who also serves as director of piano studies in the university’s department of music. As part of Emory, for instance, the society does not have to pay hall rental or marketing fees.

Artist fees are paid from an endowment worth roughly $1 million, most of it donated by the late Emory benefactor Cherry L. Emerson. The challenge grant from the Katz Foundation would raise the endowment’s worth to $3 million and increase ECMSA’s educational outreach.

Founded in 1994 by the late Abraham and Phyllis Katz — he ran Kason Industries, a manufacturer of refrigeration equipment; she was an accomplished pianist — their foundation supports organizations that provide innovations in medicine and access to the performing arts and well as to those with chronic illness or other life challenges, according to its website.

In addition to performing and teaching at Emory, the Vega String Quartet participates in Young Audiences of Atlanta programs and runs the Emory Youth Chamber Music Program for top emerging musicians. Its members teach privately, as well.

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