Parting gift from Curtis Institute’s board chair its largest ever

(Nathaniel Hamilton for NewsWorks

(Nathaniel Hamilton for NewsWorks

Philadelphia’s world-class music conservatory, the Curtis Institute, has just been promised the largest single gift of its 92-year life, and one of the largest to any music school anywhere: $55 million.

It comes from the outgoing Curtis board chair Nina Baroness von Maltzahn. The baroness, who moves primarily between New York, Europe, and South America, has few other ties to Philadelphia and has been involved with Curtis for less than 10 years. Initially attracted to Curtis’ touring ensembles, she joined the board of trustees in 2010, supporting the establishment of guitar and string quartet programs.

The string quartet program and the global touring initiative will bear her name.

This gift will not fund any particular program. Instead, it will go entirely into the endowment. The school does not charge its students tuition, so earnings from the endowment are its major source of revenue.

The school is able to waive all tuition fees due to a bedrock donation, in 1928, by founder Mary Louis Curtis Bok.

“What this does is allow the faculty, when they go through the selection process, to look at only two things: accomplishment and potential,” said president Roberto Diaz. “How good is this student, and how talented are they? That is the soul of the place.”

The no-tuition policy also makes it one of the toughest schools to get into, accepting only about 3 percent of applicants. The newly increased endowment, which will total about $250 million in five years, will allow the school to more confidently plan for the future.

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