Musicians Emergency Fund

Serving Music and Musicians since 1931

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Our History

Musicians Emergency Fund, Inc. (MEF) was founded in 1931 to provide performance assistance to professional musicians during the Great Depression. Among the early organizers were Mrs. Ernest Schelling, Mrs. Ernest Hutcheson, and Olga Samaroff Stokowski, with Walter Damrosch named as Chairman of the Board. His Executive Chairman, Mrs. Vincent Astor (later remarried as Mrs. Lytle Hull), stood midstream in a long career as one of New York’s most caring and persistent promoters of musical life. The Advisory Board consisted of Mrs. August Belmont, Cornelius N. Bliss, Fritz Kreisler, Clarence H. Mackay, Ignace Jan Paderewski, Frank L. Polk, Marcella Sembrich and Arturo Toscanini, with Paul D. Cravath as treasurer.

On February 8, 1932, MEF sponsored a concert for 16,000 at Madison Square Garden, featuring Paderewski at the piano. But the demands exceeded the bounds even of such a major benefit event. To generate projects that would offer jobs to unemployed musicians, MEF formed committees to explore ideas and started a fund drive to set them in motion. In 1933 MEF began to sponsor a series of 13 Russian operas, in collaboration with major symphony orchestras. In 1941, a decade after MEF was founded, came another opera initiative, spearheaded by the Hungarian-born Yolanda Méro-Irion, MEF’s first Executive Director, and Mrs. Hull. This was the New Opera Company, which would serve as a launching pad for the New York City Opera in 1944.

During World War II, MEF’s programs included concerts at military bases and free musical instruction for servicemen. With MEF out of the opera business, Mmes. Méro-Irion and Hull turned their attention to setting up the Hospitalized Veterans Service. Though music was first seen as recreation, it soon emerged as effective therapy. Thirty years later, the Hospitalized Veterans Service was taken over by the government’s Veterans Administration. In 1982, MEF was joined by New York University in sponsoring the first International Symposium on Music Therapy.

In 1984, under a new Executive Director, Marie M. Ashdown, MEF began presenting gifted instrumentalists and singers in concert at Alice Tully Hall with orchestra. Singers chosen by MEF’s auditions program included Renée Fleming, Olga Makarina, Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, Alan Held and John Horton Murray. After a decade or so, when entrées for singers had turned into a kind of revolving door, Ms. Ashdown changed the direction of the auditions, channeling financial support to the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and to regional companies that could offer performance opportunities to jump-start careers.

For instrumentalists, too, opportunities were growing scarcer. Returning to MEF’s original mandate to provide work opportunities for classical musicians, Ms. Ashdown proposed a series that in 2002 became the Junior/Senior Concerts. In these events, held in high-profile venues, established teaching artists perform together with members of the student generation as colleagues. Many participants in MEF concerts already held, or soon acquired, the distinction of world-class performers. Gary Graffman, Michael Tree, Jaime Laredo, Li Jian, Anthony McGill and Pamela Frank are but a few examples. MEF also has introduced important premieres by such eminent composers as Huang Ruo and Jennifer Higdon.

Today, MEF continues to introduce innovative ways to provide young musicians with performance opportunities. To encourage these artists, we have built an appreciative and loyal audience by offering free admission to students, seniors and the military. The approach is working: our concerts have been drawing full houses. But all this has been a voyage, not a destination. After 90 years, we're still on our way.

Musicians Emergency Fund, Inc., is a privately funded, 501(c)(3), nonprofit foundation.

Advisors

The MEF Artistic Advisors are recognized high-profile professionals in their arts fields. They are drawn from opera, instrumentalists, critics, authors, composers, conductors and movies.

Advisory Board

John W. Freeman
Associate Editor of Opera News; author of Volumes 1 & 2, “Stories of the Great Operas”; music critic; composer.

Francesco Izzo, Ph.D.
Head of music, professor of music, Southampton University; author; pianist; music historian; lecturer.

Li Jian
Chinese child prodigy; internationally acclaimed pianist and conductor; Director of Piano Department, Shanghai Conservatory; first award winner of MEF's Career Assistance Award as scholarship student at Curtis Institute of Music.

Choliang Lin
Chinese child prodigy; world famous violinist; Juilliard scholarship at 15 years old; conductor, festival director; Professor of Music, Juilliard (New York City) and Rice University (Houston, TX).

George Loomis, LL.D., Ph.D.
Virtuoso pianist, one of the leading music critics on three continents. (As a lawyer he had practiced with one of NY’s most prestigious firms, White and Case, until he left to return to Yale for his Ph.D. in music.)

Tali Mahanor
Internationally recognized authority on pianos and piano performing artists. Owner of prestigious Steinway concert instruments used in performance by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and by MEF.

Advisory Board

Anthony McGill
Clarinet, First Chair — New York Philharmonic
Illustrious career as a principal clarinetist; first person to have an orchestra Chair named after him at the Metropolitan Opera. (As an award winner of MEF, he has remained a faithful supporter and advisor.)

Tim Monich
Speech Director on major movies, excellent pianist and knowledgeable music-lover. (His guidance for MEF in TV, recording and film media is invaluable to musicians and the professional staff.)

Richard Rodzinski
General Director of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow; President and Executive Director of the Van Cliburn for 23 years, overseeing six editions of the illustrious competition; served as artistic administrator for the San Francisco Opera and the MET.

Gerald Rupp, J.D.
Distinquished New York attorney, musician, philanthropist and advisor to the arts and arts organizations.

Olivia B. Waxman
Staff Writer for TIME magazine.

Richard Woitach †
Retired conductor of the Metropolitan Opera; renowned music authority and consultant to conductors, musicians, singers and musical organizations.

Julia Zaustinsky
Internationally recognized violinist, mentor and arts advisor.

Reviews — Orion Weiss and Adam Golka

It was fantastic! Great performances, very talented musicians! I'm keeping an eye out for Mr. Golka's next performance in NYC.

Outstanding!

Fantastic performance! Thoroughly enjoyed it.

This was so much fun with pieces for four hands on the piano and the carnival of animal sounds.

Exciting pianists, who have an effective, energetic rapport. And they enjoy a comfortable, easy connection with the audience.

Wonderful program, talented musicians.

The pianists were extraordinary.

Excellent, a nice pairing of serious and fun.

We thoroughly enjoyed the concert. Adam Golka and Orion Weiss played the Brahms pieces with feeling and very good technique. Our favorite part though was Carnival of the Animals from Saint-Saëns, which was lovely and funny at the same time.
They received a standing ovation — deservedly so!!!!!

The music was wonderful, the playing masterful, the seats were great.
More than advertised — in addition was a group of musicians doing the Carnival of Animals — marvelous.

Superb musicianship throughout. The pianists are terrific, both as soloists and in the Hungarian Dances, and Mr. Weiss led a multi-talented group of players in a fresh and charming performance of Carnival of the Animals. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Fantastic concert! And I love Alice Tully Hall. Interesting program with a very funny and entertaining 2nd "act." Love 4-hand piano music.

This was an amazing performance — both Golka and Weiss are solid masters of the keyboard who brought new life and magic to the music. Brahms must have been smiling wherever he was, to hear his music so wonderfully expressed.

This was probably the best concert we ever attended. They were phenomenal — very gifted, very talented. The performance of the Animals narrated was wonderful.
This was one of the most outstanding piano performances I have ever heard, and I am an adult piano student at Juilliard. Don't walk…run to hear them if they come to your town.

The pianists were wonderful to watch and hear. They were personal and artistic.

Fabulous musicians! Very interesting program! The show was produced in a very interesting way, funny, exquisite, passionate! GREAT SHOW!

Absolutely wonderful concert. Brahms Variations really memorable.

Thank you! Amazing pianists! In perfect sync. Each piece on the program was executed with more energy as the concert went on. Thank you,  Adam. Thank you, Orion!

Great Concert! Fabulous!

Excellent! And a nice portion of humor!

A truly delightful concert — 2 marvelous pianists, interesting selection of works.

Beautiful piano concert, and it was very good.

Board of Directors — Executive Staff

Val Castronovo - Waxman

President of the Board of Directors

Marie M. Ashdown

Executive Director

Stephen De Maio †

Production Assistant

Thomas W. Ledwith, J.D., C.P.A.

Executive Vice-President

Jane L. Poole

Assistant to the Executive Director

Daniela Simic

Website Design

Mary Huntington Snyder

Director

Maestro Li Jian

Artistic Director

Ralph Miolla

Graphic Design

Christine M. Franolic

Director

John W. Freeman

Program/Publicity

James M. White

IT Manager

Holly Younger

Director

Elaine Kones

Program/Publicity Assistant

Michael Fornabaio

Banquet Chairman

Aldo A. Badini

Partner, Winston & Strawn, LLC

Corporate Counsel

Amy Eroles

Reservations Director