Classical music foundation trades Center City for Chestnut Hill

by Frank D. Quattrone
Posted 7/13/23

The Presser Foundation, which provides grants to music organizations in this region, is now one of Chestnut Hill’s newest neighbors.

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Classical music foundation trades Center City for Chestnut Hill


The Presser Foundation, which provides grants to music organizations in the Greater Philadelphia region, is now one of Chestnut Hill’s newest neighbors. The organization, which funds some of the Northwest’s most popular classical music groups, recently moved its office from Center City to 8033 Germantown Ave.

Teresa Rodgers, executive director of the foundation since 2014, said she decided to make the move during the pandemic. 

“So many nonprofits in town were not going into their offices. I was the only one in a shared office space,” she said. “Virtual committee meetings became the norm. It just wasn’t very productive or enjoyable.”

Chestnut Hill, where she’s lived for many years, seemed the right destination for a move. And then the perfect space became available for rent. 

“It’s a great part of the city; it’s easily accessible by public transportation,” she said. “Plus, so many musical organizations are based or perform in the northwestern part of the city.”

During the pandemic, when many other arts and entertainment organizations were forced to shutter their doors, The Presser Foundation continued its unique mission, issuing grants with an annual budget of $4 million, Rodgers said. Of that amount, $3.2 million stays within 75 miles of Philadelphia.

At least six regional organizations, five of which have no permanent home, have benefited from the foundation’s “position of plenty,” as Rodgers has described it. They are The Crossing, Lyric Fest, Network for New Music, Tempesta di Mare, and Piffaro, The Renaissance Band, most of which receive Advancement of Music grants. 

The sixth is the Germantown Branch of Settlement Music School. Chief executive officer Helen Eaton writes, “We are so fortunate to have received annual grants for the Advancement of Music, which support general operations for all our branches and for our community partnerships. Presser also supported the renovation to our Germantown Branch that occurred over several years and was completed seven years ago, with gifts totaling $250,000.”

Shannon Cline, executive director of Piffaro, The Renaissance Band, speaks enthusiastically about the Presser Foundation’s support. “When the pandemic shut us down at the end of April 2020, we were struggling to find financial help. But Presser came to the rescue — unsolicited! They had supported us for years with Advancement of Music grants, so now we could pay our musicians and begin working on how to present online concerts during the pandemic. They were the cavalry!”

More recently, a $15,000 Special Projects grant allowed Piffaro, among other things, to bring in acclaimed Argentinian tenor and lutenist Jonatan Alvarado to enhance its performance of “Entre dos Alamos” (“Between Two Poplars”) at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill on May 20. 

Cline says that Piffaro is “the only ensemble in North America that presents this amazing trove of South American music, which has been a great outreach to the local Latino community.” A $5,000 Capital grant has also allowed Piffaro to hire Priscilla Herreid, its new artistic director.

Jonathan Bradley, executive director of The Crossing, a professional chamber choir directed by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music, says, “Presser has been one of our biggest supporters for years, providing general operating support since 2014. And a Capital Support grant during COVID allowed us to redesign our website; so there’s now tremendous content online.”

The Crossing – which has issued 29 recordings, often addressing social, environmental, and political issues, and which has received three Grammy Awards for Best Choral Performance (2018, 2019, 2023) – also has been gifted with two separate Presser Special Project grants. 

The “Echoes” Project (2020) allowed The Crossing to purchase and develop 24 individual amplification systems for each singer, allowing them to sing together, outside, and safely socially distant, and, through in-ear looping, become a choir of more than a hundred voices.

“The Crossing Votes: 2020” was a pre-election project of four new films featuring new works by Ayanna Woods, Robert Maggio, Nicholas Cline, and David Lang. A more recent Special Projects grant from Presser has allowed The Crossing to invest in underrepresented composers. Presser’s largesse also lights the way for The Crossing’s upcoming world premiere of Ted Hearne’s “Farming” later this month in Bucks County, upstate New York, and Haarlem, in the Netherlands, as well as a concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Aug. 12.

Ulrike Shapiro, executive director of Tempesta di Mare (“storm at sea” from the Italian), says that, “without the wonderful support we have enjoyed from the Presser Foundation,” it would be hard to imagine where the acclaimed self-led Baroque orchestra and chamber ensemble would be “during each and every one of the 21 seasons we have been presenting concerts here in Philadelphia!”

Special Projects support has led to Tempesta’s first performances at the Kimmel Center, the Telemann 360˚ project and, last year, to help rebuild the orchestra after the pandemic forced a year-long hiatus, including the ability to bring online performances to its audience as it returns to full-time programming and touring.

Presser Foundation support also led to Tempesta di Mare’s joint performance of Handel’s “Messiah” with Choral Arts Philadelphia and the first-ever collaboration of Philadelphia’s three early music groups — Tempesta, Choral Arts Philadelphia, and Piffaro. 

Coincidentally, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill welcomes four groups in residence that perform there on an ongoing basis — Piffaro, The Crossing, and Tempesta, along with Pennsylvania Girlchoir.

Suzanne DuPlantis, the co-founding artistic director (with Laura Ward) of Lyric Fest, writes that the Presser Foundation “has been pivotal for Lyric Fest,” providing general operating support and special capital expenses (for a new computer, video projection and recording equipment) as well as the group’s special multi-media 20th anniversary song cycle, the “Cotton” project, featuring the fine art photography of John Dowell, Metropolitan Opera stars Denyce Graves and Justin Austin, pianist Laura Ward, poet Nikki Giovanni, and other artists.

DuPlantis says that the foundation takes a thoughtful approach in its funding of the arts, allowing groups like Lyric Fest to continue placing diversity, equity, and inclusion as a priority in their mission.

Finally, Karen DiSanto, executive director of Network for New Music, illustrates how Presser really wants to help, by expanding its traditional Capital Grants (bricks and mortar) to include funding for technology, to help musical groups continue their programming online. DiSanto calls Presser “a true partner and advocate for music and we feel truly valued and supported by them.”

The Network’s artistic director, Thomas Schuttenhelm, adds that a Presser Advancement for Music grant enabled his group to “present some truly adventurous repertoire demonstrating that contemporary music is indeed a living tradition and vibrant part of the culture of Philadelphia.”