New Haven Symphony Orchestra Receives Largest Gift in 128-Year History

Wednesday • June 15, 2022

The New Haven Symphony Orchestra (NHSO) has received the largest gift in its history from the estate of James D. English, whose family helped found the Symphony 128 years ago. The announcement about this remarkable donation was made on Wednesday, June 15 at a press conference held at Neighborhood Music School in New Haven.

The gift, which also benefits the New Haven Museum, Neighborhood Music School, and Clifford Beers Community Care Center, has been established as a fund at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven; the Symphony’s portion of that gift will amount to approximately $14 million. James’s gift to the Symphony follows one decade after the landmark donation left by his brother, the late Richard L. English.

James D. English
Image courtesy of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

Born in New Haven in 1932, James Dana English was the son of Philip English and Katharine Dana English, an accomplished cellist for the NHSO and a prominent leader at Neighborhood Music School in New Haven. James was descended from noted Yale scientist James Dwight Dana on his mother’s side and two Connecticut governors on his father’s side. His grandfather, Henry English, was one of the founders of the NHSO in 1894. As a young boy, English began attending NHSO concerts with his mother and his brother, Richard. James’s love of classical music and the New Haven Symphony continued throughout his life; in recent years he still attended concerts and was particularly fond of the Symphony’s free summer events on the New Haven Green.

NHSO CEO Elaine C. Carroll said, “The English family exercised exceptional humility in the way they established their gifts for the Symphony. James did not seek attention for his generosity but quietly showed his support and love for music through annual gifts and attending concerts. He never shared the details of his final gift with the Symphony nor asked for any recognition in return.”

NHSO Board President Keith B. Churchwell, MD said, “In conversation and collaboration with New Haven residents and community leaders, the Symphony has been on a transformative path for several years. Not only have we taken the City’s pledge to be an anti-racist organization, we have opened the door to dialogue about how to use the Symphony’s gifts to benefit this entire city. This shift can be witnessed both onstage and behind-the-scenes, through all levels of the organization.” Through continued conversation and feedback, the NHSO will broaden this necessary dialogue to ensure that this gift flows back into the community. Dr. Churchwell continued, “This incredible gift from James English enables the continuation of this work and will propel us even farther down this road to being an artistic force for a more just and inclusive cultural landscape here in New Haven.”

As a starting point, the Symphony will invest in its artistic workforce and the Harmony Fellowship program, specifically towards the creation of a Cultural Advocacy Fellowship. The NHSO’s Harmony Fellowships provide opportunities across the musical, administrative, and board levels for traditionally underrepresented groups in the classical music industry. The Harmony Fellowship program launched in 2017 with the orchestra’s flagship Fellowship for Underrepresented Musicians and has grown to include Fellowships for Conductors, Administrators, and Board Directors. (To learn more about the Harmony Fellowship programs, visit

Elaine Carroll said, “Not only will this new Cultural Advocacy Fellowship support and engage a new generation of non-profit and cultural leaders, it will also help facilitate artistic projects between the Symphony and artists and organizations across New Haven. We have begun conversations around this gift and the Fellowship in dialogue with local universities and the City of New Haven Cultural Equity Team, and we also want to hear from our New Haven neighbors. We hope that this shared resource will drive greater collaboration and the creation of music that lifts all voices.”

New Haven Public School teacher Dr. Jonathan Berryman, who sits on the NHSO Board of Directors and serves as the Chair of the Education Committee, adds that, “The English family’s generosity is an incredible investment in humanity as music often times can articulate what our words cannot, giving voice to the marginalized parts of our own existence, even as it repairs and restores the parts of us that we were unaware needed fixing.”

About the New Haven Symphony Orchestra

The fourth-oldest orchestra in America, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s exceptional and accessible performances and education programs reach more than 40,000 audience members and 20,000 students in a typical year. The NHSO presents more than 200 concerts and education events annually in neighborhoods, schools, and concerts venues across New Haven and Southern Connecticut.

Following a decade of awards and grants for innovative programming, the NHSO continues its dedication to the commission of new works, inspiring deeper audience engagement and meaningful artistic and educational collaborations.

Through the nationally-acclaimed Harmony Fellowship program, as well as numerous award-winning education and community engagement programs, the Symphony strives to be a leader for racial equity in the arts. To learn more about the NHSO, visit

About The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven is a philanthropic institution that was established in 1928 as the community’s permanent charitable endowment. For more than three generations, thousands of donors have built our community endowment by establishing permanent funds or making gifts to existing funds that distribute grants to a broad variety of issues and organizations. These donors, past and present, make their gifts to ensure that programs and causes that matter most to them will be supported today and forever.  Their mission is to inspire, support, inform, listen to, and collaborate with the people and organizations of Greater New Haven to build an ever more connected, inclusive, equitable and philanthropic community.

Community Foundation for Greater New Haven Executive Director Will Ginsberg says, “In the three hundred plus years of their residency in New Haven, the English family’s legacy includes the establishment and upkeep of public parks, political office holders including an abolitionist Governor, and a vast web of connections with historical Connecticut legacies. Their philanthropic contributions to the city cannot be overstated and their legacy will continue through their generous contributions.”

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