Roll Over Beethoven: Anonymous donor gives $56M to Minnesota Public Radio for classical music

It is the largest gift ever received by MPR in its 55-year history. To put it in perspective, MPR’s fiscal year 2021 total operating budget was a little more than $101 million.

Minnesota Public Radio classical music host Lynne Warfel during a broadcast in a studio at the MPR building in downtown St. Paul on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL -- Someone out there really likes classical music.

An anonymous donor has given a $56 million cash gift to Minnesota Public Radio to be used exclusively to serve the station’s YourClassical audiences and to provide tech support for bringing programming to a wider audience through current and future platforms.

It is the largest gift ever received by MPR in its 55-year history. To put it in perspective, MPR’s fiscal year 2021 total operating budget was a little more than $101 million.

What was the initial reaction from officials upon hearing the news?

“Is it printable?” asked Duchesne Drew, president of MPR and senior vice president of MPR’s parent company American Public Media Group, with a laugh.


“I was stunned, really stunned by the incredible generosity and the faith somebody has in our team and our mission,” said Jean Taylor, president and CEO of APMG. “It took a little while to let it absorb. This is an incredible gift. It’s stunning.”

From left. American Public Media Group Senior Vice President Liwanag Ojala, President and CEO Jean Taylor and Senior Vice President Duchesne Drew at Minnesota Public Radio in downtown St. Paul on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

Taylor also said it would have a “transformative impact” on the future of YourClassical, which is billed as a “collection of curated classical music listening experiences and information.”

MPR officials declined to reveal anything about the donor’s identity.

The money is endowed at the request of the donor, Taylor said, and the board’s policy is to draw 5%, $2.8 million, of it annually. The first fruits will be used in the next fiscal year beginning July 1. With this gift included, the total endowment across APMG is $294 million, according to Drew.

“The beautiful thing about an endowment is it’s a long game,” Taylor said. “The money is here forever, so we don’t have to quickly decide or do anything. The money will continue to come and it can help us dream about the future. It can help us ride out difficulties that might occur. That’s really great.”

YourClassical provides programming for MPR’s classical station and is also distributed nationally. “This signal that comes out of this building goes to 420 stations across the country,” Drew said. “We’re the largest distributor of classical music in the nation.”

“We really believe in classical music here,” Taylor said. “That’s how Minnesota Public Radio started, as a classical station. We want classical music to continue to flourish. We believe it’s incredibly inspiring, we believe it’s incredibly powerful and we want that for a broader audience and we want that for a younger audience.”

YourClassical now reaches nearly 2.75 million listeners every week, according to MPR officials. Its nationally syndicated programs include “Pipedreams,” “Performance Today,” “SymphonyCast” and “Composers Datebook.”


More than 25% of the music played at YourClassical features a musician, ensemble or composer who is a woman and/or a Black person, Indigenous person or person of color, according to Drew.

Minnesota Public Radio classical music host Lynne Warfel.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

“I consider the 25% a good start,” said Liwanag Ojala, APMG’s senior vice president and chief transformation officer. “We want to be very deliberate about exposing more music from composers, musicians and ensembles who have not historically been represented well in classical music.”

Exposure to classical music often isn’t common among people of color, Drew said, and this gift fuels the station’s ability to open that world up to a wider, more diverse audience.

In addition, he said, “it gives us a margin, a cushion, to do new things — big things — and to do things a lot sooner and a lot more ambitiously than we would just working with the annual budget. This is game-changing. It allows us to level up faster than we could have imagined.”

In 2015, MPR and APMG received their previously largest gift of $10 million from a longtime supporter of the company “who was passionate about classical music and music education,” MPR officials said. The gift, one of the largest any public radio station had received at the time, was given without restrictions. The money was used to fund technology to enable digital growth and audience integration, as well as classical music programming, music in schools and marketing, according to MPR.


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