A Letter from Lydia Kontos
It is with joy and excitement – and a touch of the bittersweet – that I announce my plan to retire as Executive Director of Kaufman Music Center in September 2018.
I joined the staff of Kaufman Music Center (then called The Hebrew Arts School for Music and Dance) in January 1979, and officially became Executive Director on January 1, 1986, upon the retirement of the visionary founder, Dr. Tzipora Jochsberger. Nearly 40 years later, I still feel boundless energy and excitement each and every day at the Center, and want very much to end my tenure here on a high note, and at a time when I might be able to continue to serve in a useful and appropriate advisory capacity.
I am proud of what has been accomplished during my tenure as Executive Director, and especially glad to be leaving a creative, nimble and thriving organization for my successor.
There are so many people who have been key in Kaufman Music Center’s evolution, and at this juncture, I want to cite the four “legs” on which we stand firmly today.
My first contact with the then-Hebrew Arts School was crossing the threshold of the Abraham Goodman House. The Goodman House, built in the 1970s, when New York City’s finances were so precarious that very little construction was happening, has become an architectural icon. Dr. Abraham Goodman gave the funds to build the Goodman House, which brought to New York City the incredibly glorious concert hall that is still considered one of the best spaces in New York to experience live music.
We could call that the first, and most concrete, leg on which we stand now. Funding the operation of a building became a financial balancing act made much easier by the continuity of support, both financial and in terms of leadership, that came with Leonard Goodman’s involvement. He is one of three sons of Dr. Abraham Goodman, and he chose to use his resources to serve as Chairman of the Board and to enhance the building. In fact, many people at Special Music School are unaware that a gift from the Goodman Family funded the initial renovations on the second and third floors, which made the opening of Special Music School possible. Leonard Goodman continues today on the Board as Honorary Chair. And to continue the story of the Goodman leg, Leonard’s daughter Joyce Goodman hired me in 1979, when she was running the newly-opened concert hall!
In 1981, Ursula and Hermann Merkin made a generous gift to name Merkin Concert Hall. Their gift facilitated the construction of a proper entrance to the hall and a suitably-sized box office. The hall was already quite prominent on the cultural landscape, but having a separate name helped to connect audiences with the unique space.
We humans do very well on two legs, but an institution must have at least four!
In 1985, we were precariously perched on those two legs. We were grateful when, in 1991, Elaine and Henry Kaufman, and the Henry & Lucy Moses Fund teamed up to give gifts that transformed the financial fate of the Center just as the Goodman House transformed The Hebrew Arts School into a fixture of the cultural scene in New York. With those gifts, we had working capital and the beginning of an endowment, and we were able to confidently march along the path we are on today, as the definitive center for pre-college music education, and as the place where music meets the perfect stage.
I have worked hard and lovingly to accomplish what was needed to help fill the gaps in music education opportunities for young people, talented and recreational alike. And as our population ages, we are proud to see so many adults joining our student body, pre- or post-retirement, to pick up music-making skills that they never thought they could develop.
Throughout my time at Kaufman Music Center, it has been a privilege to partner with so many wonderful people in strengthening our mission. Our success would not be possible without the partnership of supporters past and present – including the vision and leadership of our Board of Trustees, led by our dynamic, dedicated Chairman Rosalind Devon and President Cathy White O’Rourke.
People ask me about my plans: I plan to connect more closely with my family, with myself and with friends who have been kind and patient throughout years of neglect. I am too scared to pick up an instrument again, but maybe with some marketing and persuasion, I could become one of those very happy post-retirement adult students!
My warmest regards,