Mercedes Bass, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s ‘biggest fan,’ details $5 million gift

Written by Fort Worth Report

by Marcheta Fornoff, Fort Worth Report
April 30, 2024

Mercedes T. Bass’ official title with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra is board chair. Unofficially, she is also the orchestra’s biggest fan.

The philanthropist recently donated $5 million — to be allocated over the next five years — to the nonprofit in honor of her 80th birthday. As part of her donation, Bass created the Campaign for Artistic Excellence Matching Gift Program in an effort to encourage others to support the symphony.

“It wasn’t a question of if I would do it or I wouldn’t do it — I had to do it,” Bass said in an interview with the Fort Worth Report. “And I loved doing it.”

As a Fort Worth resident and lifelong lover of music, Bass said she hopes the gift will encourage others to recognize the value of having a world-class symphony — and invest in it.

“You really claim something once you pay for it. If you get it for free, it’s not the same, but when you give a $100 you feel you own part of that item,” she continued. “That is why I am really, truly hoping that the business community and the other communities will come through and support the symphony at the highest level of their capacity.” 

The gift has already inspired others to give or increase their donations, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s President and CEO Keith Cerny reported.

“Her extraordinary generosity,” he said, “what it really does is help show the community the depth of support for the orchestra and allow people to then be part of its future success.”During the COVID-19 pandemic, when in-person performances were temporarily shut down, the orchestra had the ability to pay its staff without cutting positions or salaries. This was possible, Cerny said, through the generosity of the Paycheck Protection Program, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant and private donations, including funds from Bass.

“This is Robert Spano’s second year as music director, and the orchestra is sounding better than ever,” Cerny said. “The timing of this match is also very important because we’re really thrilled with how the orchestra is functioning artistically, and this will allow us then to continue to work to pull out of some of the challenges in the post-COVID period.”

The investment is deeply appreciated by the members of the orchestra, Seth McConnell, chair of the players committee and principal timpani, said.

“Speaking for the entire assembly, we are incredibly grateful to Mrs. Bass for her unwavering support throughout all of these years. But then to go above and beyond her yearly donation with this gift, it’s enormous,” he said. “It comes at a really good time for us. And the fact that it is a matching gift as well, sets it on a whole other course. The trajectory is exponential.”
The player’s assembly contributed its own $10,000 donation to the orchestra in celebration of Bass’ birthday and as a show of gratitude.

For Tim Daniels, who plays the English horn and serves as the section oboe chair in the symphony, the support means a lot.

“It’s transformative for us,” he said. “It’s such a testament to her dedication to us.”

He recalled a recent performance of Wagner that underscored her enthusiasm where Bass attended not just the Friday concert but the Saturday and Sunday concerts as well.

“To have someone who’s in a leadership role with the organization as the board chairperson, but also someone who really seems to be like the Fort Worth Symphony’s biggest fan, I think is really cool,” Daniels said. “And it’s indicative of just how much she believes in our organization.” 

In Bass’ view, a great symphony is a hallmark of a great city, and music itself is essential to life.

Music “is the most fulfilling form of art that you can possibly enjoy and be involved with,” she said. “We die with it. We are born with it. We marry with it. We mourn with it. When you really think about how much we use music for occasions of our lives … I think it’s an essential commodity in everybody’s life. I couldn’t live without it.” 

Marcheta Fornoff covers arts and culture for the Fort Worth Report. Reach her at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license. publishes every week.
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