Like many people, John and Margaret Wilbur first heard about Chautauqua Institution through word of mouth.
“We came and we started to figure out what it really was,” John Wilbur said, “just like everybody else who has some sort of brief description that never is quite adequate to what the whole place is about.”
One of the many facets of the Institution they discovered and grew to love was the Chautauqua Chamber Music Series. They began to look forward to the performances every season, and their years of enjoyment led them to underwrite a show in the series for the 2018 season.
They were especially motivated to sponsor a performance when they heard the series might have been discontinued following the passing of its former namesake patron, Kay Logan.
The Wilburs’ donation is underwriting the performance of guest artist Nicholas Phan at 4 p.m. Monday, July 23, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. Phan has performed with San Francisco Symphony, Toronto Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The Wilburs’ interest in music goes back to their early adulthood. They enjoy many genres of music, including classical music, jazz and rock.
“My mother was very musical,” Margaret Wilbur said.
Growing up, her mother was a music teacher and played many instruments. Yet Margaret Wilbur was not very interested in music as a child.
“I had never heard an orchestra play until I was in college,” she said. “The first time I heard the orchestra was in Cleveland when I was in college. And, of course, we went to a lot of rock concerts in the ’70s.”
John Wilbur also discovered classical music in college.
“I got introduced to classical music mostly when I went to school at Case (Western University),” he said.
As a native of Cleveland, Ohio, he also enjoyed the Cleveland Orchestra, which he said ranks as one of the best orchestras in the world.
Although the music programs at the Institution stand out to the Wilburs, they also explore a variety of events — from lectures to the swan races during the CHQ Olympics. Their philanthropic investment expands beyond the Chautauqua Chamber Music Series, as they also have created a garden endowment in memory of John Wilbur’s mother.
Some of the couple’s most cherished memories at the Institution are the times spent with their families. For them, endowing a garden represents that the Institution is a gathering place for their family.
“Everybody does gather here at least once a year,” John Wilbur said. “That’s why we made the memorial gift. … As (our family) keeps coming and their children come, it becomes part of the family, and the family has a relationship to the space.”