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George Steinbrenner had generous, complex relationship with orchestra

Though Steinbrenner and the Florida Orchestra were sometimes at odds, he rarely missed a holiday children’s concert. “George would sit in the back and cry,” Ch. 13’s John Wilson said.

Times files

Though Steinbrenner and the Florida Orchestra were sometimes at odds, he rarely missed a holiday children’s concert. “George would sit in the back and cry,” Ch. 13’s John Wilson said.

As a philanthropist, George Steinbrenner III had a complex relationship with the Florida Orchestra.

He underwrote the orchestra's annual holiday concerts for at-risk children at Ruth Eckerd Hall and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. In 1995, Steinbrenner was instrumental in helping raise $3 million in a campaign that kept the orchestra alive.

But the Boss could be a demanding benefactor. In 1996, he held up fulfilling a $300,000 pledge because of a disagreement about programming.

"I keep telling them, I'm all in favor of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky," Steinbrenner said. "I love classical music. But the average American isn't that fond of it. There should be more emphasis on pops."

Steinbrenner's relationship with the orchestra never recovered, and he eventually pulled his sponsorship of the pops series.

"He loved the orchestra, but he sure didn't like them not keeping a budget balanced," said Ray Murray, chairman of the orchestra board in the 1990s. "He did have an ego, but he was a good man.''

Despite those disagreements, Steinbrenner remained a supporter of the holiday children's concerts, to the tune of about $40,000 a year. John Wilson, WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor, and his wife, singer Mary K. Wilson, emceed and performed during the concerts since they began in 1990.

"That first year, I called him, and that's when he gave me instructions,'' John Wilson said. "He said, 'I want you to show these kids what an orchestra is like and why teamwork is important. Show them how the orchestra relates to each other and get them involved in the concert. Do some carols that they know and can sing.' That's held up for all these years.''

Steinbrenner rarely missed the holiday concerts and could become quite emotional.

"George would sit in the back and cry. Over the last few years, he would tear up a lot,'' Wilson said.

George Steinbrenner had generous, complex relationship with orchestra 07/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 9:09am]
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