Worldwide reviews for a worldwide audience
His Foundation has spent over $150 million to bring opera to a wider audience, and that's just for starters as he works day and night to make his dream of "Opera in English" a standard with the opera listening public
A look at what makes this philanthropist extraordinaire give and why his Foundation says: Don't call us; we'll find you!
E x c l u s i v e
By: Paul Joseph Walkowski
A notice posted on the opening page to the Peter Moores Foundation (PMF) website directs grant applicants to look elsewhere for financial support, because the “Foundation supports projects which come to the attention of its Patron, or Trustees, through their interests and special knowledge.”
If you submit a grant application to the Foundation regardless of the above advisory, don’t expect an invitation to submit your proposal any time soon, because “general applications for grants are not encouraged and are unlikely to succeed.” Believe it!
This approach might seem, at first blush, an odd way for a registered charity to promote itself; after all, aren’t charities supposed to be accessible? The answer, of course, is yes!
To understand the paradox, you need to know something about the founder, because so far as this Foundation is concerned, when PMF distributes its funds – and make no mistake about it – it has distributed generously since its founding in 1964, it is going to be Sir Peter’s way.
And why not? The Peter Moores Foundation was established and seeded by its namesake almost forty-one years ago from half his share of the family’s fairly considerable wealth. To date it has given away over $150 million dollars (£ 93 million, British) to support mainly opera and the visual arts. But even before the Foundation was set up, as Sir Peter explains, his passion for philanthropy played an important part of his life. By age 22 he was providing scholarships to advance the careers of young singers. ”I started in 1954 when I helped young singers whom I thought were promising. I helped Joan Sutherland before she was famous. I helped Colin Davis, the conductor, and I helped a lot of singers who didn’t become famous.”
His affinity for the vocal arts began when, as a young boy of seven, and probably even before then, he began listening to a collection of operas on records stashed in the family cupboard. What he heard left a lasting impression, for he’s been listening to and supporting opera ever since.
In those days, 1939, he explains, there wasn’t much else to do. “It was very different then,” he recalls of his early years. “The war started when I was seven and therefore everyone was doing something else. There was a local electric train that took you to a smaller town or Liverpool where you could watch the local cinema. And that was about all you got by way of culture.”
To understand Peter Moores’ philanthropic drive, it might be instructive to look back to that period of his life and observe what interested him then, and how he reacted whenever he discovered something new that he liked. If you understand this, you will understand what motivates him to give the way he does today – and has given over the past forty-plus years.
“I was always keen on telling people about things that I had discovered for myself and sharing them with other people, because a lot of people don’t like going to [theater or museums] or they don’t go because they feel they won’t know and might be laughed at. So, if you find something that is worthwhile, you tell other people so they can go there themselves and see for themselves, the opera and the museums. Stand if you can’t afford to sit, but go.”
The above is a theme that repeats itself throughout our forty minute interview. It holds the key to understanding how the Peter Moores Foundation operates.
A desire to share what he found
I was always keen on telling people about things I had discovered for myself and sharing them with other people.
Lest one thinks Peter Moores was born with a proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, or that he always had millions to dole out, the fact is he was not born of wealth. His father was a businessman – a very successful businessman, to be sure, who founded Littlewoods, a football pool betting company, mail order catalogue and chain store empire. The point is, he worked for a living. “He had three businesses, one right after the other,” Sir Peter says. Indeed, the latter two, were directly attributable to what his father learned when he traveled to America to attend the world cup, of which he was obviously a big fan. As a matter of fact, it was his father’s strong work ethic, instilled by his mother, that helped shaped Peter Moores’ values today.
He explains: “My grandmother was left a widow when she still had children in school. She didn’t have any money. So she bought a ‘fish-n-chips’ shop and brought her eight children up on ‘fish-n-chips’ “. Sir Peter’s father was one of those children. “So although my father made money, the memory of that upbringing was still heavy on the family.”
Still, he says, “whether you had money or not,” the war had an effect on the local economy, “you couldn’t get anything with it [money]. There was rationing then – food rationing, clothing rationing – and so on. So I was lucky to have gotten a very modest childhood. It was what we call a blue collar family.”
He pauses for a moment in the interview then adds with humor. “My family is deeply mortified that that kind of a skeleton has come out of the closet, but there it is.”
Of his early childhood, besides the effect of his father’s record collection, he remembers seeing the opera Faust, and thinking to himself, “this is good”. He emphasizes the latter point.
By nine or ten he was sent off to a boarding school. He says he didn’t quite understand why boarding school; but because that’s what his parents wanted for their son, that’s where he went. There was one disappointment, he recalls: “when you’re in boarding school, you don’t get any music.”
The years passed uneventfully, and when he was old enough, he attended college at Eton where he studied languages and maths. Eton was a good choice, he remembers, because it also had an active choir which he joined and “a big record collection that I could follow myself.” It was at Eton, he says, that the realization that his family was really wealthy sunk in. “When I went to Eton,” he remembers, “things changed by about five classes. I suddenly went very upper class.” Something else changed, he recalls, mimicking a long-abandoned accent. “When you go to Eton you get your regional accent kicked out of you.”
From a blue collar background
Sir Peter at a Chandos Opera in English recording session with soprano Mary Plazas (Liu on the Turandot recording, Micaela on Carmen and many others)
An interest in busness, but a love for philanthropy
His bio tells us that after college, 1957, he joined his father’s business and rose to Chairman where he served until 1988 before leaving to serve as a director until 1993. But he didn’t just work at the family business. At a time when he could have taken his share of the family wealth, retired and led a quiet, comfortable, life, he put half his money into his new found Foundation and worked in corporate finance at the Merchant’s Bank for twenty-five years, using the Foundation’s wealth to support projects and individual artists he discovered. Yes, there were tax advantages to arranging his finances as he did, and he doesn’t suggest this wasn’t a consideration; but for him, money was and is a means to an end, not the end itself. So he worked, and gave his money to causes that interested him. He did it in 1964; he is doing it today. “You don’t work full-time persuading people to do opera recordings,” he says of his part-time avocation, “you just jump up and scream once every three months.”
It was this jumping up and screaming every few months that earned him the honors he accumulated over the years, and they are many: Trustee of the Tate Gallery, governor of the BBC, director of Scottish Opera, a recipient of the Gold Medal of the Italian Republic, an Honorary Member of the Royal Northern College of Music, an Honorary MA of Christ Church, Oxford, and then even more honors. In 1991 he was made a Commander of the British Empire. In 1992 he was bestowed the title of Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire, and in 2003 Her Majesty the Queen Knighted him for his philanthropic work. And when his Foundation purchased a run-down 18th century mansion in Warwickshire in 1993, renovated it and then reopened it as a museum in March of 2004 -- Compton Verney House -- none other than the Prince of Wales came by to cut the proverbial ribbon and wish him luck.
Sir Peter Moores
The EMI connection, the Chandos Days
But before the honors were bestowed, there was the Foundation’s and his work – hard work. One of his most memorable recollections about music dates back to the mid-sixties and involved convincing a reluctant EMI recording label to produce and issue Reginald Goodall’s, “The Ring” cycle live at London’s Coliseum. His strategy was simple: “Start at the top,” and find a suitable recording company to take on the massive project. The top in those days was EMI. Unfortunately, the company’s response could be summed up in two words: “Bugger off!” But that didn’t deter him, he says. He had been a fan of EMI since he was a young boy. “I suppose it was because they had a book about their opera recordings that I was reading when I was twelve. That was the bible, and I wanted to get Goodall’s Ring into it.”
Well, he succeeded eventually in convincing EMI to commit to the full Ring Cycle but only after some good natured cajoling and a visit to Lord Harewood. “Reginald Goodall was a funny sort of little man who did absolutely fantastic Wagner,” Sir Peter recalls. “It was very much slower than anyone else’s but it was still absolutely wonderful."
A FILM ON THE WAY
As part of its commitment to reaching new opera audiences through performances in English, the Foundation announced in September of 2004 that it is financing a filmed version of Mozart's "The Magic Flute".
The film wwas conceived and directed by Kenneth Branagh, with James Conlon as its musical director, conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. The idea for the film was proposed by Sir Peter Moores. "In Kenneth Branagh," Sir Peter said, "we have found the ideal director and I am delighted that he has agreed to bring his great talent to the development."