POTSDAM - A large gift benefiting the SUNY Potsdam Crane School of Music means that it will still be possible to fund visits and performances by Grammy-award winning artists and other talented musicians in St. Lawrence County.
A bequest of $1.6 million from the estate of N. Brock and Jane M. McElheran will help keep a visiting artist series alive at the school.
The first artist to be funded with money from the bequest is Emanuel Ax, a pianist who has won seven Grammys, this weekend.
"It adds substantial endowment funding to ensure that we will be able to bring really high-caliber, top of the realm artists here," Crane Dean Michael R. Sitton said. "To bring a solo pianist of his caliber to an all-Steinway school is exciting and to have him interact with our great piano students is a wonderful thing."
The McElheran Visiting Artist Series was established in 1986 by a 1956 SUNY Potsdam alumna in honor of the couple, both of whom worked at the college for decades. That fund has been depleted. The performance by Mr. Ax is the first time the money left by the McElherans has been used to pay to bring artists to the campus.
Mr. McElheran was a conductor at Crane for four decades, starting as Helen M. Hosmer's guest conductor in 1947. His wife was a children's librarian at the former Congdon Campus School. They died in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
Mr. McElheran started the school on its path to become an all-Steinway school in 2003 with a gift of a concert grand piano in honor of his wife. The piano is still in Hosmer Hall and is affectionately known as "Janie," after Mrs. McElheran, according to Mr. Sitton. Crane completed the mission in 2007, with the purchase of 142 Steinway pianos.
"It's especially exciting to have a piano on this occasion," Mr. Sitton said, noting the donated piano. "As a pianist, I would say Emanuel Ax is one of the names that I grew up with. He was one of the very prominent pianists that I grew up with."
Mr. Ax will perform a selection of pieces by Franz Schubert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Hosmer Hall. Mr. Sitton will give a talk about Schubert at 6:30 p.m.
The McElheran's gift will also endow a string scholarship and funds for the Crane Symphony Orchestra. Funds were also given to the music school for discretionary use. Specific amounts were unavailable.
"Janie and Brock really already are part of the legacy of the Crane School and are very much a presence, even in their passing," Mr. Sitton said. "It will allow us to meet many other needs at a time when budgets are challenging. It's very helpful to have this kind of funding that we rely on for so many things."