Alberto Vilar Is Music Philanthropist
Jan. 28, 2002
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NEW YORK (AP) _ Internet stock guru Alberto Vilar is the world's biggest music philanthropist and he owes that title to his father _ sort of.
Vilar has given away more than $200 million to some of the best in the business: the Metropolitan Opera in New York; the Kennedy Center in Washington; the Kirov in St. Petersburg, Russia; the Berlin Philharmonic; Covent Garden in London, and so on.
But those groups really owe their bigger budgets to Vilar's father, who wouldn't let his son study music when he was a boy in Cuba. Instead, the son went on to make a fortune in business.
``My father was a macho Cuban father. And he said, no son of mine is going to study the violin,'' says Vilar.
Now, four decades after he arrived in the United States as a college student, he presides over Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc., a company that invests in emerging Internet and biotechnology firms.
The 61-year-old Cuban-American is today's high-tech version of the Vanderbilts and Astors, whose philanthropy once dominated New York's genteel high-society era.
Vilar's favorite beneficiaries tend to be the world's top opera companies, and he's friends with singers and conductors who dominate that field. But he also has pledged more than $150 million to medical research and music education.
``A major purpose of philanthropy is to generate giving in others,'' he says.
On the Forbes list of the country's richest 400 people, Vilar ranks No. 236, with a fortune estimated at $1 billion.
The Metropolitan Opera has reaped more than $40 million of his money, staging major productions with his millions.
His friendship with tenor Placido Domingo was followed with a $50 million gift to the Kennedy Center in Washington, where Domingo is artistic director of the opera company. And $14 million from Vilar went to the Los Angeles Opera, where Domingo also is artistic head.
In Beaver Creek, Colo., where Vilar skis and owns three homes, he spent $10 million building the new Vilar Center for the Arts. He was involved in every detail _ including the number of women's restrooms.
``As a man tired of waiting for his date,'' he jokes, he had noticed the long lines at intermissions and insisted on building plenty of facilities.
It took a lifetime to be able to call the shots both in business and music.
Raised in Cuba until age 10, he was a shy boy mesmerized by the sound of the violin. His father, a sugar plantation executive who went bankrupt, refused to let him study music, considering it impractical.
His parents divorced and Vilar moved in with his grandmother in Puerto Rico. The boy would spend hours alone in his room listening to recordings of classical masterpieces, conducting for himself.
That infatuation persists. Vilar spends about 100 evenings a year attending opera performances around the world, including many in his regular first-row seat at the Metropolitan Opera house.
He has bankrolled an innovation at the Met _ the electronic ``titles'' that scroll subtly across the backs of the seats, giving listeners translations of foreign lyrics being sung. To do that, Vilar simply bought the failing company that produced the technology. He also financed multilingual ``titles'' for the Vienna State Opera and Britain's Royal Opera House.
His company's profits have helped support the Bayreuth Festival productions of Richard Wagner's operas in Germany, the La Scala opera house in Milan, and the festival in Salzburg, where Vilar has a home.
Vilar won his fortune by investing in upstart companies like Microsoft, AOL, eBay, Cisco and Oracle in the 1980s and '90s. Lured by the risky, new technologies, he started Amerindo.
Last year, when Internet stocks went soft, the company's performance slid by about 50 percent, as did many high-tech stocks. Vilar remained bullish, plunging into cutting-edge companies that help businesses transact with other businesses on the Web _ and pushing Amerindo's returns back up by 30 percent this year.
Even if he stopped giving tomorrow, Vilar has contributed enough to the world's arts to have earned the epitaph he would choose for himself, when the time comes: ``He was very generous.''
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