(Bloomberg News) When hedge-fund manager Joe DiMenna was looking for a symphony to support more than a decade ago, the Orchestra of St. Luke's in New York caught his ear.
Founded in 1975 at Manhattan's Church of St. Luke in the Fields, and made up of freelancers and Juilliard School alumni, it performed at Carnegie Hall with stars such as Yo-Yo Ma and Renee Fleming. Yet it had no venue to call home and was forced to practice in basements and borrowed spaces.
After the orchestra decided to launch a capital campaign of $50 million, including $37 million for its own rehearsal hall, DiMenna and his wife, Diana, made a lead gift of $5 million in 2007. Last month, St. Luke's musicians rehearsed in their new home, the DiMenna Center for Classical Music.
"It was just a great idea proposed to us by a really sound organization that had done its work and had a plan that made sense," said Diana DiMenna as she stood next to her husband at the center. "It was about creating something that's really needed."
The orchestra acquired and renovated space in the Baryshnikov Arts Center on Manhattan's West 37th Street. It includes the 3,395-square-foot Mary Flagler Cary Hall, big enough to host recording sessions and special events, and the 1,600-square-foot Norman S. Benzaquen Hall, named after the orchestra's board chairman. There are also two practice rooms and a learning and media studio.
"We often say about the Dimennas' gift that it was catalytic," Katy Clark, the orchestra's president and executive director, said in an interview. "Not only was it a gift of enormous generosity, but they are incredibly intelligent philanthropists."
A championship chess player in his teens, DiMenna made his fortune as a portfolio manager specializing in long/short investing strategies. He ranked 13th on Alpha Magazine's list of top-paid hedge-fund managers in 2007, with an estimated $450 million in annual compensation.
The center gives the DiMennas, who also support Jazz at Lincoln Center, the New York Historical Society and the Robin Hood Foundation, an even larger profile on New York's cultural scene. Their name appears on the marquee outside the Baryshnikov Center.
"We split our board commitments so that one of us isn't too overcommitted," said Diana DiMenna. "We're a package deal."
Born in Bridgeport and raised in Trumbull, Conn., DiMenna said, "Music was always playing in my household, and I started taking music lessons in the first grade."