Artworks by Donald Judd and Ed Ruscha decorated the house, and Frank Gehry, John Williams and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were among those at the dinner table. The guest of honor even got to ride the host’s Segway scooter.
When the Los Angeles Philharmonic sought to lure Gustavo Dudamel, it turned to its board chairman, the social-networking pioneer David Bohnett, who opened his home to the Venezuela-born conductor.
“I told Gustavo that most of us in Los Angeles come from somewhere else, and just as we choose Los Angeles, Los Angeles chooses us,” Bohnett, 55, said in an interview. “And that was how it all started.”
Los Angelinos can also thank Bohnett for persuading the now 30-year-old conductor to stay longer. After Dudamel signed on to succeed Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen in 2009 as the orchestra’s music director, Bohnett helped persuade him to extend his 5-year contract through the 2018-19 season.
For the Philharmonic’s season-opening performance on Sept. 27, Dudamel conducts an all-Gershwin program featuring pianist Herbie Hancock.
A philanthropist who made his fortune selling Geocities.com to Yahoo! Inc. in 1999 for $3.6 billion, Bohnett has become a prime booster for one of the most admired and richly funded orchestras in the U.S. He himself gives $250,000 a year to the symphony and contributed $1 million to its capital campaign.
“I had been a patron of the orchestra for many years, and with the opening of the Disney Hall in 2003, I saw this as such a significant event for the city of Los Angeles,” Bohnett said. “I thought this was an important time to step up.”
$100 Million Budget
With the help of Dudamel’s rock star-like following, the orchestra covers 65 percent of its $100 million budget through about 1 million tickets sold each season.
Bohnett developed a tight bond with Dudamel, traveling with the conductor and the orchestra to every city on their last European tour.
“David invests where he believes he can provide help,” Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s president and chief executive officer, said by phone. “He invests himself emotionally, and he’s been a partner for Gustavo.”
Beyond the orchestra, Bohnett is a board member of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to which he pledged $5 million toward its current capital campaign. He has made dozens of grants to nonprofits such as the AIDS Project Los Angeles and the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Harassed as a kid, Bohnett set up a gay and lesbian leadership-fellows program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. His more than 60 David Bohnett CyberCenters in the U.S. provide computer access for thousands at gay and lesbian centers. Since 1999, he and his David Bohnett Foundation have given more than $40 million to causes ranging from the arts to gun control.
Animals are another interest of Bohnett, who lives with two dachshunds and one cat. In Chicago, he supports animal cognitive research at Lincoln Park Zoological Society. On Long Island, New York, he writes checks for the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons Inc. This year, he donated $30,000 to Friends of Washoe, an Ellensburg, Washington-based nonprofit that advocates the well-being of chimpanzees and studies their language abilities.
“The more proof there is that animals communicate, the harder it is to treat them as badly as we do,” he said.
A graduate of the University of Southern California and University of Michigan’s MBA program, Bohnett runs his business and philanthropic pursuits from a small, pristine office in Beverly Hills, California. Bohnett still has a hand in Internet startups through his venture-capital company, Baroda Ventures.
“I’ll come in after the company has been launched but before they’ve raised money from financial entities,” he said about the firms he’s involved in, including Fab.com, a design website, and OV Guide.com. Baroda invested in the startups of LowerMyBills.com and NetZero.net.
Although Bohnett was disappointed when Yahoo shut down Geocities.com in 2009, he said the company will be regarded as an Internet trendsetter.
“I’m glad we had a role in the establishment of user-generated content as a viable format on the Internet,” he said. “This was before Amazon.com and Yahoo were on the Internet.”
(The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2011-12 season opener is on Sept. 27 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 South Grand Ave. in Los Angeles at 7 p.m. In October Dudamel will conduct programs featuring works by Berlioz and Mendelssohn and performers such as pianist Yefim Bronfman and cellist Johannes Moser. Information: http://www.laphil.com/tickets/performance-detail.cfm?id=4600)