Donald MacDonald CBE and Louise MacDonald
For Donald and Louise MacDonald, philanthropy springs from a genuine passion and fascination with the arts and most especially music. It is one thing, for instance, to support an arts organisation, but it is quite another to drive the creation of an entire music festival on your own doorstep, as they have done.
One of Scotland's leading businessmen, Donald was a corporate financier with 3i before co-founding MacDonald Orr where, with his business partner, he founded a number of businesses including the City Inn chain. Throughout his career, both he and his wife Louise have been dedicated supporters of Scottish arts and culture. In the 1970s they helped to save Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh and they have longstanding connections with the Edinburgh International Festival, Donald having been on the Board for 12 years.
“The notion, really, is to help create something that otherwise might not happen,” MacDonald says.
“Music is my great passion and hobby and has been since I started playing the fiddle when I was eleven.”
The MacDonalds' strongest attachment is with the famous Scottish Chamber Orchestra, whose chairman Donald has been since 1985. In the last ten years alone, they have provided very substantial financial support. It is a long and fruitful partnership built on a warm relationship between the MacDonalds and SCO's managing director Roy McEwan.
“In British terms they're ahead of their time,” McEwan says. “They don't look for social kudos out of philanthropy in the way that many people do. There's an absolute natural sense of engagement with the end result. Having the experience of working with Donald has made it easier for us to develop
relationships with other people that he has drawn into our circle.”
The MacDonalds' engagement with SCO is built on a shared love of music. Donald in particular has an encyclopaedic knowledge of classical music, an enormous record collection, and what McEwan describes as “real critical faculties”. He owns and loans to outstanding violinists a Stradivarius and
can discourse with some authority on the history and rarity of the Rolls Royce of violins. He even commissioned Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies to write a piece for the SCO, The MacDonald Dances.
As well as providing their own money, the couple campaign tirelessly to encourage others to give. It was Donald's direct influence, for example, that secured the Bank of Scotland as a sponsor for the SCO's regular Edinburgh Festival Firework Concert when the previous sponsor pulled out.
Eight years ago the couple funded the SCO to perform a small series of chamber concerts in the East Neuk of Fife. This annual event has quickly grown into a fully fledged independent chamber music festival, already the winner of a Royal Philharmonic Society Award.
“We have a house there,” Donald explains, “and midsummer 2001 I was getting withdrawal symptoms from not having any music! So, for the following four years SCO put on a mini series of three concerts, then Svend Brown, the artistic director, and I sat down after dinner one night with a white sheet of paper and a bottle of wine and said, "let's develop this into an interesting festival.”
Since 2004, the MacDonalds have committed a six-figure sum to the festival, which has had a big effect on the community with audiences made up of around half locals and half visitors.
“They are knowledgeable, appreciative, supportive and wise in ways that few can match,” says Svend Brown. “Without their personal action the Festival would not exist – and it is the combined enthusiasm and qualities of both Donald and Louise that are so special.”
The Philanthropy Medal judges paid tribute to the couple's passion for the arts, their articulacy and their consistent support of Scottish culture. “The SCO would not be what it is today without them,” says Arts & Business Chief Executive Colin Tweedy. “Under their support it has been lifted to another level.”
McEwan agrees. “Donald is a bit of a one off,” he says. “We're trying to hang on to him, although he's seventy and he thinks he ought to give up. I'm hoping he'll stay at least until I retire.”