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Warner Henry, donor who helped to build L.A.’s classical music scene, dies

Philanthropist Warner Henry
Philanthropist Warner Henry supported numerous arts organizations, including the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera, the Colburn School, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Camerata Pacifica and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
(Mike Mancillas/LACO)

Warner Henry, a philanthropist who with his wife, Carol, championed classical music in L.A., died Saturday at 82 of natural causes.

A central figure in the rise of classical music in the city, Henry supported numerous arts organizations including the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera, the Colburn School, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Camerata Pacifica and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Henrys were key donors to LACO for more than 40 years, giving more than $3 million to the ensemble. They gave more than $10 million to L.A. Opera, helping to pioneer the company created in 1986.

“It is simply impossible to think of classical music in Los Angeles without thinking of Warner Henry,” wrote Adrian Spence, the artistic director of the roving chamber music group Camerata Pacifica, in a statement. “Warner and his wife, Carol, have been pillars of support for music across the city.”

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Born in Los Angeles in 1938, Henry discovered a love for classical music as an undergraduate studying economics at Stanford. After a brief stint in the Navy, he returned to Stanford to get an MBA.

He met Carol, who also graduated from Stanford, after returning to L.A. to work for his father’s roofing product manufacturing company. In the 1980s, he founded the Henry Wine Group, an importer, distributor and broker.

Henry was passionate about classical music — particularly Baroque — and was an avid concertgoer, attending multiple shows a week. He and his wife opened their Pasadena home for fundraisers and gatherings for the arts, and in 2002 they hosted a Polish pianist competing in the first Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition and Festival in Pasadena.

Philanthropists Carol and Warner Henry attend a Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra event in 2019.
Philanthropists Carol and Warner Henry attend a Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra event in 2019.
(Ben Gibbs)
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The philanthropist began his relationship with LACO in the early 1970s. LACO concertmaster Margaret Batjer called his impact on the ensemble, where he served in different roles including emeritus board member, “indelible.”

In 2017 the Henrys gave the organization $1.5 million — the largest single gift in the orchestra’s history. The gift supported the principal oboe chair, named after former LACO principal oboist Allan Vogel, who retired in 2016 after 44 years with the orchestra.

“I never tired of seeing [Warner] at the end of performances backstage,” Batjer said. “He’d smile and open his arms and with that deep voice of his say, ‘Ooh la la.’ That was always his expression when you knew you had really reached Warner.”

Following his wife’s lead, Henry joined the L.A. Opera board in 1987. He served on nearly every committee in almost every capacity including vice chairman, treasurer and managing director, the company said.

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The Henrys underwrote numerous L.A. Opera productions including “The Coronation of Poppea” in 2006, “Don Giovanni” in 2012 and “The Clemency of Titus” in 2019. Many of those productions were supported through the Carol and Warner Henry Production Fund for Mozart Operas, which was created to honor his love of the composer.

Henry served on the board of directors for Camerata Pacifica and “was instrumental in our surviving the Great Recession,” Spence wrote.

Typically arts patron leaders in L.A. are consistent with their giving: “They pick an organization, and they support it,” Batjer said.

Henry was more universal with his support. “It didn’t matter to him which organization, what mattered to him was the music being made, good quality music.”

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He is survived by his wife; children Will, Katie and Mike; and nine grandchildren.


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