How much do we pay string quartets?
October 25, 2010 by Norman Lebrecht
In the current issue of The Strad, I lift the lid on the finances of chamber music and expose a gruesome statistic: never have we had so many great string quartets surviving on less.
To find out how poor the fees have become, you’ll have to buy a copy of the magazine. But what amazes me is that this particular form of making music is flying in the face of economic truth. Money, or the lack of it, is not an incentive when it comes to playing string quartets. Here’s my take:
Two decades ago, with the chamber music circuit collapsing, quartet players came huddling for work in orchestras. Today, orchestral players form their own quartets, regardless of where they play and how little it will pay. There seems to be some primal urge at work, some connective aspiration.
I have some ideas and plenty of example, but I wonder what you make of this anomaly. I know plenty of agents who refuse to take on string quartets, saying there’s no money in it, and one in particular who only takes on quartets – for the sheer belief in it. I know plenty of young musicians who turn down $100,000 jobs in orchestras and go off into the wilds to play Intimate Letters on a wing and a prayer. Why would they do that?
All experiences and insights gratefully received.
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