What does it take to manage an orchestra?

What does it take to manage an orchestra?


norman lebrecht

July 18, 2010

Zarin Mehta, executive director of the New York Philharmonic, was paid $1 million last year, down from $2.6m the year before. No reflection on his efforts and achievement. The previous sum included ‘deferred compensation’ – which suggests he has been stacking up his bonuses over several years.

Apart from Deborah Borda in Los Angeles, who also runs the Hollywood Bowl, Zarin Mehta is the highest paid orchestral executive in America and, hence, the world.

A million bucks seems an awful lot of money for managing a band. What has Zarin Mehta done before? Managed another band in Montreal and the festival in Ravinia. Before that, he was an accountant.

In the August issue of The Strad magazine, out now, I discuss the skill sets required to run an orchestra and wonder why more musicians don’t step up to the plate. It’s a well-paid job with a good pension plan and it brings in many times what most players, who study for years to perfect their craft, can dream of earning. Rocket science, it ain’t. Job security is great: very few orchestral managers ever get the sack. I know some who cling to the job for 25 years and more, never taking a risk or venturing an original idea.  

So why aren’t there more candidates for the role? And why aren’t Philharmonic musicians telling their board that when Mr Mehta, 72, hangs up his abacus, the next boss should be picked from the strings?

Read more in The Strad.


  • Ulysses says:

    The question in the last paragraph sets the pulse racing as the image of a “tutti-Schwein” trading in his or her Eudoxas for a management role of an orchestra is enough to make anyone slim down to avoid cardiac arrest. Many musicians have an uncanny ability to articulate the problems of the music business with the clarity of a Gould recording, but all this vitriol and great advice has obviously not led to much of an improvement in music management, so I would suggest that the last place one would look for a good manager is at the back of the seconds. (That is where you look for the odd conductor).

  • BBKing says:

    What a peculiar thing to come from someone who promotes professionalism in all other respects. What the arts needs more than anything else is some high quality professional managers, not refugees from a less-than-outstanding performance career. The rest of the world has made giant leaps in terms of management skills and competence. Managers today require skills in finance, psychology, marketing, communication, formal logic, programming and competitor analysis to mention just a few, an array of skills to which few musicians would have much exposure. Imagine promoting the idea that amateur musicians should be able to take a seat in any orchestra of their choice just because they know which end of the bow to hold and have seen managers make myriad mistakes. Anyone intending to jump from the rank and file of the violins into the hot-seat of management should be required to undertake a 2-3 year course at a reputable institution to equip them for the challenge.