Who runs the Met? The musicians send a message to Peter Gelb

Who runs the Met? The musicians send a message to Peter Gelb


norman lebrecht

September 21, 2015

From an open letter published today by the Metropolitan Opera Musicians:

The Met was able to trim $18M from its budget, the majority of which savings came from “management expenses,” and not from the players, singers, and craftspeople that make the Met the greatest opera house in the world.

Our contention all along has been that the Met’s budget grew needlessly large, and that it got that way because of wasteful spending and inefficient management. Therefore, we were certain that a more sustainable path could be found by focusing cost savings on management spending. These recent financial results prove that absolutely correct, and vindicate the imperative to preserve the artistic heart of the Met.

But while we are heartened by the recent financial news, we must remain vigilant, doing all we can to ensure the Met operates in a fiscally responsible manner while placing top priority on the highest artistic standards. Last summer, we wrote that “the Met’s finances will be subject to unprecedented oversight, with powerful new mechanisms put in place for enforcement and accountability…. An ‘Efficiency Task Force’…will have direct input on spending” in order to achieve the mandated $11.25M reduction in management expenses. It is due in part to the ceaseless vigilance of these union task force delegates that the Met balanced its budget. And we want our fans to understand that as we work tirelessly to present masterful musicianship, much work remains behind the curtains to ensure the music continues.

In the end, this progress is not just good for the MET Orchestra, Chorus, or even the entire Met Opera — it’s good for opera lovers the world over, because we are charting a more sustainable course for opera in the 21st century.

met hornists


  • william osborne says:

    So these orchestra musicians, where even tutti players have a base pay of $190,000 per year, are “charting a more sustainable course for opera in the 21st century”? At least they have a sense of humor — heavy on irony….

    I’m sure they’ll keep a vigilant eye on management spending to insure the continued flow of funds to their well supplied bank accounts. The carcass of opera is surrounding by wolves and vultures.

    • Pro-union says:

      William, I’m not certain base wages at the MET are 190K, not even with overtime. If someone can sign in the icsom.org and check the settlement bulletins we’d have an accurate figure.

      That as it may, my opinion of your opinion (LOL) is that you are lacking perspective on money on the American scale. 190, Chen’s 394, even Gelb’s 1.8……have you looked at salaries of leaders at leading museums, sports teams, CEO’s, hedge fund managers? Gelb and co., are pocket change. If this is where your fight is fine, but IMO there are more deserving targets of outrage and indignation.

      • william osborne says:

        The Met’s tax filings reveal the salaries at the institution (which have been openly discussed for a couple years now.) See:


        The musicians and chorus make about $190,000 per year plus $85,000 in benefits for the orchestra musicians and $100,000 in benefits for the chorus.

        I’m in general strongly pro union, but I feel the musicians union has made very serious errors. The most notable is allowing the Cleveland Orchestra to work as a scab orchestra in Miami after the Florida Philharmonic was closed. See the details here:


        It is part of a larger trend of consolidating a few top orchestras to cover multiple cities thus putting local musicians out of work. The union should be opposing this but it is not. The Cleveland/Miami scandal is one of the worst examples.

        But you are right, there are larger systemic problems with our dysfunctional funding system that the union can’t easily address — though I feel it should be more closely involved with advocacy for public funding systems.

        • william osborne says:

          Perhaps I should provide an example of how I think the union should approach this concentration of money at the top. Years ago, when the NYCO was already facing problems, the NYCO musicians should have held one performance pickets a few times a year to protest the growing crisis, and the Met’s musicians should have shown solidarity and not performed on those nights as well. An important message would have been sent: Without “The People’s Opera” there would also be no rich people’s opera either. It would have let the donors know about the importance of supporting both houses long before the crisis grew to something irreparable for the NYCO.

          It’s one thing for the Met’s musicians to be top dogs, and another to stand by and do nothing while their colleagues are destroyed. That’s not in the spirit of labor and unionism.

          Same story with the Cleveland/Miami issue which is an outrage. I can’t imagine what the union is thinking.

  • william osborne says:

    Met concertmaster David Chan, was paid $394,652 in 2013. Gelb made $1.8 million in 2012. Those folks sure know how to keep down expenses….
    It’s interesting to compare the Berlin Philharmonic’s $39 million budget to comparable American orchestras:
    1. Los Angeles Philharmonic $97M (2011)
    2. Boston Symphony Orchestra $84M (2013)
    3. Chicago Symphony Orchestra $74M (2014)
    4. San Francisco Symphony $72M (2011)
    5. New York Philharmonic $69M (2012)
    6. Philadelphia Orchestra $46M (2011)
    7. Cleveland Orchestra $42M (2012)
    The Berlin Phil’s budget is 52% of Chicago’s, and only on 40% of the LA Phil’s.

    When will Americans admit something is wrong with their system of funding the arts? There is far less funding than in Europe, and the funding that does exist is concentrated at the top.

    The musician’s union has gone along with this, and is increasingly transforming into something like a guild — a sort of cartel representing the interests of the top at the expense of the rank and file.

    • Pro-union says:

      Respectfully, this remark about the musician’s union is not accurate. Not the local nor icsom has any control of whether an orchestra body ratifies a collective bargaining agreement or not. A negotiating committee is composed of musicians of the orchestra. And how exactly does the union have an obligation to influence on how these institutions spend their money, let alone how they would implement that influence?

      Top vs. rank and file…….please elaborate.

      • william osborne says:

        See my response to your first post above which contains a couple urls and is thus awaiting verification by the moderator.

  • Respect says:

    Mr. Osborne, as always ignores the radical difference in cost of living between Berlin ( one of the most inexpensive cities in Northern Europe) and Manhattan.

    Also, please note that several principle players of the Berlin orchestra departed because of low salaries.

    But all of this incidental to Mr. Osborne, who seems to be a an anti- American subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch. Facts are used to distort, as long as he can continue To bash his homeland.

    What he fails to ever explain is why a different continent should support a European based art form at subsidy levels equivalent to Europe. Why should a very different culture be expected to have the same values culturally?

    • william osborne says:

      There are countless musicians living and working in NYC who fair well and make far less than $190,000 per year. The salaries in Paris, London, and Vienna are similar to Berlin, and all three have costs of living similar to NYC.

      In reality, we saw the salaries of the Met’s musicians rise greatly while the New York City Opera was put out of business and its musicians left with no work at all. The American system channels exorbitant sums to the top and tells all other musicians to go to hell.

      As to you second point, Americans share the same cultural heritage as Europe. We can’t under fund the arts with some specious claim of American exceptionalism. Ironic how we vociferously claim Western cultural values until it comes to supporting the arts.

      • Christy says:

        First, some Americans share the cultural heritage of Europe. Some.

        Second, it is you who believe in exceptionalism – German or Euro exceptionalism. Your comments here suggest that you think Europeans are just better, instead of the truth, which is they are simply different. They do things differently. You like it better. The vast majority of Americans clearly don’t (especially those who actually live full time here and work full time here). And these Americans won’t agree with you. They didn’t in the 1700s and they won’t in the 21st century. Many things are different – but not that.

        I have the impression you’d be right at home during the era of the British and German Empires. Then, all the poor savages in other countries would be forced to understand that you just know better. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

        Please understand that you may have part of a point; the funding system is difficult in many ways (but so is the European model in many countries). Still, after being told repeatedly that Americans are just second-class and unworthy, well….. it doesn’t encourage reading you posts on the same subject. So, this will be the last time I do so.

        PS. European salaries are just lower overall, not that I think this will make any difference or that you’ll take that extra context into account.

        • Quincy says:

          The issue has nothing to do with “being different” or doing things differently, but goes to a much deeper level of what is fair and right based on many real life parameters. People in the US see nothing wrong with greed and avarice, at the expense of even destroying or seriously weakening the very institutions (operas, orchestras, etc.) that they live from. They put their own desires and demands, and enormous greed, ahead of the collective well-being of the institution that they work for. Europe, in particular has proven that you don’t need to pay the CEO of an orchestra or opera $1.5 or $2 million dollars to obtain competent and effective management. Europe has also proven that you don’t need to pay a concertmaster $350,000 dollars per year to have a strong orchestra. This is extremely important when considering that all of these organizations are “non-profits”. To simply dismiss this enormous and fundamental approach to funding the arts as being only a “different” attitude is absurd and dangerous to the very institutions that are being bled and extorted. American greed in this connection is appalling and the worst example of how to run a non- profit. Fortunately, it won’t last for long. I guess you would also justify that prescription drugs in the US being between 8 and 12 times more expensive than the exact same drugs in Europe is also just “different”. No, it too is disgraceful, especially when people can get treatment because they can’t even afford basic medicine due to its exorbitant and extortionist price in the US. They often die and so will US orchestras and operas if they continue to be led by greed and avarice, instead of reason and proportionality. The US is certainly not a model that anybody would want to follow in the arts or in many other sectors, such as medicine.

          • A Met Fan says:

            (I thought I had posted earlier today, but something must have gone awry. I will see if I can recapture my morning inspiration…)

            Quincy, what a well-thought and expressed entry today. Thank you. As an American, I wholly concur with your sentiments regarding America’s greed and avarice. It is rampant in every sector (the recent headlines regarding grossly inflated prices for prescription medications is almost too awful to comprehend, let alone speak of), and none so disturbing as nonprofits, especially major orchestras, museums, and opera companies. One of the most egregious examples was cited in an article in the Wall Street Journal last month where it was noted that 24 (yes, twenty four) executives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York have annual compensations averaging in excess of $500,000. (I trust and pray that includes all benefits as well.) Where did it start and where does it end? Sadly, we all suspect where it will end. How it started is the dumbing down of boards of directors. Long gone are the Rockefellers and others who devoted themselves to the public good. Their enlightened leadership of educational, medical, and cultural institutions was ingrained and was not solely based on their generous gifts. They were informed and involved (to which I was witness in several of my jobs). Most boards are now merely vaunted extensions of membership programs. If you have the cash (and there is lots of it out there), you get immediate and unquestioned admittance to the “club” of your choice. It was different decades ago, but with the “professionalization” of the professional fundraiser, greed has transformed organizational leadership into unregulated cash machines. Call it naming opportunities, exhibition underwriting, student tickets…you name it, it is all to shore up the excesses of staff CEOs run amok. The whole concept of board leadership and its fiscal responsibilities needs to be rethought for a new era. Otherwise, we will lose what should be some of society’s greatest accomplishments.

        • william osborne says:

          It’s not an issue as to whether Americans agree with me or not, since they are not even given a choice to have a public funding system. It is this lack of free choice that is at issue. And of course, the American funding system is not just different, it is ineffective and dysfunctional, which makes the lack of choice all the more unjust.

          • Christy says:

            The American public absolutely does not support public funding for a variety of things that are publicly funded in Europe. There is no question. Poll after poll has shown very limited support for public funding of arts. It is only effective lobbying, hard work by PBS/CPB, and devoted arts supporters/advocates that have kept the NEA and similar organizations alive at all.

            You and other Europeans may not agree about how our country funds its arts – I don’t agree, either – but we live in a society where, for the most part (sadly not always), the majority rules. On this, there is no question that the majority would vote public funding down if given a chance to cast a ballot. In other words, an actual vote would make things worse.

          • william osborne says:

            First, I’m an American, and second, it is too simplistic to say Americans do not support public funding for the arts when there is no politician or party advocating public funding. This situation is made all the worse considering the massive campaigns against it. Europeans have taken public funding for the arts for granted for decades. The unmitigated form a capitalism that exists in the States, which has opposed even things as basic as national health insurance or proper regulations of Wall Street, comes across to many Europeans as somewhat totalitarian.

  • MacroV says:

    If you’re going to compare European and American government funding of the arts, you need to factor in that in the U.S., private donations are tax deductible, so the government IS effectively subsidizing arts institutions, not directly, but based on where the donor is giving the money. David Geffen’s $100 million donation to Lincoln Center for the renovation of Fisher Hall, therefore, is probably a $20 million donation by the U.S. government to the cause, assuming he would have otherwise paid capital gains taxes on that money (might be a big assumption, admittedly). But my $100 donation to a U.S. orchestra of my choice would be a $28 donation by the U.S. government.

    • william osborne says:

      This plutocratic system, which is centered around donations from the wealthy, leaves the arts underfunded and concentrated in a few financial centers while the rest of the country is neglected. The system is obviously dysfunctional and destructive.