Yannick reins back as Philadelphia continues its slide

Yannick reins back as Philadelphia continues its slide


norman lebrecht

November 22, 2015

There’s a frank assessment by Peter Dobrin today in the Philadelphia Inquirer of the unchecked decline of a once-indomitable orchestra, a decline that is gathering speed despite the partnership of a world-class conductor and dazzling musicians.

Key Philly facts:

1 Attendance is down from 160,000 in 2014-15 to 153,000. One in four seats is empty on average. That’s unsustainable.

2 Yannick Nezet-Seguin has had to trim his program plans and take a wage far below other US music directors – $519,319 for 10½ weeks in the last accounts*. Philly’s former MD Eschenbach gets over $2m in DC.

3 The musicians have accepted a one-year contract and are murmurous.

4 Many think Michael Kaiser is going to dig them out of the hole.

Read the full article here.

yannick dg

*UPDATE: We have been furnished with the full pay details for Philadelphia’s music director in the accounting year 2013. They are: The compensation listed on the IRS Form 990, $519,319, is an after-tax number. Yannick is engaged as an independent contractor; hence, the Orchestra pays taxes to the US Internal Revenue Service. These amounted to $227,950. Total compensation also included $12,564 in expense reimbursements, primarily travel-related. Added to the $519,319 this totals $759,833, which was Yannick’s total compensation for 2013.


  • Charles G. Clark-Maxwell says:

    There’s a frustrating lack of detail :

    ==Concert attendance between September and May fell again last season – to 153,000 paid ==listeners in 2014-15 from 160,000 the season before. The goal had been 189,000.

    Never mind the “goal” – what had attendance been prior to the 160,000 in 2013-14 ? Has it been a year on year decline for some time ?

  • william osborne says:

    The numbers in the article are interesting. Muti, for example, earns $2.3 million for 14 weeks of work with the CSO. That’s $164,285 per week. Or $32,857 per day (calculating a five day work week.) If he’s in rehearsal or concert for 20 hours a week, that’s $8214 per hour.

    Perhaps one solution to cut costs would be to have the Chairman of the CSO board pay Muti in cash each day in one dollar bills. Every night the Chairman could count out 8,214 dollar bills while the Maestro eagerly watches. Or to save time, maybe they could get together once a week on a day when Muti isn’t working and count out 164,285 dollar bills.

    By these hourly numbers, during the orchestra’s 15 minute rehearsal break, Muti makes $2053.

    After each money count, they could hire a truck with a forklift and pallets to take it to the bank, or use UPS air freight to ship it back to Italy. Maybe they would get tired of this and settle for a lower salary.

    • Jack says:

      William, while I agree that the salary is exorbitant, reducing a conductor’s work to what he/she does in rehearsals and concerts is a huge underestimation of the hours that go into being a conductor, and especially being a music director of a major American orchestra. Most conductors I know spend most of their day studying as if it is a 9-5 job, and on top of artistic decisions, auditions, meetings, presentations, outreach, and countless other duties, many conductors are some of the hardest working people around. There are exceptions of course, but that is my experience. This is a little bit like saying that a baseball player gets paid $1800 per at-bat. Well, yes, technically that is true, but how many hours of practice and hard work went into that at-bat?

      • william osborne says:

        The numbers show the absurdity of the payments, but I knew someone would cluelessly say it’s not hourly work, as if the way star conductors plunder our public charities were in any way justified. Orchestras in the international community should form an organization, a kind of cartel, to oppose this exploitation. If they can’t, maybe we should be happy orchestras are dying (though I should say I’m very fond of the Philadelphia Orchestra.)

      • william osborne says:

        If a person has a salary of $40,000 per year (about the average in the USA,) it would take them 57.5 years to earn $2.3 million (the salary Muti is paid for 14 weeks.) With a working life of 40 years they would never make it.

        • Andrew R. Barnard says:

          These conductors have worked very hard to earn their current place. If you’re envious of the salary, maybe you should enter an exhausting musical career.

          What’s important is that these conductors are not average people. They’re super talents, who again, have applied themselves considerably harder than the average American. If they weren’t making considerably more than the average American, something would be terribly wrong. Also keep in mind that these musicians are only making a fraction of what most professional athletes make. Or we could talk about Wall Street. If we’re going to spend time criticizing overpaid jobs, musical ones should be the last one on the list. Probably literally. It’s brutal work, and only a select few ever make it. They deserve more.

          • william osborne says:

            The question is how far these income disparities should be in a healthy society, and especially for non-profits. As NYT columnist Paul Krugman recently reported, last year the bonuses paid by the Wall Street Banking industry were twice the total income of all minimum wage earners in the entire country. The disparities have become too extreme. An international community of classical music organizations should form a cartel to challenge the agents blackmailing these high fees out of our non-profits. If not, then let’s indeed turn to the market and watch orchestras die. All the natural law of the market…

          • milka says:

            Mr. Barnard does have a great sense of humor. Dam right they ain’t just average folk they have managed the art of “BS” writ big ,something that escapes the “average” folk And they do work hard at the BS , I’ll give that . To compare a conductor with a professional athlete , come now Mr. Barnard- one serves a useful purpose and one almost. A dozen or so weeks a year is undoubtedly brutal work especially when giving a down beat of a work for the millionth time . I can just pictured the great non average bs artist giving a down beat and falling from exhaustion into the waiting arms of the concert master, being there to ease the brutal work it take to beat time.For those that do make it to the exalted positions $$ , they are past masters of knowing who and where to kiss,while making it look they are pursued,a brutal job no doubt .

          • Rich Patina says:

            Oh, for God’s sake – they are human metronomes. One definition of a conductor is, “a person who is adept at following many different musicians at the same time.” Most orchestras could play without a conductor, and some do.

            One of the most riveting musical performances I’ve ever experienced was the Aspen Festival Orchestra (a huge ensemble of more than 100 players) being led by Jerzy Semkow in Brahms’ 2nd Symphony. For many long stretches he laid his baton down on the music desk and just stood there, hands folded in front of him, and let the orchestra “do it’s thing”. How many conductors would have the b—s to do the same?

            Remember the Maestro Myth. It really is!

    • John says:

      Fellas, get over it. Muti sets his price and the CSO either meets it or passes.

    • Holger H. says:

      I prefer Muti gets paid that much – and inspires great music making – than some scum parasite cocain sniffing mankind robbing Wall Street investment banker.

      I think a top conductor should make at least ten times of what a scum top investment banker, who creates nothing except destruction in the real world, makes.

      Having just said that, actually anyone, any artist, any scientist, any teacher, who actually creates something that advances mankind rather than destroying it, should be rewarded more.

      End of rant.

  • Itsjtime says:

    Professional athletes make their salaries based on what the market dictates. There bargaining power is fought for by unions that are fighting for pieces of the revenue pie. The same way every other union does…by leverage.
    With all the vitriol towards Americans on this site, one sees clearly that the basic ideas of a market economy are generally misunderstood.
    I love music, you love music. Get your friends to go to a concert where you support the artistic ideals of the organization.

    The Philadelphia orchestra doesn’t sound like they used to because they play in a different hall and the orchestra is made up of different people. Because of blind auditions, the orchestra is not filled with graduates of the Curtis Institute, anymore. Therefore there is no more Philly sound. There are certain sections that still retain the style, but they too will be replaced inevitably.

    • C. Squarcialupi says:

      You nailed it. Times have changed in Philadelphia (and everywhere else). Gone are the days when shopkeepers would come out of their stores to greet Maestro Ormandy as he strolled down Locust Street. There was a civic pride back then in the Fabulous Philadelphians that sadly no longer exists.

      • David says:

        I think you got at the heart of the problem with your comment, reminiscing about Ormandy. The major orchestras of this country are failing one by one, partly because they no longer belong to the people of the cities which they represent–they’re busy flying all over the place or otherwise doing all kinds of foolish programming that the audiences simply don’t like. It used to be so accessible to chat with one’s local maestro and to share one’s enthusiasm about music.
        (I’m a New Yorker, who on occasion goes to the Philharmonic–seat prices are simply too expensive for me… Anyhow: I have a personal custom of going backstage to the maestro to thank him after the concert. The personnel back there don’t know what to make of it. NOBODY does that! I ask: Why the hell not? Why is the NY Philharmonic music director so above and removed from the public? Why can’t I speak to my hometown’s maestro? Why, then, is this institution a New York institution, if a New Yorker can’t speak to the maestro? In Cincinnati, conversely, I saw most of the audience queued up to simply say thank you to its maestro–at the time, Paavo Jarvi. THIS is as it ought to be. But I digress…:) Nowadays, even music blogs, magazines and forums deal with the musician, music business and hottest new trend–never with music and it’s meaning to folks. Is it any shock that there is a massive disconnect with the audience? When elitists form an oligarchy directing the orchestra to decide what music will and will not be presented, how do they think they’ll fill up auditoriums like that, the public never having had any input with its desires?
        But I think that many more issues beleaguer this country’s orchestras. The smaller the orchestra, the better off they seem. Why? Because they extend themselves to their local audiences, respect their audiences, and freakin’ MAKE MUSIC! That’s the point! They make music! They’re not busy conjuring all kinds of extra-musical activities, with all kinds of exorbitant expenditures toward nonsense of momentary folly.
        Of course contracts must be reined in; of course business-sense MUST be imposed, or they should be allowed to fail (or, will Our Dear Leader deem them too ‘too big to fail’ and piss tax dollars into bailing out American’s major orchestras?); of course we need to reexamine why the orchestras are here in the first place–to make music for its city and to provide a cultural necessity to its populace–and to then return to making music. But this won’t happen, because other priorities prevail, therefore budgets must grow and salaries must grow and the bubble just has to keep rising. It’ll all explode sooner or later.
        But failing to grow the audience? Well, that’s because the orchestra no longer belongs to the audience.

  • PhilOrchFan says:

    The Philadelphia Orchestra should expand its eZseatU program to beyond college kids and include young professionals (say under 35). I personally know of many Penn students who were converted to classical music fans through the eZseatU program, but they all left Philly upon graduation. In the long term, eZseatU is adding ticket sales to New York, Chicago, Boston, LA, and SF through the diaspora.

  • milka says:

    As long as there are enough stupids who will pay the exorbitant salaries there will
    always be opportunists to take advantage of the stupids . Its a law of nature . If the Osborne observations are correct the stupids in Chicago are paying quite a hefty sum
    trying to prove they are” cultured society ” in listening to the same old same old.
    One can just imagine the opportunists once out of sight of American shores ,their pockets
    stuffed with money laughing at the yokels with pretensions to culture .
    Stupid pretentions clever opportunists…Boston ,Chicago , name the city , you got em .

    • Andrew R. Barnard says:

      “listening to the same old same old… pretensions to culture”

      If this is all you think of Classical music, I’m not sure why you’re on this blog. And your whole approach is too slapdash to be taken seriously.

      • Harold Lewis says:

        You’ve nailed it, Andrew. ‘Milka’ appears on this blog solely as a form of grouchy cabaret entertainment, without any pretension to a serious point of view.

  • Itsjtime says:

    Wil there be even more European “maestros” coming for posts in America to cash in now that the euro gotten weaker and weaker in comparison to the dollar?

    • Holger H. says:

      You are free to raise your own conductors in America. But you are apparently culturally impotent and raise your children as couch potatoes. If it weren’t for some Asian and Jewish cultures with engrained ambition, the American children wouldn’t even know what music is anymore.

  • Alvaro says:

    I want to vomit.

    When administrators make 1M, thats corrupt, inconceibable, unethical, etc…..

    But when a music director makes 600K, that is “far below”?????!?!?!?!?

    You are part of the problem, glorfying the musician and calling for unrealistic expectations given the markup of modern society.

    Orchestras are being commoditized: ALL of them are now centers for social change, all of then present pops and “outreach programs”, there are less and less things that make a given orchestra unique – and you want audiences to rise?

    You have turned orchestras into little more than daycare centers. Congratulations.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Yannick is Canadian not European and the one time I saw him he was awful. Micro managing by pointing at each instrumentalist -it’s your turn now it’s yours ugh. Maybe audiences think he is over rated, I certainly do.

    • Jim says:

      Nice to read that your opinion of Nezet Segiun is based on his appearance in the single performance you heard and that is enough to make a judgement… success or lack thereof is based on how the conductor looks, not what you hear I suppose

  • MacroV says:

    Philly has two problems: Not enough people go their concerts, and they don’t generate enough revenue, which is a function of both not having enough attendance and presumably enough sponsorship and donations. Other underlying causes to both, I assume.

    YNS’ salary, somewhat lower than that of MDs of orchestras of even lesser stature, is not the cause of Philly’s problems. And sure, $500k for 10 weeks work sounds like a nice deal, but as others point out, conductors work very hard, and the reason the conductors of top orchestras get paid well is in fact a matter of market economics: there are very few people who are qualified to do the job: To stand in front of 100 supremely talented musicians – each of whom probably beat out 100 other highly qualified applicants – and be able to persuade them that your way of doing it is better than theirs takes some doing.

    I’m pretty sure there have been discussions on this blog in the past that saying orchestra musicians work “only” 20 hours a week because they are paid for 8 * 2.5-hour services is unfair and inaccurate, given all the other practice and preparation they must do. Same principle applies to conductors.

    If Muti is getting $2.3 million, it’s probably a reflection of the fact that 1) the CSO is in better financial health, and 2) Muti is a very hot property, and the CSO wanted him badly enough to pay.

  • FreddyNYC says:

    The decline of the “Philadelphia Sound” began when David Kim was hired 15+ years ago as the concertmaster. Sure, he’s a nice chap and all but his playing has never impressed me in any way and am still dumbfounded as to why he was ever considered for the job……

  • milka says:

    When office help is paid more than the so called star you know the
    system stinks to high heaven. That Mr.Nezet Seguin is paid less for his services
    than an office worker borders on the vulgar .

    • MacroV says:

      “Office help?” It takes a lot of skill to manage a multi-million dollar nonprofit performing arts organization in the United States. Such people are not in great supply. I’m not sure such person should be paid more than the music director, though unlike with the MD, it’s very much a full-time, year-round job, and the person in that position, for better or worse, can potentially have a much greater impact on the organization’s financial well-being.

    • Doug says:

      Would that make it, perhaps, “Vulgar-more”?

  • Nick says:

    It’s an old saying but worth repeating – a seat for any performance is just like a hotel room night or a vegetable. All have sell-by dates beyond which they have zero value. Whilst I fully accept that managing any major performing arts organisation requires many different talents – and it seems there are not many in positions of such eminence in the USA who tick anything like all the boxes – the inability to find some reasonable way of getting bums on seats and at least some income from them is nothing short of ineptitude.

    Sure, there are many pitfalls. We’re often told that subscribers who pay the highest price don’t want to sit next to students in jeans and T-shirts who end up paying less than 10% of that price for their tickets. There’s the danger that single-ticket buyers will hold off in the expectation of getting cheaper seats nearer the performance date. And so on. Yet generating some income from every seat is surely a function of creative selling and marketing. That requires people with brains prepared to think, be innovative and adapt to new technologies. Are they really in such short supply?

  • herrera says:

    Good music directors are worth their weight in gold if they bring in audience and patron contribution. Under Muti, the CSO increased both, the latter significantly, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. For every 2 million that go to Muti, Muti brings in 20 million, that’s a return on investment of 1000%. That’s a better investment than any stock market I know of. (Plus, the CSO music director salary is underwritten by a special fund, so it doesn’t come out of general expenses, the orchestra could go bankrupt and the dedicated fund would still be fully funded.)

  • herrera says:

    A lot of young, hungry, international conducting stars, yes stars, would gladly serve as the music director of Chicago (or any of the top 10 in the world) for FREE, especially those who already have a post elsewhere guaranteeing them income and health insurance.

  • Holger H. says:

    People, it’s all just paper money. Relax. Even highly paid conductors are forgotten soon after they die. What lives on is the music. And most of those composers had not much money ever.
    Apparently being truly creative AND being wealthy does not go together. Exceptions apply.

    The wealthy man loses the drive to create.

    Muti’s job in Chicago is one of an entertainer. He provides circuses for the upper class. They want their own segregated circuses and are willing to pay for it. End of story.

    irrelevant for music, irrelevant for music history.

  • Thomas Baker says:

    It’s disappointing that ticket sales are down. I wish I understood why. I go more than ever. The orchestra sounds fabulous – I’m not nostalgic for Eugene Ormandy. It’s a different era for the orchestra and a great one.

    I don’t understand why every world-class orchestra hasn’t embraced an aggressive media and digital strategy – they’re so dependent on in-person attendance. No one can hear this orchestra week to week except people near Philadelphia, and the occasional expensive tour – how do they expect national and international recognition and support? I see microphones and cameras everywhere in the hall – and yet there’s virtually no possibility of hearing or seeing the orchestra digitally. If you’re in a second-tier market (which Philadelphia clearly now is, alas) aren’t more extensive travel and a huge digital presence the only solutions to find a bigger following?

    • Milka says:

      The “art form ” has been killed off by the” living dead ” who attend these events .
      The same old ,same old ,same old ad nauseum and if it pretends to the new make
      sure it sounds like the same old , sadly trucks daily cart off grand pianos to the city dump.
      Now in avoiding the truth and to make a buck major music schools have instituted course in entrepreneurship and phony outreach programs .It is all a smoke and mirrors game,

  • John Wilshire says:

    What do you do with an orchestra that has 1) completely lost its relevance to the Philadelphia community, 2) is overcompensated on all levels, 3) no clear statement from its leadership why this all is happening? You rebuilt it from scratch in the sense that you revisit the mission and vision of the organization that makes sense for the community it lives in, you reshape the Board and while keeping the amazing musicians, you reshape the administration. It is a disgrace from the management and Board not to tackle the real problem but constantly avoiding it by trying to balance a budget while the real problems have not been addressed. Philadelphia is losing and has already lost its major donors, the foundations have rewritten their guidelines and the community is no longer interested in what the Philadelphia Orchestra stands for. It sounds like a gift from someone that you don’t want to receive a gift from as they don’t understand your taste any longer… . Lot’s of work to do!!!!!!!