Exclusive: What conductors are paid in France

Exclusive: What conductors are paid in France


norman lebrecht

December 23, 2015

Radio France has conducted an investigation into conductors’ earnings and finds that monstrous fees are a thing of the past.

Music directors of regional orchestras receive 2500 and 8000 Euros monthly, rising to 15 000 if the conductor is of international stature.

Douglas Boyd at the Paris Chamber Orchestra, for instance, is paid 3,000 Euros per month for his role as musical director, plus 8000 Euros for each concert.

Major international maestros appearing with the Paris orchestras can still command up to 50,000 Euros a night, but the budgets are tightening and the top fee is paid less often.

Report here (en francais).



  • Max Grimm says:

    From an earlier post on conductor salaries, here for comparison’s sake, what salaries of conductors at other European institutions are/were:
    – Antonio Pappano £630.000 in London at the ROH.
    – Christian Thielemann €800.000 at the Munich Phil and (a rumored) +€1.000.000 with the Staatskapelle in Dresden.
    – Riccardo Chailly while Kapellmeister at the Gewandhausorchester used to receive approximately €30.000 per concert, with 20-22 concerts in Leipzig (not counting tours, which were renumerated separately), resulting in a salary for Leipzig based concerts of €600.000 to €660.000 per year.
    – Simon Rattle initially earned close to €800.000 with the Berlin Phil when he took up his position in 2002 and is presumably earning more at the present.
    – Claudio Abbado used to earn 3.500.000 DM (~ €1.700.000 and €1.800.000 today).

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Woaw, Pappano??? ROH must be desperate.

    • Hanna Nahan says:

      Yes, clearly ROH is desperate. That’s why he has held his job there for 13 years, spends over 6 months per year inside the house, and is adored by singers the world over. But of course that is not what an opera house needs, is it…? DO try and think before you type, dear…

  • Bob says:

    And Mr. Jordan?… I am sure it is over 1,000,000.

  • Emil Archambault says:

    Plain wrong understandings of the article:
    – …rising to MINIMUM 15 000 EUR a month for conductors of international repute: “Pour les directeurs musicaux des orchestres français, la fourchette oscille entre 2500 et 8000 euros par mois mais cela peut devenir beaucoup plus si le chef a une stature internationale. On atteint alors au minimum les 15 000 euros mensuels.”
    -…8-30 000 EUR per concert in Paris; the 50 000 EUR fee is outside of Paris: “En France, on est plutôt dans une fourchette comprise entre 2000 jusqu’à 50 000 euros par concert, pour les grandes stars de la baguette. Et plutôt entre 8000 et 30 000 euros pour ce qui est des orchestre parisiens. ”

    This is explicitly written, word for word, in the report linked.

  • Peter says:

    As long as top football trainers and other sport stars make up to 25.000.000,- EUR a year (or even more), I don’t see why top conductors should be singled out for earning too much, when they make in best case 1-5% of that.
    It’s always easier to look up to the top earners and complain. They are only a few.
    It’s more difficult to fight for the foot soldiers workign their asses off but still getting petty minimum wages.
    The ethics of the business are screwed. And that’s not the fault of the star conductors.

    • Richard says:

      The thing is why should football players and football managers earn that much. Another thing that with the football they earn at least the same. Musicians earn much less then conductors. Maybe we can turn around the discussion. Why are musicians so badly paid.

      • Peter says:

        We can discuss ad nausea if X deserves to be paid so much, why Y is being paid so little etc. etc.
        The whole discussion is useless, if we don’t define, how we believe professionals shall be paid in general.
        Based on value they create? How is that counted?

        Matter of fact is: we do not have a system, that rewards achievement and excellence. Never ever.

        We have the fundamental problem, that we do not have a useful system how to translate from money/revenue generation into value creation.
        All the non-tangible values that are created – that means almost all created values that REALLY matter – are having their salaries evaluated in a system of anarchy.
        Scientists, artists, health service etc. are all not based on value.

        Power and market control define your salary, not value.

        Such a system creates all the wrong incentives unfortunately, but I also do not have a workable solution for improvement.

    • Ross says:

      Actually, if you read Norman’s book, Who Killed Classical Music, you’d understand the situation better.

      As for comparisons to sports, look at their revenue streams: 30-50,000 people buying tickets for each event, huge amounts of merchandise, and major endorsements.
      A Music Director, on the other hand, is not being compensated through such enormous revenue streams.

  • John Borstlap says:

    All very interesting.

    Generous fees for conductors – and I find € 8.000,– p/mth already quite generous – expresses society’s appreciation for a remarkable art form, where conductors belong to the top echelon of performers with hughe artistic responsibilities. Top orchestra players also seem to earn, as I have been told, generous salaries (apart from the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam where players are paid according to Dutch standards of how much ‘arty types’ should be compensated, culture not being considered a serious way of spending one’s life).

    Now, let’s have a look at how the creators of those marvels which carry the art form had to find the money to pay their bills.

    Bach tolled at a miserable church job including lecturing on math to unwilling teenagers and having to provide a cantata with pious preachings every 2 weeks – he had a big family to run.

    Haydn had the luck of finding a nobleman who played himself an instrument, and letting him free to explore whatever ideas inspired him. He had to wear a uniform like the other staff, but on the other hand he had his private orchestra, and a theatre, and a rather carefree life immersed in music writing and performing in the quietness of the countryside (the Esterhazy estate).

    Mozart broke away from noble jobs and choose a free market enterprise, which brought him down in his thirties, overworked and vulnerable to audience’s whims and political circumstances (like the wars against the turks).

    Beethoven, aware of Mozart’s predicament, found three rich music enthusiasts who supported him for the rest of his life – apart from an episode when he had to take the family of one of his sponsors, who had died, to court, to get the stipulations of his contract restored. But he still lived a simple life in a chaotic household – nobody in his environment apparantly capable of helping him out of his squalor.

    Schubert: dying too young to reap the fruits of his later fame, living in poverty and being cheated by publishers of his songs.

    Schumann having to live off the income of his pianistic wife who had to go on tour in spite of having a big family.

    Brahms getting reasonably wealthy from middle age onwards because of his songs and simple piano pieces which were very popular in Germany.

    Wagner – well, we know all of that. He needed to create an expensive fantasy world of luxury around him to close-off the misery of the real world where creditors were getting at him, until a young would-be-artist king liberated him, in the last minute, from definite bankruptcy.

    Mahler and Strauss were brilliant conductors and had no time to seriously think-through their music, which was quickly written haphazardly, in summer time by Mahler and in trains by Strauss, which you can hear in the places where their careless taste got off the rails. Mahler was addicted to play the orchestral matador, which did him in when he caught a throat infection. Strauss lost his fortune, earned as a conductor, twice, at the first and the second world war.

    Tchaikovsky was liberated from dull teaching work by the heiress of a railway magnate who supported him generously untill forced by her family to give it up, because the next generation did not approve of such squandering of the family heritage.

    Fauré had to work like [redacted] to support his family and various mistresses, which left him not enough time to compose.

    Debussy’s sophisticated taste in all matters artistic and of comfort, forced him to take-on conducting engagements for which he lacked any competence, and which drove him into deep depression (he suffered from anxiety disorder when on tour).

    Stravinsky – ‘famed’ for his ‘hunger for money’ – had not only his own family to support, but after the Russian revolution also a bunch of relatives who had fled the homeland disaster. He was very anxious about money all his life, having to manouver between his artistic ambitions and stubborn musical visions on one hand, and the fickleness of audiences and players who refused to play his stacccatos, on the other. He only embarked upon atonal serialism in the fifites when he felt reassured that this would not undermine his bank account.

    Scriabine was supported financially by a rich baroness who felt his music was the non plus ultra of progressiveness. Therefore he could travel, make contacts, play concerts, and absorb stimulating impressions which went rather over the top, but resulted in remarkable piano works.

    Schoenberg suffered from money problems all his life, but maybe in his case that was somehow deserved, thinking of his arrogant dismissal of the audience and players from his idea of musical art.

    Maybe apart from the latter one, all these composers were top musicians, comparable in terms of achievement and status with the top conductors of today. But their financial situations strike a remarkable contrast, apart from a very few exceptions (Haydn, Wagner, Brahms, Scriabine).

    In the 20th century, in Europe the state took over the financial support of new music, forming selection comitees rewarding the new music which was progressive enough – something like the Soviet central comitee which had ‘music for the people’ as its artistic standard, but in the West ‘relevance’ and ‘progressiveness’. Millions have been wasted upon entirely meaningless scores, gathering dust in forelorn cellars of derelict institutions. The status of contemporary music has sunk to a record low….. and while payment of performers have considerably improved since 1800, payment of composers has sunk even lower than it already was. The money which can be found by composers is merely by selling-out to pop and kitsch. But that will not keep the art from alive, merely contribute to its erosion.

    • Robert says:

      Most people who call themselves composers today would kill to have professional circumstances as “bad” as the composers you list above.

      Commissioned to write a cantata every two weeks? They can only dream of the market having that much demand for their work.

      • John Borstlap says:

        That demand was a rather formalistic, not an artistic one: later in the 18th century some manuscripts of Bach cantatas were found in shops where they were used as wrapping paper for cheese. The demand was for 2 weeks only after which the music was considered worthless. We still have some 2/3 of B’s music because he himself preserved it and his descendants after his death. Only in the course of the 19th century an awareness of past achievements in music began to grow.

        During the 19th century, many manuscripts were descovered in unlikely places, which means they had been treated carelessly. Brahms once organized a prank on a musicologist friend by having the friend’s fries, bought at a stall in the park, wrapped in what seemed to be a Beethoven manuscript, which sent the poor man in ecstasy, demonstrating that such occurrance was considered possible at the time.

        • William Safford says:

          Peter Schickele mined this history to great comedic effect for his PDQ Bach persona.

          Speaking of whom, Schickele presented his first PDQ Bach concerts in New York in ten years earlier this week.

      • Ross says:

        Wow. They used to play ‘new music’ at church services, weddings, and high society functions!
        Other composers should try to do what Bach did!

    • Minutewaltz says:

      Thank you, John Borstlap, that is very interesting.
      In UK which state organisation is responsible today for commissioning works from composers? Is it the Arts Council?

      • John Borstlap says:

        I’m not sure, in the UK there are various foundations occasionally providing funding for commissions. It is mostly the performing body paying-up, but given the budget limitations they have to find the money elsewhere. It is on the continent where funding of new music is mostly state-organized, and where not (like the Siemens Foundation in Germany which is paid for by the company), still committees are used to assess ‘modernity’ and ‘relevance’. The islands of ‘progressiveness’, like Paris’ IRCAM, or Germany’s Darmstadt, Donaueschingen, etc., are funded by the state, as far as I know. In the Netherlands, a national foundation spends millions on nitwit products, thinking it is about music.

    • Petros LInardos says:

      How much money can be made by composing film scores? Some movie composers are very talented. Ennio Morricone is a good example, among the living ones.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Composers of film scores, if talented, would probably prefer to write ‘serious’ music if they could. In the central performance culture, writing for the movies is not a recommendation, since with the movies, the requirements of serious art don’t count: it is ‘Gebrauchsmusik’. Erich Korngold started-out as a serious and talented composer, with great successes with some operas, at the beginning of the 20th century. When he moved to the USA, and had a family to support, he began to write brilliant film scores, which destroyed any credibility he might otherwise have found in the concert world. Fortunately nowadays his violin concerto gets resurrected, but artistically he had become an outcast.

        • Ross says:

          That may be changing as we look forward.
          Obviously John Williams is John Williams.
          But Howard Shore had a major opera produced in LA, and also had a piano concerto premiered by Lang Lang.

  • Dominique says:

    Regarding your last passage “The money which can be found by composers is merely by selling-out to pop and kitsch” – maybe we should consider that the all composers of the past you’ve mentioned, wrote their music in the zeitgeist, as kind of pop music of their times. Schubert and Brahms songs, Mozart Arias and Bach cantatas were surely progressive from a standpoint of a scholar, but were still simple tunes which could be grasped, sung and played by many music amateurs of their time. On the contrary much of contemporary music is alienated from the folks to that extent that it is often unapproachable even to highest educated music professionals. Maybe the middle path of composing contemporary, or I would rather say progressive music, while still attaining some connection “down to earth”, would be a better recipe for the financial survival of the composers of today.

    • Hilary says:

      Examples which immediately spring to mind include Peter Max Davies: Farewell to Stromness, Michael Finnissy : Gershwin Arrangements and Berio :FolkSongs. All very approachable.
      Let’s not forget Boulez who in his younger days was house pianist at the Foiles Bergiere cabaret club in Paris.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The myth of ‘progressiveness’ in music has created immense inhibitions for composers to write in an accessible language, thinking that such thing would be ‘primitive’, as if music would behave like a Darwinian product of evolution: from primitive cells to complex organisms. While in reality change, not development, defines music history. And in the 18th century, the ‘new’ was much simpler than the baroque complexities of earlier periods, a fact mostly ignored by advocates of modernity in music. Also, late Beethoven (considered the beginning of modernism by many scholars), includes many stylistic returns to Mozart, Haydn and even Bach.

      The musical language of a Brahms, or Mahler or Strauss, is both accessible and complex but the complexities are found in the structure and not so much in the level of dissonance. In the last century, complexity was understood as a degree in dissonance. Attempts to write accessibly, often show bad taste (Philip Glass), because it is very hard to write a melodic line that is both fresh and expressive, and does not sink to the level of pop. A problem of which Schubert was luckely completely oblivious.

      • Hilary says:

        “The musical language of a Brahms, or Mahler or Strauss,is both accessible and complex….” Perhaps you can assert that now, but all of those composers wrote music which was met with incomprehension during their lifetime.
        Not from all quarters of course but you sometimes assume that we all digest music in the same way and don’t acknowledge that tastes differ.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I agree. But even the most personal pieces of Beethoven found enthusiasts at the time, and the same goes for Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Strauss. Also 19C mediocrity Raff had success, as well as critical condemnation, while the 18C Joachim Alzheimer has completely disappeared from music history in spite of 205 concerti grossi. Fortunately, nowadays a composer like Zelenka is rediscovered as a worthy contemporary of Bach. The point is, that in the last century modernist composers defended their work by pointing towards the protests against master pieces in the past, hoping that rejection of their work would signify adoption into the canon of Western music. The cow is an animal, but not every animal is a cow. And today, critics are so wellmeaning towards new music that one gets the impression that everything is worthwhile, resulting in the impression that everything is bland and meaningless (critics fearing that they may appear in the next edition of Slonimsky’s ‘Lexicon of Musical Invective’).

          It is difficult for us to understand that Bach’s music was politely being put aside during his life time, but we cannot draw the conclusion from this, that rejection says something about quality. Success doesn’t either, but music that continuously touches the heart of performers and audiences over a long time period, proves something of worth. On that basis the classical repertoire is built.

  • Jaybuyer says:

    Isn’t there a joke about friends out boasting one another, the first saying “I attended the world premiere (of a new work)” and the second claiming “But I attended the second performance! “

    • John Borstlap says:

      That’s a good one.

      Composers and money: in California Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff once had both been invited for a party. After some wodka’s Rachmaninoff began to bully Stravinsky by saying: ‘He he, your Firebird and Petrushka and Rite did not bring-in any money, did they?’ upon which Stravinksy began his repartee about R’s Prelude in C, after which they both began – in all friendship – to drew-up lists of their pieces which would have made them rich if only the Russian revolution had not happened and their scores pirated without earning them any royalties.