So what do concertmasters make? A bit less than they used to…

So what do concertmasters make? A bit less than they used to…


norman lebrecht

June 23, 2016

In the latest segment of his survey of US orchestra wages for 2013/14, Drew McManus has reached the front seat.

Apparently concertmasters are the only group to lose out. They are down 0.19% year on year.

Still, it’s not that bad. Five concertmasters are making a cool half-million bucks:
1 New York Philharmonic:    $615,924

2 San Francisco Symphony: $563,745

3 Los Angeles Philharmonic: $554,209

4 Chicago Symphony: $549,794

5 Cleveland Orchestra: $503,573   ….. full list here.

The NY Phil concertmaster in the year concerned was the retiring Glenn Dicterow. Frank Huang (pictured), who has recently transferred from Houston (under $300k) to the New York seat, will be smiling all the way to the bank.




  • Tom says:

    Am I the only one who is grossed out by these numbers (as well as those in another post about conductirs)? OK, talent and responsibility must be rewarded and I gladly accept them earning more than others, but this is really exaggerated. Someone working at a theatre in administration and organisation earns about $30,000-40,000 a year. A “normal” musician in an orchestra about $50,000-60,000. Why does a concert master earn 10x more and a conductor 100x more? Would half more, or even double, not be enough?
    This kind of inacceptable differences is what is ruining it for the others…

    • Qwerty1234 says:

      The “normal” musicians of the very famous orchestras listed are easily earning at least double the salary you mentioned. Being a concertmaster is among the most difficult jobs and the salary reflects that. The amount of work they must do not only on stage (leading, interacting with conductors and musicians) but behind the scenes (huge amounts of preparation and score study, making bowings, fundraising, teaching, solo performances) is immense, as is the amount of pressure and expectation on a daily basis.

      • Tom says:

        Then your definition (or the American) of a concertmaster is different than mine (European).

        Bowings are sometimes done by the concertmaster, but most often by the conductor, and copied out into the individual parts scores by the librarians.
        Fundraising is done by the management, teaching is *not* part of a concertmaster’s job description and a personal choice. If a butcher wants to sell apples that is his good right, but he can’t claim the job of a butcher is heavy because he needs to sell apples.
        Solo performances are per definition also not part of the concertmaster’s contract, since he/she is not fulfilling that role when playing solo. At that time, he/she is replaced and there is another concertmaster. A solo performance will automatically include a new contract and a supplementary fee, on top of the concertmaster’s fee.

        • Qwerty1234 says:

          Fair enough. I stand corrected on the supplementary income. But we are indeed discussing Americans concertmasters, as far as I can tell. I play in a European orchestra and even though I know for a fact our concertmasters have less obligations than their American counterparts, I still argue that their extra income is well-deserved. There’s little worse than a concertmaster who is incapable of doing the job description.

        • bratschegirl says:

          I’ve been a professional orchestral player in the US for over 30 years. I have never played in an orchestra where the bowings were “most often” done by the conductor. In rare cases, a visiting conductor may decide to use bowings from his/her home orchestra for a particular piece, but the vast majority of the time, the concertmaster decides on the bowings and marks one copy of the first, or first and second, violin parts accordingly, and the other string principals mark one copy of their parts with conforming bowings. The librarian is then responsible for transferring those markings into the parts for the second stand and behind.

          As to your salary claims, as another commenter has already pointed out, the (few) orchestras in which concertmasters are paid mid-6-figure salaries do not have average musicians earning $50-60,000; the contractual minimum salary for musicians in those orchestras is in excess of $100,000.

          Finally, I invite those who think such salaries are excessive to remember that this is the peak of the profession. This is the most that an orchestral musician can make, and in the case specifically of the mid-6 figure concertmaster salaries, these go to less than a dozen people altogether. I submit that the average section musician in a major US orchestra adds far greater value to society on a daily basis than the average junior associate at a middling-large law firm, for example, who would be in approximately the same salary range.

          • Tom says:

            You are all just giving more proof for what I am saying. American musicians have list all common sense of what a normal salary should be. I would consider $100,000 a rare exception for an extremely talented conductor or konzertmeister, but for a normal musician!? You must be joking…
            Being a musician is a job like any other job and discuss not justify exorbitant wages. In my opinion, I repeat. $100,000 is not a normal salary, it is a fortune, worth a small house or at least 4 cars.
            Do note that I am speaking from a local point of view, the median wage here is about $30,000. If you get that, you are considered middle class. If you earn $100,000 you are stinking rich.

          • bratschegirl says:

            The median home price in the greater area where I live just hit $750,000, so $100,000 will buy approximately a broom closet and a half bath. A $100K salary here isn’t even within sight of “stinking rich,” it will only barely qualify you to buy that median-priced home, and that’s after you somehow manage to save $150K for the 20% up-front payment. I emphasize that these are modest middle-class homes in decidedly not-posh neighborhoods. You may well shake your head in amazement at those prices, as many do, including myself, but it’s simply not true that nobody, anywhere, “needs” to earn that much money.

            And if you’re going to compare musicians’ salaries to those of other professions, then do an honest comparison, the top of one scale to the top of the other scale. So the highest paid orchestral musicians in the US earn slightly north of $100K. What does the highest paid architect earn vs one just out of school? The highest paid surgeon vs a rural family practitioner? The senior partner of a national law firm vs a junior public defender? Every profession has a salary scale, and those at the top of the orchestra profession earn orders of magnitude less than those at the top of many others. The only injustice I see is that the top of our scale is so low.

          • Tom says:

            You are turning around things. People don’t earn shitloads of money because housing is expensive. Housing is expensive because there are people who can afford it. They don’t need to earn that much. If they didn’t, house prices would be affordable because nobody would be able to pay a $750,000 house. This kind of extremely high salaries and the consequent rise of prices in general are the reason there is so much poverty in the US.

            I would also like to relativise your “top of the scale” remark. If they were “top of the scale” they would probably not be playing in an orchestra but play as a soloist or in chamber music formations. Every orchestra likes to think that their musicians are the “crème de la crème” of the world. To get a place in an orchestra like the NY Philharmonic, of course you must be a really good musician, admitted. Not everyone would be able to pass auditions. But that doesn’t mean that they are superior. There are many thousands of musicians all over the world who are at least as good, or even better than the handful who just happened to have the chance to play in that orchestra.
            They are not senior partners of a national law firm, they are lawyers working at that law firm. The senior partner would, for example, be the conductor or the intendant. Not “just” musicians. They would not be compared to “the highest paid surgeons”, but just to surgeons. While musicians in “lesser” orchestras would be specialists or doctors, and your rural practicioner would be a musician who mainly teaches and plays in small local orchestras.

            For the record: I think that these surgeons and lawyers you talk about are highly overpaid as well, compared to other people who work much more, often have much more responsabilities and at least as much talent but in another branch. I am not a socialist at all, I even have a tendancy to be more right than left winged, but these extremely high salaries are a plague and should be dealt with. There shouldn’t be that big a gap between people who work as hard and who have as much talent.

            As a last PS: I have worked in several internationally renowned theatres. In one of them we had 2 concert masters, each of whom did half the opera productions and one or two concerts. If you count the number of orchestra rehearsals and performances, they worked (in number of hours work) the equivalent of about 2 months a year in a 38h/week system. Even if you add the home studying etc and double that, you still have only 4 months a year. And they were paid almost 4x as much as someone who works 12 months a year, 60h a week.

      • Tom says:

        PS apart from that, whatever the work load is, *nobody* should earn half a million while his direct colleagues only earn 1/10 or less of that… That is just bad taste.

        • Qwerty1234 says:

          To be fair, the LA Phil base salary is 150k, with most musicians earning significantly more than that depending on instrument, position, etc. Cleveland is slightly lower at 122k. The other orchestras listed are somewhere in between but mostly closer to LA. These facts are from the last two years or so. So it’s not 10x more but 4-5x more.

          I still firmly believe that principal players (who are any good at what they do) put in significant time outside of rehearsal times to maintaining and improving their abilties as players and leaders. The concertmaster even more so. The extra pay is warranted.

          • Tom says:

            150,000!? I really really really can’t possibly find that normal. That is almost vulgar. I have to check but I think our prime minister doesn’t even earn that…

          • M2N2K says:

            Apparently, tom, you do not understand what level of skill and effort – both physical and mental – is required to be attained and maintained by every “normal musician” who plays in best American orchestras most of which can be counted among world’s leading. The concertmasters’ compensation numbers cited here are all between 3 and 4 times of each orchestra’s minimum salary, not any more than that. In many cases, their contracts do indeed include solo appearances with their orchestras and so they do not earn anything extra for that.

          • Tom says:

            I know very well how much skill and effort it takes to be a musician, I am one. But contrary to you, I believe that this is not “superior” or “more difficult” than other jobs. An architect needs skill as well. So does a surgeon or a painter or even a butcher. But they don’t think 100,000 a year is normal (except the surgeon maybe, and even…). Let alone over half a million.

            You are digging your own hole deeper and deeper, confirming what I say with every phrase. You have no clue what “honest or normal wages” should be…

          • M2N2K says:

            If there is such a thing as “normal” wage (which I doubt), then it should reflect how the society values a job being done and definitely not how one person from his/her “local point of view” sees it. When our society values a good film actor and a good athlete much higher than a good musician, neither you nor I can do anything about it and there is nothing dishonest about it either.

  • Nick says:

    Let’s also remember that these are salaries. I assume they include nothing for all the extra income a major artist like a concertmaster can earn. How many students do they have at what fees? How many weeks a year do they have off – usually a lot more than other members of the orchestra? How may concerto gigs with lesser orchestras and at what fees? Their total incomes are going to be considerably higher, I expect!

  • Step Parikian says:

    Good concertmasters are few and far between – and make a colossal difference to an orchestra. Hence these fees.

    • Ross says:

      Yet in the Berlin Philharmonic, all principals earn a flat 15% more than the base salary.
      And these are amongst the finest musicians in the world.

      • Ross says:

        And I see that nobody wants to discuss this.
        Oh my, but they’re so skilled, they’re at the peak!
        So are the Berliners.

        • M2N2K says:

          What is there “to discuss”? If it works for them, great. It also works for them to have 3 (that’s THREE) “first concertmasters” (no US orchestra has more than one) and one more concertmaster for good measure, in a section of 23 (count ’em, twenty three) first violinists (best US orchestras usually have 16 or 17) — which of course means much more time off, particularly for the concertmasters whose individual responsibility is thus reduced as well since there are several of them to share it. And don’t forget that their “base salary” is high to begin with, on top of which they earn a lot by releasing countless audio and video recordings. The orchestra plays very well, so we as their colleagues and admiring listeners should only be extremely happy (and I certainly am) that they have found and are able to maintain this arrangement that works so wonderfully for them.

  • J. says:

    Why are you worried about other people’s wage? Open your numbers too, Norman.

  • Musician says:

    A study reporting how many weeks off these “great” concertmasters are being rewarded by stupid management would be revealing. Concertmasters are hired to play and lead by example. In some orchestras (Washington, DC), concertmasters are rarely seen. And almost never when a visiting soloist comes to town – as if they can’t learn a thing or two from top flight soloists. It is a preposterous practice to give concertmasters so much time off from the season (which is only 42 weeks as is) and lousy for team morale. The rest of us play at the Capitol, outreach, ypc and pops. Where is our highly paid, motivated concertmaster who loves and appreciates the prestigious position? I guess management (and the concertmaster) couldn’t give a damn about the collective morale of others.

  • NYMike says:

    Norman: The NY Phil concertmaster salary shown is that of Glenn Dichterow’s last year with the Phil before retiring after 30+ years on the job. Frank Huang is not making $615,924. Get your facts straight!

    To the others on this thread: concertmasters in US orchestras do NOT make 10x or even 5x base salary.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I made that clear, I think.

      • NYMike says:

        “Laughing all the way to the bank” doesn’t make anything clear, IMHO.

      • M2N2K says:

        Unfortunately, I have to agree with nymike here: it really is not at all clear in the post which has Frank Huang’s name and picture prominently featured in connection with the top salary number that in reality has nothing to do with him but belongs to Glenn Dicterow who is not mentioned in the post at all.

  • Itsjtime says:

    According to an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2011, there were 6 principal players earning over 250,000 USD (see link at the bottom).

    I think this orchestra sounds great. But frankly those figures make me want to vomit. This orchestra begs for money, enters bankruptcy and has ever dwindling attendance figures.
    These signs point to the death of the Philadelphia Orchestra as a center piece of the city’s arts and as a point of pride. Philadelphia and the like are places where begging for money to pay ridiculous salaries for less listeners is acceptable.

    Maybe Trump can be the harbinger of artistic growth and a renewed thirst for culture .
    Good luck. At least America has baseball.
    I think this orchestra is fantastic

  • Ross says:

    Smiling all the way to the bank?
    In this day, I would reckon that most of these musicians are signed up for direct deposit and don’t need to go to the bank.

  • Ilio says:

    Concertmasters like principals negotiate their salaries on top of base pay in the big U.S. orchestras. Most Concertmasters also serve at the Music Director’s pleasure where they can be terminated if the music director doesn’t like their playing. Since musicians are entertainers they should get paid what the market will bear. After all pop stars & sports players do.

    In places like NYC, the cost of living is higher so higher salaries are justified. At a base salary of say 120K, one probably couldn’t afford to buy a place in Manhattan proper along with buying a quality instrument(s). Accordingly, places that are as high cost have lower salaries.

  • M2N2K says:

    Apparently, according to “tom” above here, well-paid orchestral musicians are the reason for poverty in USA. Allow me to respectfully disagree. In general, the problem is not that a few people earn too much money, but that some of the others don’t earn enough. There are multiple reasons for poverty, but the fact that in a country of 315 million people a few hundred of successful orchestral musicians are being paid comfortable salaries is not one of them.

    • Tom says:

      No, I didn’t say well-paid orchestral musicians are the reason for poverty in USA. I said that extrempely high salaries are the reason for poverty in the USA. As long as a niche of people earn way more money than they should, prices for things like accommodation, health care etc will be too high for “normal” people to pay.

      There are two solutions. Yours is to augment the lower salaries and bring them closer to the high ones, mine is to bring down the high salaries to normal levels. Both have the same result in the end: a smaller gap between the highest and the lowest wages.
      Even if you are the finest musician in the whole world, I don’t think that justifies you earning 5-6-7x more than another professional musician who works as much, often even harder. Double, maybe. Triple if you stretch it. But 5x more? And that’s only about musicians, wages as decribed above of over $500,000 a year for a concert master, or several millions for a conductor, is just inacceptable. And before you say anything: I feel the same about sportsmen, actors, popular musicians etc.

      PS I repeat: $150,000 a year is not a “comfortable salary”. It is a very high salary.

      • M2N2K says:

        If your first two sentences in this latest statement (June 25, 1:43pm) describe your opinion, then I agree with you, but I can’t possibly agree with your last two sentences since they directly contradict your first two. You don’t know how much money people “should” earn any better than I do, because nobody does. No such precise scale exists anywhere.
        The feeling that the other person should have more is good; it is altruistic and compassionate. The feeling that the other person should have less is evil; it is egotistical and is called envy or jealousy of the worst kind. The first is humane; the second is the opposite of it. That is why the way to close the gap should be by helping those who are unfortunate rather than by hurting those who are successful.
        In a large American city where I live and work in its orchestra, I have many relatives and friends. Most of them have incomes that exceed mine (which is higher than 150K), some by a rather considerable margin. None of them is a movie or athletic star. They include businessmen, lawyers, physicians, accountants, scientists, architects. So, to me and to all of them, knowing me and my work very well, the suggestion that my salary is “too high” would be totally absurd and downright laughable.

        • Tom says:

          “No such precise scale exists anywhere.”
          –> Indeed, but there is a little thing called “common sense”. While it is not possible to estimate how much one or another job is worth, it is perfectly normal to think that one person earning 50x more than another is just not right.

          “The feeling that the other person should have less is evil; it is egotistical and is called envy or jealousy of the worst kind.”
          –> I call it practical. There are far more people on the lower end than on the higher, so if you want to level wages to a more acceptable scale, it is easier and it will affect less people if you lower the high salaries than to double or triple the lower ones.

          “Most of them have incomes that exceed mine (which is higher than 150K)”
          –> I don’t know anyone personally who earns that kind of money. Our prime minister gets under $250,000 and he has one of the best paid jobs in the country. Only 3,7% of my fellow countrymen earn more than $100,000. About 40% of us earn between $45,000 and $60,000 – which is considered a well paid job. And we are among the most prosperous regions in Europe. Do note that I am talking about “paid for performance”. Meaning: getting paid for the job you do, taking into account the work load, the number of hours, the skills needed etc. This excludes people who earn because they own a company which makes a profit or someone who wrote a best seller.

          The following is a bit too “generalized”, but it’s just to explain my point with examples.
          A “low level job” like cashier un a supermarket or binman earns in the range of $15,000-25,000; a job like teacher, shop manager’s assistant, civil servant etc would pay $30,000-40,000; a more specialised job like doctor, university professor, lawyer, musician, architect,… is worth $60,000-80,000; the most difficult jobs with loads of responsabilities like surgeons might exceed the $100,000 cape. There is only a handful of people who earn over $150,000 – most of them paid by foreign private companies, especially pharmaceutics.

          I really don’t see one single reason why someone whose “colleagues” are all in the 60,000-80,000 group should suddenly earn over 150,000 or even – as the conductors – half a million. There is difference in quality level, agreed, but as I said that does not justify that big a gap between them.

          But then again, I repeat what I said before: people in America seem to have lost all notion of money’s worth. If you think that a $750,000 small apartment is normal, there is clearly something wrong with you (“you” meaning “the Americans”, not you personally). We have shows on tv where houses are being sold for $75 million. I just get sick watching that, knowing that there is so much poverty and no decent health care, no decent state organised pension plan or no free tuition. To give you another example: I own a 68m² (about 730sqf) apartment in the centre of our capital city. It is worth around $160,000 if I’m lucky. And that’s only because prices have been going up. 5 years ago I would have gotten $115,000 at the most for it. This might explain to you why I find $750,000 for the same thing outrageous…

          • M2N2K says:

            In other words, you are looking from a place where cost of living is completely different — therefore your “normal” does not apply to ours at all. By the way, not a single one of all these people in my circle of relatives and friends who make more money than my colleagues and I do had to practice their craft several hours a day their entire life starting from the age of five as have we musicians. Not to mention our stage crew each one of whom makes up to three times more than we do.

  • Harry says:

    I wish my little talented 9-year-old violinist Steffi makes about $15,000 per concert as a solo violinist when she grows up. This year she earned $1,000 (prize money for first places in competitions and her actress fee from a Moscow theatre where she acts in the children’s musical Cipollino. Hopefully at the age of 10 she’ll make $5,000 a year (if she wins a couple more competitions) and then the stakes will be rising. I wish she could earn $1,000,000 a year net starting from the age of 22-23 via concerts, recordings, endorsements, lessons, etc. It’s decent for a talent like her.