Who’d pay a maestro a loyalty bonus?

Who’d pay a maestro a loyalty bonus?


norman lebrecht

June 22, 2016

The official Dallas Symphony explanation for paying Jaap Van Zweden more than five million dollars in salary for 2013/14 is this:

The Music Director’s salary for 2013 was $1,788,997, with the bulk of the remainder being a signing bonus for a long-term contract extension executed in 2013… The long-term contract extension now goes through the 20/21 season and includes three years as conductor laureate. The bonus amount was funded entirely by a restricted gift given exclusively for this one-time occurrence. The bottom line operating budget of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was not affected at all.

Are they out of their Texan minds?

There is no known precedent in orchestral history for paying a conductor a sweetener to stay put. He wants to go? Let him go. There are plenty more sticks on the shelf.

What Dallas did is way out of line with industry practice. It has also inflated Van Zweden’s value into some kind of South Sea Bubble, forcing the New York Philharmonic to pay over the odds for a conductor who was not their first choice – or anybody else’s, except Dallas.

Van Man and his IMG agent have proved themselves ace negotiators.

He’s also drawing down a hefty salary in Hong Kong, where he has just renewed.

So much for his fidelity to Dallas.

van zweeden1


  • Howard says:

    The way and methods of “negotiating” and securing a Music Director in the United States are repugnant, very short-term and downright stupid. The U.S. is slowly destroying its own cultural institutions by this Las Vegas style approach to maintaining their presence on the arts and cultural scene.

  • Nick says:

    Utterly disgraceful – however it was funded! The Dallas Board should be thoroughly ashamed and somehow called to account. And van Zweden has tarnished his reputation for a long time to come!

    • Dennis says:

      How is it disgraceful if a donor says, “I want to give you this money to be used for a restricted purpose. If you don’t use it for that, then I’m not donating.” This happens all the time with major donations to universities, etc. No money came out of other people’s pockets, so you need to ask yourself why this gets you so worked up? Envy perhaps?

  • May says:

    This just seems wrong. A donor should make a donation to the entire orchestra, which gets spread among the organization, not just the conductor.

    The icing on the cake is, his fee is paid into a LLC. How much is skimmed off the top of the singing bonus for his agent? Can US salaries be paid to a corporation? I thought salaries have to be paid to an individual? Can anyone shed some light on this? And does anyone know what relation Melanie Thompson (she is listed as the agent for Bajada Productions) has to Zweden?

    • MacroV says:

      Technically a music director is generally not an employee, but an independent contractor or a service provider. Or maybe as Music Director is an employee, but as a conductor is a contractor. So much of the payment can be considered a payment for services or a fee rather than salary.

      I find it rather appalling that a donor is willing to provide several million dollars, but only to pay the MD more money, rather than for the orchestra’s general operations or otherwise build the institution.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I have understood that there are various donors supporting the orchestra, and its hall was entirely paid for with private money. And then, the part an orchestra plays in the interaction with the MD, and vice versa, is a precarious balance the value of which is entirely subjective and dependent upon consensus among the people who make the decisions and thus, take responsibility for them. There are no iron rules in this territory.

    • Dennis says:

      A donor to any institution can put whatever usage restrictions or contingencies on that donation that he likes (this often happens with donations to universities for example – a donor will give to a certain faculty, or to endow a chair in a specific discipline, or to fund the construction of a specific building – and not simply give an unrestricted donation to be used at the university’s sole and absolute discretion).

      If a donor says I happen to love this music director and want to give you a donation that must be used to pay him a bonus, should the orchestra refuse because he hasn’t likewise given in order to pay bonuses to everyone else? You need to look at the root of your prejudice against restricted donations (perhaps envy of the donor having the means to do so?)

    • Drew McManus says:

      Those are good questions; music directors can be paid as an independent contractor or an employee. In some cases, they are paid as both, with one designation covering artistic duties (conducting, artistic planning, auditions, peer review, etc.) while the other covers non-artistic duties (fundraising, marketing, board interaction, etc.).

      When paid as an independent contractor, the recipient of the payments can be any business entity, sole proprietor, LLC, LLP, S-Corp, etc.

  • John Kelly says:

    Jose Mourinho could probably learn a lot from JVZ………………..

  • Robert Holmén says:

    “There is no known precedent in orchestral history for paying a conductor a sweetener to stay put.”

    Yes there is. A new contract for more money is a common thing.

    “restricted gift”… that means this was the only thing they were allowed to do with the money.

    On the plus side… he has done a very good job here. He is seen as the reason it has gotten better.

    If the conductor is good, the enticing him to stay benefits the whole orchestra even if the money isn’t for everyone.

  • ohglorioso says:

    So did the NY Phil pay him a “signing” bonus????

    • John Borstlap says:

      I longingly think back to the time when I was paid money for stopping to write music. Those were the days…. (In the Netherlands, there is currently a national foundation that hands-out big sums to contemporary composers on the condition they write crap – alas, I was excluded.)

  • Dileep Gangolli says:

    Not sure why people are mad at JVZ for securing a great contract viz a viz his agent. As we like to say in America, “Show me the Money”.

    But any time there is a money raised in restricted fashion for this type of overspend, it is money that could have gone to other areas of the organization. The money was there. It was just allocated in a thoughtless way (IMHO).

    Management and board should not cry wolf when the orchestra expects more $$$.

  • Dave T says:

    “…forcing the New York Philharmonic to pay over the odds for a conductor who was not their first choice…”
    The NYPO was not FORCED to do anything. After all, as you say, “There are plenty more sticks on the shelf.” Their decision, their choice, their responsibility. Neither Dallas nor Dallasians are to blame for New York’s “predicament.”

  • Rob van der Hilst says:

    To quote the financial pianogenius the late Mr. Władziu Valentino Liberace: who oh who in this story is crying all the way to the bank?
    I say no more.

    However…. when can this planet receive, in all humbleness of course, a refreshed and (of course) extended version of ‘When the Music Stops: managers’ by the still kicking and very alive Mr. Norman Lebracht?

    Do It My Friend!

    • Rob van der Hilst says:

      Sorry for the silly name-error concerning NL

    • John Borstlap says:

      Maybe entitled: ‘When the music stops again’.

      By the way, that first book was quite an eye-opener, also if you did not quite agree with its conclusions.

  • BB says:

    So, let me get this straight. Thirty two miles away in Dallas, there is a single donor who gave over $3.3 million to pay a music director who makes $1.7 million a bonus, but in Fort Worth, the CEO says they have done everything possible and can’t raise another nickel for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra? As we say in Texas, “Don’t piss on my boots and tell me it’s raining.”

    • Bruce says:

      I’m sure their excuse is that Dallas has sucked up all the money. (Because there is such a limited amount of money floating around in the DFW area)

    • Saxon Broken says:

      The Fort Worth Orchestra seems to be doing OK (its budget is $11.5m) for the second orchestra in the wider metropolitan area. And certainly better than other 2nd tier Texas orchestras.

  • Nick says:

    Yes, donations come in many weird and wonderful ways. And we should all be thankful that there are donors with lots of spare cash. But I for one will bet my hat that this particular donor did not voluntarily go to the Chairman of the Board and tell him “I have some spare cash. I like JvZ and what he’s done with the orchestra. Would you like a few more millions to keep him on board for a few more years?”

    I have no doubt – personal view of course – that after a one-sided chat with JvZ’s IMG manager the Chairman or President hawked the idea round a few fat cats and until one said “OK I’ll cough up!” Was the fat cat given the opportunity of selecting from a list of possibilities for the use of his money? Unlikely, but that again that is just my view.