French-themed orchestra offers lowest UK pay

Les Bougies Baroque have a reputation for paying very little to British musicians – usually £60-70 per concert, involving 2-3 rehearsals, plus performance.

Now they are going even lower, asking the players to pay their own train fares to Bath, at least £20. Basically, they are asking professionals to play for next to nothing. Be warned.

Here’s the offer:

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  • It would be much better psychology for the group’s leader if he said to the performers: “There is no fee payable for this performance but we are offering a token expenses contribution of £70”.

    By the time the players who take on the date have paid the fare to Bath, bought a few sandwiches and cups of tea during the rehearsals and a cheap pizza in Bath on the concert day, and worked out how to get themselves home when they arrive back in London or wherever late after a concert in Bath (for non-UK readers, Bath is 115 miles from London, so a certain 2 hours by car, and there’s only one possible train leaving Bath after a concert, getting into London Paddington at 00.38, after most underground lines have stopped running), everyone will be well out of pocket.

    All groups have to start up (though this one started in 2012 so ought to be working on a better footing by now), but paying this little is self-defeating from the point of view of reputation and player morale.

    The only inducement to players (and maybe the group’s Maltese director is playing this card), is that he has previously had dates at the fine baroque festival in Valetta, Malta. And in cold January, a date in Malta is very attractive. Maybe he pays his performers there a bit better.

    • If you are – as I was – intrigued as to whether this French-named, Maltese driven, but largely British student-filled orchestra has the formidable talent of the brilliant Aurora Orchestra [as they are mentioned as a parallel lower down in this thread], you can listen on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6b5FT5LVEo and judge for yourselves.

    • Robert King points out that this group has been going for a while now.
      The time for start-up fees is over. If the director wants to the ensemble to really establish itself, the director needs to develop a business plan, and find some funding sources. This is tough, but it can be done. But, is easier to have a glamorous website and not to do the hard graft.

      Experience is good, but after a while you can’t pay rent, buy food, or pay fares with ‘experience’. Offering low fees can put off some really good musicians who can’t afford to give up a day of teaching or similar work. The idea that brands should grow on the backs of people’s underpaid labour is not a good business model.

  • You should double-check this one. They have a french name, but it doesn’t mean this is a french orchestra (I mean registered in France with a licence to employ performing artists). We have in France a very regulated labour law that applies also for performing artists, with a minimum salary (even if the rehearsals and / or concerts takes place in another country).

  • It is absolutely not French, except the name: the founder is Maltese and the ensemble has played in Malta, England and Berlin, but never in France.

  • I’m afraid a simple PS update is not good enough, you’re gonna have to change that article’s title before the French bring out their guillotine again 😀

  • “The band has a French name and French repertoire, justifying the headline.”

    Nope, just lazy, unresearched journalism and unhelpful to a group that is trying to raise its profile and experience (and did a jolly good and well received performance of Gluck’s Il Parnaso Confuso at Wilton’s Music Hall last Summer).

    Thought Robert King’s comment re wording very helpful.

  • Who should be “more helpful.” The director is a Post Graduate student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and has no public funding. By providing opportunity, that is itself “helpful.”

      • In what way “exploitation?” Perhaps it would therefore be better if young musicians didn’t explore performing opportunities…

        • Asking professionals to work for <£4 an hour, paying their own expenses, and making them sign a contract for the privilege of doing so is definitely exploitation.
          Young groups usually pay badly – and lots of musicians are willing to put up with this on a 'music and mates' deal. But when Ian Peter is not swanning around in Maltese magazines wearing silly costumes, or sitting for portraits, he is harassing musicians across London if they do not reply to his Facebook messages within the hour.
          Opportunity is usually a good thing, but the damage to your reputation if you play for Ian Peter now?

  • The pay offered here is in line with the starting pay offered by the Aurora Orchestra when it began. While I don’t think it is right, if you want young groups to flourish, sometimes the experience is worth more then the money. If you don’t agree Norman, then why not put the young Aurora orchestra (a group you regularly praise) in your sight for the next bashing for their years of under paying.

      • This is not a start up group. It’s been going for (too many) years. I got asked to do a concert with them in exchange for a bottle of wine once. I was then asked to submit all my availability for an entire month! It then surfaced that this “concert” was actually just someone’s final exam- extremely misleading.

        I’ve heard only negative things about this group; most of the time there is no fee. Other times, some people get offered payment while others are apparently just lucky to get some “experience”.

        This is not a professionally run group in reality, so perhaps it should stop pretending to be something legitimate.

    • A response from Ian Peter Bugeja, the orchestra’s director:

      Dear Norman,

      I am writing to you with reference to the post you recently published on your blog pertaining to my ensemble (https://slippedisc.com/2016/09/french-orchestra-offers-lowest-uk-pay/), about which I would like to clarify the following:

      1. We are not a French orchestra – we are a UK-based orchestra with a French name.

      2. No-one is engaged or paid under duress with my ensemble – players and singers are of course at liberty to say no to something, which they have done and still do. This is not something I have ever held against anybody, as I understand that as adults we are all free to say no to work we may not feel is worth it for us both financially or otherwise – painting me as a slave-driver in your post merely highlights that you do not understand this most basic of points.

      3. Therefore, this is not ‘exploitation’ – especially when there is such a huge divide between professional ensembles like the AAM & OAE and start-up ensembles like us – there is a vacuum in the middle that hasn’t been filled so far, so young players just don’t get the experience required on period instruments so that they can get to a point where they can play for ensembles like the OAE and the AAM unless they play for ensembles like us to gain enough experience that will lead them to such professional ensembles. However, in any case, they are under no obligation to say yes to what I am offering, and are free to say no when I ask them to play. They do not need you to ‘protect’ them from any ‘exploitation’ in any way Norman – people have enough common sense to say no to something if they feel it is not worth their time and effort.

      4. Although the group (which, I will repeat, is UK based) has been running since 2012, it is not a full time concern, and, indeed, cannot be as I am completing my MPhil studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

      5. Therefore, the ensemble is essentially a student body that is seeking through wider work to raise its profile and develop where both experience and expertise are concerned, in order to become more full time. That this mission is succeeding is attested to by the excellent reviews we received in the national press for last year’s Gluck opera ‘Il Parnaso Confuso’ at Wilton’s Music Hall.

      6. As I’m sure you’ll agree, student ensembles like this one need regular profile-building concerts such as the one in Bath to generate more interest and more money (we do not receive any public funding, and rely on corporate and private money to make things happen), which we have been doing successfully to the point where we have already paid professional fees at many a concert in the past. That players keep saying yes to my concerts attest that I am not taking advantage of people for a one-off, and that players are called back regularly to play for the properly-paid concerts they have helped to bring about by investing their time in the aforementioned lesser-paid profile-building concerts.

      In light of the above facts, I would have therefore appreciated it if you had gotten in touch with me first to clarify matters, rather than plucking something out of context – which someone with an agenda, no doubt, sent you out of spite – and publishing it without first hearing the other side of the story, and perhaps more importantly, without understanding the full context of how a budding student body that hopes to become fully professional operates.

      The post should therefore be taken down with immediate effect – as for no logical reason whatsoever you are adversely affecting the career of a young conductor (who is still a student, I might add) and the peers he regularly employs (who have the free will to make their own decisions as to whether they want to work with me or not anyway

      Many thanks,

      Ian Peter


      Ian Peter Bugeja
      MMus [RWCMD]
      B.A. (Hons) [UOM]
      BMusLSM
      DipABRSM
      ALCM

      • Why not create a separate thread in which to post Mr. Bugeja’s response, or at least make it part of the header of this one? You’ve always done so in similar instances.
        Leaving this response buried at the bottom of this thread doesn’t exactly scream ‘journalistic probity’.

  • What a horrible thread. Full of hate against a student trying to make music from nothing. I personally know Ian Peter and have played for him in many occasion. He has paid me in every performance we’ve done together, may it be big or small. This is not a professional orchestra. If it were then they would have had money behind it. Exploiting people would mean that the orchestra would be making money which I know for a fact that Ian works many jobs to pay people from his own pocket. It’s really sad to see so many horrible people on this post. Is this what classical music has come to? Shame on the government and music schools to make people look desperate and twisted.

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