Watch: Salonen and Yo Yo Ma discuss composer panic

Watch: Salonen and Yo Yo Ma discuss composer panic


norman lebrecht

February 28, 2017

Esa-Pekka’s cello concerto for Yo-Yo premieres in Chicago on March 9, 10 and 11.

photo: Todd Rosenberg


  • Musician says:

    Does anyone else think that Yo Yo Ma’s $110,000 fee plus first class airfare for two for a concerto performance is absurd? Or because he is who he is, this is his market value.

    • Brian Hughes says:

      Obviously, that is what the market is willing to pay. That’s “star power” in the orchestra world. It’s akin to the jet-setting conductors flying from continent to continent and demanding exorbitant fees for what is sometimes tired and routine work. BUT, who would the public pay to “see” (not necessarily hear)? Valery Gergiev or me?

      • John Groves says:

        Actually, you! Gergeiev’s performances are notoriously in/underrehearsed and I have never been impressed! Semperoper Dresden hired an MD recently for their new production of Hoffman. He did not use a score, but clearly did not know it, and it was obvious that neither singers nor orchestra could follow what passed for a ‘beat’ so did their own thing! Yet they would not have paid me far less to do a better job!!!!

    • David Osborne says:

      But it’s not a market is it, given how none of this would be happening without substantial subsidy from Governments. Is he worth it? Anyone here want to nominate a single work of mainstream cello repertoire of which Yo Yo Ma has made the benchmark recording?

      • William Safford says:

        At least in the U.S., most of it is not government subsidized. Typically it’s donor-subsidized.

    • herrera says:

      What would satisfy your sense of social justice, that he be paid $150 to play every Bar Mitzvah?

      How poor does he to have to be in order not to be “absurd”? earn no more than the average Big Five orchestra principal cellist, or is that still too elitist? how about minimum wage?

      You’re welcome to start a boycott of his concerts, reduce his market value, make him fly Business Class but his cello must sit in Economy.

      • Musician says:

        I think he should be required to play bar and bat mitzvahs. It has NOTHING to do with boycotting Herrera. However, two or three concerto performances and he surpasses a big five principal cellist’s annual salary.

        • Max Grimm says:

          I guess the Big Five’s principal cellists could join Yo-Yo Ma in playing bar and bat mitzvahs then, considering their annual salary surpasses virtually every other of the world’s principal cellist’s annual salary by a good margin.

        • herrera says:

          The annual compensation of a Big Five principal cellist includes his wages, net of all social security contributions and income tax withholdings, health care plan for his entire family, medical leave in case of illness, retirement for the rest of his life long after he has stopped playing, life insurance and some sort of disability insurance in case of catastrophic accident, union protection in work hours and job security, paid vacation and sick days …

          And oh, touring the music capitals of Europe and Asia every year, with airfare and hotels and food fully paid for…

          Yo Yo Ma has to manage all that by himself out of his $110,000 (after giving his agent 10% right off the top), and in off years in which he doesn’t get enough engagements, or he is ill, too bad…

          I wonder who has the more comfortable, easy life.

          • M2N2K says:

            A few clarifications: 1) “social security contributions and income tax withholdings” are not added to, but exactly the opposite – deducted from, every musician’s wages, 2) an amount of “premium sharing” for any health plan is also deducted from wages in all major US orchestras (well into four digits in most, while in Chicago for example the annual amount is approaching four thousand), 3) Yo-Yo Ma’s fee figure, if correct as quoted above, is for one performance only, and he can certainly appear in several dozen of them annually – so we are talking about quite a few millions here. Meaningful comparisons require accuracy and depend on one’s point of view, but in this case they should also take into account a particular musician’s personality.

    • MacroV says:

      What I’m curious about is who pays this. I’ve always assumed that the top-echelon orchestras (those with whom he’ll actually do a subscription series and a world premiere rather than a one-off of Dvorak or Schumann), and who really don’t need the “prestige” of a Yo-Yo Ma appearance, probably get him (and people of similar stature) for a lot less. But I could be wrong.

      In any case, apparently he gets what the market bears. But unless he can actually generate enough additional revenue to cover the higher fee, it’s hard to see the economic justification.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      He only quotes that fee when he doesn’t want the gig. His fees are nearer $10,000 for a conventional concert with a top-tier orchestra. Or if he is playing a chamber concert at a well-known mainstream venue.

      Agent: “Do you want to play at …”
      YYM: “Not really, no”
      Agent: “Well, lets quote them $100,000 plus extras since they keep asking”

  • Bruce says:

    Alternate lede: Finnish ‘composer’ admits he is way out of his depth in writing a concerto for Yo-Yo Ma.

  • Steven Honigberg says:

    Goldschmidt concerto. Barber Concerto.