What musicians earn in German orchestras

What musicians earn in German orchestras


norman lebrecht

March 31, 2018

The job vacancies are advertised every month in Das Orchester, but nowhere does it say what they pay.

So we made some discreet enquiries. What we have discovered are huge discrepancies between some of the best and all of the rest.

Here’s the pay scale:

Berliner Philharmoniker pays a monthly salary of €8,500 for an ensemble player (a principal earns €9,770+)

Leipzig Gewandhausorchester: €5,700 (principal €1,400)

WDR Köln: €5,300 (principal plus €800)

Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz Ludwigshafen: €4,100 (principal plus €800)

Bremen Philharmoniker: €3,400(principal plus €800)

Exchange rate: €100 = US $123 = UK£88

How does that compare with your situation?



  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    ==Leipzig Gewandhausorchester: €5,700 (principal €1,400)

    you mean ‘plus €1,400’

  • Dave says:

    I suspect other benefits are involved.

    • Anon says:

      Not really. Recording royalties have practically shrunk to peanuts. orchestras who have their own festivals (e.g. BPhO Easter Baden-Baden) will have supplemental income from those festivals directly.
      Also these are brutto. about 50-60% goes to taxes and mandatory social security payments.

      • collin says:

        Net pay in Europe may be smaller than in the US, but, European health care benefits and retirement are much more generous (especially since health care is a lot cheaper) than in the US…

        In other words, take home pay is not the issue in terms of whether you choose (if you’re lucky enough!) between Berlin or London or Los Angeles. It’s life style, family, other teaching/performance possibility… prestige, conductor….

        Reality is, only a handful of orchestral musicians have such choices, most go where they win the audition, whatever the pay.

        • Peter says:

          FYI: Most US orchestras pay for healthcare insurance on top of salaried compensation in addition to providing a pension for their musicians (separate from and in addition to any government benefits such as Social Security).

        • cha says:

          yea, moms cousin retired from a orchestra, didnt know some had age requirements, best wishes on your carer

        • Lazlo Toth says:

          Europeans pay more in taxes and get more for their taxes than most of us in the US get mainly because Europeans have better – or perhaps less bad – government generally. But what is gotten for European-level taxations doesn’t typically close the gap. I’m a US lawyer and pretty much all of my European colleagues say they would gladly give up the benefits of their national taxation AND their job security for our pay when we point out that though we are paid more we don’t have as much health care coverage or job security.

          The other thing – the US has higher pay AND most goods and services cost considerably less so there’s a double benefit.

          So all of this distresses me a bit because like many things in life, someone in the Berlin Philharmonic isn’t really paid the value of the benefit the orchestra provides to the world artistically, while as a lawyer I get paid quite a bit more and – well, the pluses and minuses of lawyers can always be argued – and I suspect to get to a top orchestra you have to fight far more than you do to get to be part of a top law firm.

          I was wondering about additional financial benefits outside of the job and am saddened to see how few there are too. I get too much joy from watching and listening to all of these orchestras not to wish them better lives financially – and the ones below the very top level – even more saddening, especially when listening to them is often even more fun.

          • Lazlo, with all due respect, if i were a cynic i would claim that based on your comment, you are far too honest to be a lawyer in the US 😉

            That said, i quite agree with you.

  • I. says:

    If I may just enlighten it.
    Those are the earnings before the tax apply (in Germany would go between 30-40-50 percentage)

    Also, any economy function different. In Germany, a salary of 4,000 brutto will allow you to live very decent. In London.. or Paris.. mmm.. you’ll live basically in your car/train/bus/music hall…

    I do agree that those large differences between orchestras are too big. We all do the same job and not only the “big ones” will supply spectacular evenings

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Are orchestral musicians in Germany allowed to teach in state-owned conservatories? Here in France, most musicians supplement their income by teaching.

  • Rob says:

    Rattle didn’t do much Elgar in Berlin, if any? I find it quite shocking the two symphonies were never played. I seem to recall he did Brigg Fair at one of those open air concerts.

    • Armchair Bard says:

      I was working at EMI when Rattle went to Berlin. One day the phone rang: it was the Elgar Society. Why didn’t we get Sir Simon and the BPO to record The Kingdom in the contemporaneous translation by Julius Buths: Das Reich. They could offer sponsorship.

      Certainly, says I. And if you give us enough money we’ll guarantee to keep it in the catalogue for a thousand years.

      • 18mebrumaire says:

        Excellent and well-tempered response! Has the Kingdom ever been performed in the German translation I wonder?

        • Armchair Bard says:

          Ah well! A German joke is no laughing matter and all that [though the above conversation did actually take place].

          Der Traum was famously – for Elgar anyway – introduced in 1901 at the Lower Rhine Festival (and there is incidentally a 1960 Austrian Radio recording with Patzak), as was Die Apostel in 1904. Das Reich, anyone?

          • John Borstlap says:

            Since we have already ‘Götterdämmerung’, who would need ‘Das Reich’?

          • HugoPreuss says:

            Two weeks ago “The Kingdom” was performed in Aachen. And since this is 2018, it was performed in English. No need for awkward translations… It was an inspired evening, but I seriously doubt that you can hear it all that often in Germany. It was certainly my first time with this piece.

    • Peter Phillips says:

      The first was played by the BPO – with considerable passion – under Runnicles. It is or was on their digital concert hall.

    • James says:

      Not that this is on-topic, but I’m pretty sure that Rattle has conducted Elgar’s Falstaff with the Berlin Phil.

  • Gerhard von der Linde says:

    The sums here written concerning the Berliner, the Gewandhausorchester and WDR are nothing close to either gross or netto salary for each these orchestras. Total false.

    • Anon says:

      And what are the correct numbers then? Afaik these numbers are sufficiently close to the truth. Only in some cases these might not account for some pay rises due to seniority.

      • Gerhard von der Linde says:

        Correct sums would be breaching of trust – please have understanding for this. Gross (beginning) salary for tutti- and solo-musicians of WDR and Gewandhausorchester are very considerable higher than the sums here written. Berliner Philharmoniker are also receiving higher salary than the claim written by Mr Lebrecht.

        • Anon says:

          Breach of trust? These salaries, paid by the taxpayer, are no secret and open to public inquiry.
          And they can not be ‘very considerably higher’, only somewhat, because then they would fall outside of the regulated framework of public service positions in Germany.

          • Gerhard von der Linde says:

            Not correct. Artistic employees of public-financed theaters and concert-houses (orchestra, choir, soloist-ensemble, actor-ensemble, ballett, dramaturgs) are subject of own tariff contracts, not of public-service salary tariff.
            Exact sums are not my job, to publicise. Gross salary in the handfull ‘Spitzenorchester’ in Germany is significant higher.

          • Robert Holmén says:

            In the US, non-profit orgs like orchestras must reveal the top 5 salaries paid because the public has some right to know what the tax-deductible donations that support the org are going for.

    • Guido Rückel says:

      No,these Numbers are coming close! Me as a member of the munich philharmonic (soloist,same contract as Gewandhaus and dresdner Staatskapelle) can say that.
      There could be a 13th month salery plus “Urlaubsgeld”, which will get you a year-salery up to 110.000€ Brutto. Much tax and secureties have to be payed,so netto will be less!!

      • Guido Rückel says:

        110.000€ per year as a soloist .

      • Gerhard von der Linde says:

        Nein, Herr Rückel, mit Verlaub! Sie als Solist der MPhil wissen, dass Sie, und daher auch Ihre Gewandhausorchesterkollegen, deutlich mehr als 7.100€ pro Monat verdienen!

        • Gerhard von der Linde says:

          (Damit meinte ich nicht Ihre Behauptung von 110.000€ für einen Solisten, die ja richtig ist, sondern die Lebrecht’sche Zahlen, die ja Unsinn sind)

          • Guido Rückel says:

            Naja,als Beginner im Orchester kriegt man unter Umständen deutlich weniger (z.B. erst nach 18 Jahren Endgehalt),daher sind die Zahlen weder falsch noch richtig. Es gibt ja auch Zuschläge,die nicht alle bekommen (doppeltes Kindergeld, genannt “Familiennzuschlag–hat nichts mit dem Familienzuschlag nach BAT zu tun z.B.).
            Manche Orchester haben 12,manche 13 oder 14 Monatsgehälter…wenn man das hochrechnen würde auf ein Jahresgehalt,dann kommt man der Sache ziemlich nahe!

        • Olassus says:

          Annoying, Von der Linde, that you are arguing with people without providing any numbers of your own.

  • Alexander says:

    I wonder how much do soprani get there , could someone give a hint ?

    • TheaterFabrik says:

      Singers almost never reveal their fees, but I doubt many fest soloists even at state Theaters would be getting close to 5k /mth.


    What about the Munich orchestras? Munchner Philharoniker, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Symphonie Orchestrer des Bayerischen Rundfunks.

    • Max Grimm says:

      – Münchner Philharmoniker, no idea.
      – Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks – base for a tutti player is just about €6.700 (according to the BR’s 2017 salary charts).
      – Bayerisches Staatsorchester is, regarding pay among German orchestras, second only to the Berliner Philharmoniker.

      • MacroV says:

        And from what I heard at Carnegie Hall the other night in a spectacular Rosenkavalier, well deserved for the Bayerisches Staatsorchester.

        • Max Grimm says:

          I wasn’t at Carnegie Hall but I fully share your view regarding the Bayerisches Staatsorchester.

          • Andrew Powell says:

            So do I. Hear the new Lulu DVD — best ever of that amazing score. Wirklich wunderschön.

    • Guido Rückel says:

      Münchner Philharmoniker, Gewandheusorchester and Staatskapelle Dresden are having nearly the same contracts (Haustarifvertrag),the Numbers above for the Gewandhaus are correct…Me as a soloist of the munich philharmonic can say so!!!

  • will says:

    What about some info on UK orchestral salaries?

    When I was studying at the Guildhall School of Music (1972-1976) my teacher, a principal player in the LSO, told me that most London orchestral players were not paid regular salaries as such, but separate fees for concerts, rehearsals and recording sessions. His LSO Principal fee in 1972 was £17 per concert, to include a 3 hour rehearsal on the day of the concert, and his recording session fee was £16.
    He also told me that the only time he received a salary was in one of the BBC orchestras, where his Principal fee in 1967-1970 was £140 a month.
    Is there an arithmetical formula to translate these monetary figures into today’s equivalents, I wonder?
    It was the thought of working in a very stressful job for such paltry amounts of money that finally decided me not to go into the musical profession as I had planned to do.

    • RW says:

      Typically the pay for tutti players in UK contract symphony orchestras outside London is around £30,000 per annum (£2,500 per month), approx €34,000 (€2,800 per month) . Very few extra payments are now made, recordings and broadcasts are typically incorporated into basic salary.
      London orchestras are a different animal entirely, but the higher pay in London is largely couteracted by the difference in living costs.

    • Thomasina says:

      I have read Mr.Gibson(LSO)’s interview. He said that he was paid per performance as a freelance musician and he earned £55.000(a few years ago). His name is on the list of LSO site but he is freelance…? (Love him)

      • Insidedesk says:

        In the case of the LSO the members own the orchestra, and are self employed freelancers; in old parlance it’s referred to as a First Call Contract. They decide how much of the schedule to commit to, but this is only for Members. Any shortfall in any sections are filled by extras/freelancers. But basically if one attends a LSO concert, it will have a 90%+ membership on the stage. Remaining 10% will be due to illness, vacancies, increased orchestration(larger percussion etc) so the public are getting the LSO!

    • Alastair Scott says:

      There are various indices and methods of calculating inflation but £140 a month in 1970 probably equates to about £2,000 a month now.

    • Gennady says:

      £140 in 1970 is £2198 today. Inflation calculator http://inflation.iamkate.com/

  • John Borstlap says:

    Thinking of the average monthly income of the majority of the composers who have, for some reason, provided the repertoire on which so many families live today, these figures strike as highly ironical.

  • MacroV says:

    Assuming Norman’s scale is correct, even the Berlin Philharmonic salaries would be well below those of a lot of US orchestras, though for principals (there and in some of the other orchestras) it’s really about a half-time job (and I’m guessing about two-thirds for others). And cost of living in Berlin is still relatively low.

    • Guido Rückel says:

      It is true,if you are in one of the leading US orchestras,you will earn much more money (approx. double).
      The whole system in these countries is so different if you look to living costs (NY,LA etc), costs for your kids (schools and universities in Germany for example are nearly free and payed by the state),you will have Health insurance automaticaly and and and…
      So you need that money especially if you have family!

  • Robin Worth says:


    Can anyone tell us what the Met and New York Phil pay?

    • Max Grimm says:

      If I remember correctly what I read here on SD some time ago, NY Phil was around $147.000 base and Met Orchestra was somewhere around $160.000 base, though I could be wrong.

    • Judy W. says:

      Can’t tell you that, but a couple years ago the base salary for a player in the orchestra of a smallish metropolitan area in the eastern U.S. was reportedly $98,000 per year, and most members also taught on the side.

  • Eric the Read says:

    Q: What is the difference between a musician and a large pizza?

    A: A large pizza can feed a family of four

  • Thomas Silverbörg says:

    One should keep in mind tat these people aretaxed to death in Germany. It is true that one gets ‘vacation money’, or a 13th paycheck, but they grab most of it back.

    • Guido Rückel says:

      Taxed to death?
      Or taxed to have:
      -Cheap health Insurance (and the company you are working for is paying 50%..by law!)
      -free schools
      -free studying at universities
      -having more than 130 full-time Orchestras
      -no tolls on highways
      -good working environmental Protection
      -much cheaper food
      -help for unemployed,that nobody has to suffer (and even having health Insurance)
      and and and…
      Paying much taxes is not allways funny,but it makes our life simply better and more

  • Leo says:

    Important work. Thank you.

    The “breach of trust” is the breach of the trust of the German taxpayer, off whose money the salaries are paid and from whom they are being kept secret. Often for a good reason.

    I wonder when the salaries of top conductors in German state-funded orchestras will be made public.
    Or those of the “star” directors of Regietheater.

    This will be very entertaining.

  • Max says:

    I guess every musician of there orchestras must also have a lot of private students?

  • tb says:

    I think the salaries if the top orchestras is correct, contracts for concertmaster principal cello, principal viola is higher because they will get a “Sondervertrag” but the salary of bremen and ludwigshafen is incorrect. Both have the same TVK A without “Fussnote”, so both must be quite the same.
    I think quite everything Mr. Rückel wrote is correct and very true, also in his thougts about taxes and living in Germany. Maybe ine thing should be done in the future, they should adjust the salarie to the livingcosts of the most expensive citys as Munich Stuttgart Frankfurt….

  • Marvin says:

    Another HUGE difference between U.S. and German orchestras is the work-load. Since someone mentioned “taxes to death” up above, it’s worth mentioning that in major American orchestras, musicians are WORKED to death! Take the salaries mentioned previously for major German orchestras, and consider that principal players are required to play only 50% of the season. Tutti players maybe more, but never like the Americans. In a typical class A German orchestra, a principal player might be required to show up at work 90-120 days per year. Out of 365 days, that isn’t so bad for EUR 100.000. Free time is left for family, travel, teaching, and playing with other orchestras around Europe.

  • RCO says:

    Anyone interested in the Dutch Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra? I have been a member (tutti) for about twenty years. Before tax monthly income is €5.040 and this is the maximum. Of this, I give about 55% to the taxation office. Extras are €1.000/year (before tax) for recordings and radio/tv things, 8% ‘holiday money’ (of course that is taxed as well), per diem when on tour plus a small compensation. Without a family, you will not starve, of course, but we do have to compromise on what food we buy with a wife and children to feed, too. Amsterdam is also not cheap (new colleagues struggle to find an affordable place where they can live, and preferably practise), I feel that I am paying a big monetary price for the honour of playing in this famous orchestra, and if another band wants to appoint me that will reward me with better conditions (money isn’t everything, but it helps to convince that lesser acoustics, possibly different conductors and what not might be worth the move), I will definitely consider it. I am definitely not old and for sure experienced, passionate and a good musician (I hope), but I should have realised this earlier perhaps, because some orchestras have age limits I think? So Amsterdam might have to stick with me until my retirement (looks like around the age of 69,5 or something like that in my case, if I am still alive then…) 😉

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Thank you!

    • RCO says:

      Oh, and we as ‘tutti cattle’ play 90% of the programs. Most principals play 50%, some of them play around 75-80% (I think). This depends on their instrument. Principal winds players get paid a 100% salary plus a little extra and play 50%, but a principal second violinist plays around 75-80% for a little more (about €250/month? Bruto.) than a tutti and they have to play solos and they don’t get free from smaller pieces like a piano concerto.

  • Varupenne Guillaume says:

    As a bass Trbn soloist in Paris Opera orchestra, my annual net salary is about nearly 60.000euros ; this amount consider also bonus, recording, tv/cinema, special instrument bonus ( contrabass trombone ) ; without those bonus my annual net salary is 48100euros.( and this is my 13th season here) ; that’s not very good considering the life in Paris where the cost living is very expensive….