Some thoughts on James Levine’s $27,000 nightly rate

Some thoughts on James Levine’s $27,000 nightly rate


norman lebrecht

May 28, 2018

The Metropolitan Opera, responding to its former music director’s unfair dismissal suit, has revealed that James Levine was paid $27,000 for each performance, on top of a salary of $400,000 a year.

The numbers make some sense in respect of Levine’s failing health in recent years: the less he conducted, the less he cost.

But the base rate of 27 grand a night is out of all proportion to anything else in the opera economy. No maestro on earth makes that kind of money with a cast-iron guarantee. They might get $80k for a one-off in Japan, but that’s just cherry-blossom. There rest of the cake contains much less fat.

Likewise, the nightingales. The Met has always capped singers’ fees. A tiny handful of very big names are paid $20,000 per show. The rest get a lot less. If a singer turns up for every single rehearsal and then falls sick, he or she gets nothing at all.

The Met’s orchestra musicians who play their hearts out every night do not, however (apart from the concertmaster), earn $27,000 in a month.

For a conductor to earn more than the house’s biggest box-office draw, and more per night than any other musician in a month, is absurd. Worse, for him now to sue the company for $5.8 million in lost earnings when a full-scale legal investigation has exposed his sexual misconduct over many years is, quite literally, obscene.

Levine did wrong. Levine had to go. Levine is history.

But the Met lives on. Its management and board has shown itself, over many years, to have been irrational, myopic and incompetent in handling the company’s most important employee – its music director.

There have been no resignations, either from the management or the board. That suggests the ineptitude continues unchecked.

The Met needs to get clear of its Levine mentality.



  • Olassus says:

    “For a conductor to earn more than the house’s biggest box-office draw, and more per night than any other musician in a month, is absurd. Worse, for him now to sue the company for $5.8 million in lost earnings when a full-scale legal investigation has exposed his sexual misconduct over many years is, quite literally, obscene.”


    • Ametfan says:

      Obscene is Gelb’s weekly salary of nearly $40,000. On what planet does this exist? (Not including a myriad of entertainment, travel, chauffeur, and pension benefits). He continues to fool that board of fools. Levine seems to pale in comparison

  • MJJ says:

    Levine and that racist homophobe Daisy Soros deserve to be locked in the same cell, just to annoy each other into comas.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    Let me just put it out there that I have never been a James Levine fan. Living here in Boston, we heard him regularly with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and within the mainstream orchestral repertoire, I consistently found him to be a sub-standard interpreter, ALTHOUGH he was a great orchestra-builder and he significantly elevated the day-in, day-out playing of the BSO.

    That said, his lawsuit against the Met was and is shameless. Levine knows what sexual abuse he did. The fact that he had to have someone else live with him to keep him from getting into trouble when having “alone time” kind of says it all. Obviously the guy has a tortured mind in some fundamental way. But really, whoever is advising him (Tom Levine?) is doing him a great disservice. While he obviously was daring the Met to not settle with him and get into discovery, the fact is, what can come of this will only further diminish and disgrace him. He has plenty of money (and not a lot of time left to spend it) and obviously this is not about money. But fundamentally, James Levine is in the wrong. If he doesn’t know that, then he’s in even worse shape than I imagined, and he’s learned nothing from the great operas he’s studied all his life.

    • Opera Fan says:

      Levine was just the tip of the iceberg for the last 45 years.

    • Tom Vendetti says:

      I disagree with the assessment of Levine’s performances with the BSO. I also attended numerous concerts during his tenure. He was enthusiastically received by BSO musicians and audiences. I recorded many of his concerts and refer to them frequently with great satisfaction. I am horrified with stories that have circulated about his alleged behavior, but, as I have done with so many artists, I am willing to separate behavior and accomplishment. I realize that there is a degree of subjectivity in evaluating performance quality, but it has become evident that the reputation of his conducting skill has been tarnished by numerous reports of wrong doing. In the final analysis, it a sad situation for the victims, Levine and audiences who admired his great skill.

      • Herr Doktor says:

        Tom, you’re welcome to your own opinion about Levine’s tenure at the BSO. There were plenty of people in Boston who thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I didn’t, and didn’t from the beginning. If you enjoy listening to your Levine recordings, then by all means, listen to them. I’m just glad I don’t have any.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Personally I think Levine is a good, but not great conductor. I would think his reputation will quickly fade in a similar way to Maazel’s reputation.

  • Tamino says:

    We can shoot each other in the legs as much as we want. At the end of the day the top shots in classical music make tiny bread crumbs of what the top shots in other fields, sports, pop music etc. make.
    Why is 27 k too much for a conductor, who is in charge of the whole performance, with a few soloists on stage making 20 k each?

    You want socialism in classical music? Not market forces but regulation from the top decides who gets which fair share? Why not, but say it clearly.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Tamino, don’t push the argument to an extreme that no one else is invoking. This is fundamentally about economics, not socialism. If one can pay a conductor $27,000 a performance and others whatever they are paid, and still be profitable, then fantastic! But everyone knows that that’s not what is happening. The Met is hemorrhaging money these days. Either those deficits get made up by wealthy donors (which is happening less than it has in the past), or the deficits need to be brought down if the organization is to remain viable.

      That’s the issue. And in the current environment, it’s clear that the deficits need to be brought down. And one way is by not paying whoever is standing on the podium $27,000 per performance.

    • Lev says:

      The difference is that in the sports and popular music nobody relies on wealthy donors to keep the show going. All these insane fees are paid out of profit which these big shots generate. Classical music is not profitable and unless it becomes so, there is no point talking about market based rates.

      • Tamino says:

        That’s absolutely not true. Who and what do you think pays for professional sport?
        Professional sponsors, directly, and indirectly through TV advertisement and licensing.
        Tickets only are a minor revenue generating stream in professional sports. It’s the same in classical music.
        The difference is only in the visibility of the sponsors. No ‘Goldman&Sachs’ logo on the shirts of the MET singers and musicians (yet).

        • Mathais Broucek says:

          Sports teams gets non-spectator money from advertising, TV licensing (in turn paid for by indirect spectators and advertisers), mechanising etc. When a corporation sponsors a sports team or a TV showing of the sport it’s ADVERTISING and they expect to see ROI from it.

          By contrast, opera houses and symphony orchestras get their money from spectator, patrons (especially in the US) or government (especially in Europe). Those doing the funding do NOT expect tangible ROI

  • AMetFan says:

    The whole racket is out of whack.

  • Caravaggio says:

    “But the Met lives on. Its management and board has shown itself, over many years, to have been irrational, myopic and incompetent in handling the company’s most important employee – its music director.

    There have been no resignations, either from the management or the board. That suggests the ineptitude continues unchecked.”

    And another Bravo.

  • Robin Worth says:

    How does this compare to the salaries/fees paid to conductors/principals at the ROH, Vienna and Munich?

    • Nick2 says:

      Without contradicting with any of the points made above and totally agreeing with the issue of some conductors being overpaid, I do suggest that it is not only a comparison with other opera houses that needs to be considered. Several other factors come into play.

      1. An Opera Music/Artistic Director will usually need to spend 4 or 5 weeks on preparation and rehearsals for a new production for which they will not usually be paid and which may then only have 6 or 7 performances spread over a 2 or 3 week period. So an average of around 7 performance fees might be amassed over a 6 – 8 week period. Clearly for some revivals there may be a reduction in the number of rehearsal weeks, but not by much unless an assistant takes early rehearsals. Therefore if a conductor takes the podium for 4 operas a season and you add in, say, 2 or 3 weeks of administration plus more weeks for travel and vacations, a major chunk of each year must be devoted to his company which could amount to as much as 36 weeks. That leaves up to 16 weeks for an orchestra Music Director’s post and/or often lucrative guest conducting elsewhere.

      The caveat here is that it is difficult to compare weeks worked at the Met with those at many European companies where the subscription systems are often different.

      2. Top US symphony orchestras also pay their conductors what seem like obscene amounts of cash. According to the figures supplied by Adaptistration and based on the official orchestra IRS filings, in the 2012/13 season this was the total compensation paid by various orchestras to their Music Directors –

      Chicago Symphony: $2,309,837
      National Symphony: $2,274,151
      San Francisco Symphony: $2,105,920
      Dallas Symphony: $1,788,997
      New York Philharmonic: $1,751,570

      For 2017/18 season we will have to wait some years to find out!

      3. Music Directors of orchestras are rarely paid by concert because they will often have 3 or 4 performances of the same programme in the same week. Some might argue that they are therefore doubly productive because, although a contract may call for just 12 weeks of actual conducting, this can mean between 30 and 48 concerts. Even adding weeks for administration, other duties, travel and vacations, that still leaves somewhere around 30 more earning weeks elsewhere. So a top symphony orchestra Music Director has a great deal more earning power than one at a top opera company. Indeed, some are collecting fees for two Music Directorships as well as some form of multi-year association with another.

      Just some thoughts to throw into the mix.

      • The View from America says:

        I don’t disagree that some compensation packages for music directors of the leading orchestras in the United States are obscenely high. But one doesn’t have to dip down very far — perhaps 15 orchestras — to get into much more “modest” territory when it comes to the salary and benefits packages that music directors receive.

        One thing to consider is how much of a “24/7” job being a music director actually is. Between repertoire preparation, rehearsals, concerts, player auditions, armchair/babysitting musicians and their egos (soloists but even some of the orchestra’s players), dealing with HR issues (often gnarly), handling a range of other administrative duties and attending myriad meetings (including ones of the orchestra board), interfacing with the media and the “big” local press personalities that go along with all of that, fundraising, hobnobbing with and “backslapping” donors who think they’re the most important people in their communities and thus deserve special attention beyond all reason … the duties and expectations are all-encompassing and never-ending.

        Thankfully, most conductors love their chosen field are very willing to make that commitment (although some don’t, and those ones eventually go back to Europe where the M.D. “model” isn’t the same).

        Speaking as a person who is active in the business world, I see much more that’s expected of music directors than I do of the CEOs and COOs at large corporations — both in terms of time and the variety of duties. Thinking about it in those terms, most M.D.s are compensated fairly … and more are short-changed than are “gravy-trained,” probably.

        • Nick2 says:

          I fully accept many of above poster’s comments. However, I find it difficult to accept the premise that most orchestras’ Music Directors in, let’s say, the top 30 to 40 ensembles (i.e. full time orchestras giving regular concerts virtually weekly) work anywhere near as hard as the CEO or COO of a major corporation must. Yes, I agree that when they are on the job, it can often be close to a very demanding 24/7 occupation. But we must remember they are surrounded by often quite large support teams that will have done much of the spadework. Their presence at fund-raising events, for example, extends to being present for a couple of hours or so, saying nice things in a speech mostly written by someone else, having photos taken and generally patting everyone on the back.

          The principal flaw in the argument, though, is that in these – and many other – orchestras, the MD is only around for a maximum of roughly 15 weeks in the year. So if Riccardo Muti (whose additional activities I admire – as with his prison concerts) is getting well over $2 million for 12 weeks in Chicago (I’m guessing on the exact number), that still leaves him 8 or 9 months for lucrative less exacting earning possibilities elsewhere. No doubt not as lucrative as Chicago, but still doubling or, when you add in recording royalties from the days when royalties were part of a contract and other income, tripling his annual fees. And in Europe the glad-handing and extra activities are not quite as onerous.

  • MacroV says:

    Levine’s behavior aside, is the compensation unreasonable? I have no problem with the conductor being the highest-paid person in an opera performance; there’s a lot to be responsible for. $27,000 to lead a night of Parsifal or Tristan at the world’s biggest opera house doesn’t strike me as outrageous.

    • Phillip says:

      You can’t be serious.

      • MacroV says:

        I’m totally serious. For any music director of a major orchestra or opera house, I suspect if you divide total compensation by number of performances, Levine’s figure isn’t that far out of whack.

        And what’s the going rate for a night of Itzhak Perlman (whose best days are far behind him) or Yo-Yo Ma, especially when they’re doing their star turn in the provinces? What’s Renee Flemming getting for a concert? Lang Lang? A lot more, I’m quite sure.

        Make sure to separate Levine’s appalling personal behavior from what he’d be paid under “normal” circumstances.

        • Yes Addison says:

          Under normal circumstances, results such as he obtained (with a LOT of help) in Tannhaeuser in 2015 would never have been tolerated at a major house. He would have been replaced at the rehearsal stage. It’s certainly perverse that he was being paid more than any other conductor, when his performances had become several-hour anxiety attacks for those in the pit and on the stage. Some orchestra members were talking to the press as far back as 2004 about their difficulty following him (see “At the Met, Concerns over a Maestro’s Health,” New York Times, May 1, 2004). This was not the kind of thing that was going to improve with time. He should have been out of the music director position at least six years earlier than he was.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Its sick. Levine is a gifted conductor but a London orchestral musician is lucky to get this in a year. One feels even less sympathetic when just about everyone in the business now accepts that he’s a shameless child molester.

    • MacroV says:

      Levine’s appalling personal behavior and his compensation as conductor/music director are separate issues; don’t conflate the two.

      As for the difference between conductor salaries and those of London orchestral musicians, it’s apples and rutabegas. London is free to free pursue an orchestral business model that would better compensate its musicians.

  • CAAAEC says:

    “If a singer turns up for every single rehearsal and then falls sick, he or she gets nothing at all.”

    This is not entirely correct. Singers on per-performance contracts at the Met receive weekly rehearsal pay outside of the performance period.

    • PB says:

      That is the exception rather than the rule; I have worked in most of the leading international houses and only at the Met received a weekly allowance in addition to the performance fees. However, the sum involved is quite modest and barely covers expenses, especially considering the prices of even modest short term accommodation in NY…….

  • Save the MET says:

    Folks, it’s entertainment. Levine, despite the fact that his sexual peccadilloes were the worst kept secret in opera helped sell tickets there for decades. I sat in the audience for years at the MET as well as his Carnegie Hall concerts and when he would come to the podium, rapturous applause and cheers would erupt. By the way, most knowledgeable people cheering knew about his proclivity for young boys and cheered anyway. He helped keep the Metropolitan Opera solvent for many years fund raising as well and had real talent, unlike Peter Gelb, who has sent customers fleeing and can’t figure his way out of a box with the flaps open. (A wholly untalented bore of a man)

    Now the Met is stuck in a quandary and have done a lousy job navigating the problem they made for themselves which has led to the traded lawsuits. Levine is never going to conduct there, or anywhere else for that matter again. He is done and civil suits against him may ensue, as it appears the statute of limitations for his nefarious behavior have expired for criminal prosecution. Over the time of his tenure at the Metropolitan Opera only a limited number of names, like Pavarotti, Domingo, Sutherland, Caballe, Nilsson and Netrebko had Levine’s “star power” to bring in the fans. (Tucker, Merrill, Vickers and even Carreras did not have that sort of draw.) So as far as what he was paid, frankly he was entitled to it through seniority and through the fact that he was putting butts in seats. The Metropolitan Opera cannot erase Levine and it is really stupid to do so from their Sirius network, shop etc. Further, there are other artists involved in all of those broadcasts and recordings and it hurts them and their ability to earn royalties, especially the retired ones. So when it comes to his salary plus performance pay, plus royalties, he earned that money over the years. The Metropolitan Opera well knew about his activities and never fired him until it eventually became public with #metoo. So they have ownership and are complicit in the entire affair. If the Metropolitan Opera is going to become solvent again, they need to toss the dead weight out on their arses and hire in new management and also replace the current officers on the Board.

    • Mark says:

      @Save the Met – You make some very good points here, and I have only a few things to add: all accusations against Levine’s we’ve heard so far do not rise to the level of criminal misconduct, and in all probability wouldn’t have resulted in any criminal prosecution, even if the alleged events occurred last year. Civil actions against him and the Met are time-barred as well (unless an enterprising attorney finds a way to conivince the court to toll the statute of limitations – it is theoretically possible, but extremely unlikely).

      Also, Sony Classical has recently re-released some Met opera recordings from the 50s with Richard Tucker, Bidu Sayao, Lucine Amara etc. (Cavalleria, Pagliacci, La Boheme etc.). The difference between the utter mediocrity (I am being polite here …) of the orchestra then and the extraordinary results Levine achieved is startling. As far as I am concerned, he was worth every penny.

      • MacroV says:

        There is no question the MET orchestra became a superstar during Levine’s years. As much as he deserves credit, it’s also true that every orchestra has improved a lot over that time period, simply because the standard of play generally has risen exponentially everywhere. In my youth (and we’re talking 35 years ago) the Italian opera orchestras, and French and Spanish orchestras in general weren’t considered very good, or fairly undisciplined; today they’re outstanding. Similarly, I imagine the SF and Chicago Lyric Opera orchestras are also much better than they used to be. So Levine deserves some credit as an orchestra builder, but the MET orchestra would have improved under anyone, and back in those days they were playing under the likes of Reiner, Kubelik, Leinsdorf and other people who knew what they were doing.

        • Mark says:

          I think he deserves much more than some credit – even under Reiner, Szell, Walter etc. the orchestra didn’t sound as good as the Met orchestra today (as the Met broadcast recordings testify). It’s difficult for me to say whether the orchestral musicians of today are (individually) better than the musicians of 50 years ago, but I think that Levine’s strength wasn’t just his mastery of the symphonic repertoire, but a unique understanding of vocalism and the interrelationship between the vocal line and the orchestra.
          That made him an ideal MD of an opera house.

    • Yes Addison says:

      Save the Met, who are these singers who only received radio broadcasts with Levine, and thus depend on him for exposure? The only ones I can think of are people who had brief careers there, such as Jane Eaglen and Cecilia Bartoli. (Is anyone listening to those Nilsson broadcasts they’ve been playing lately and wishing for Eaglen’s Isolde and Bruennhilde instead?)

      You can’t mean Scotto, Behrens, Battle, Troyanos, Stratas, Ewing, Millo, Fleming, Domingo, Pavarotti, Plishka, Heppner, or James Morris. All of these “Levine favorites” had broadcasts with other conductors. It isn’t Levine’s era that has disappeared from Sirius for the time being. It’s just Levine.

    • Robin Worth says:

      You make some excellent points here.

      One question: can anyone fill the Met nowadays? I remember Netrebko’s Lady Macbeth, with a dream cast and some empty seats in the stalls And no problem getting tickets for Domingo in his prime. Certainly Pavarotti filled the house, but since then…….

      How many times has the “House full” sign appeared in the last 20 years? Compare it to Vienna and Munich which are frequently ausverkauft.

  • George says:

    How important was Levine for the Met’s fundraising department during his fourty years?

    And if everyone knew about the allegations, why did they not terminate his contract thirty years ago?

  • Sharon says:

    Does Levine obtain royalties from air time, Met sponsored CDs etc. or do these belong entirely to the Met? It is entirely possible that the reason that the broadcasts have stopped has to do with royalties or licensing agreements but it is funny how this was not mentioned in either side’s petition or response, as far as I know.

    Levine, in happier days, may have traded away these royalty and licensure rights for more actual salary, so now he does not have access to some of the sources of renumeration to which other conductors have access.

    I agree with Save the Met. Levine was paid what he was because the Met’s financial analysts made the calculation that his presence brought in much more than his salary in donations and especially at the box office.

    In addition the Met was competing for Levine with other organizations and institutions the world over which also made the calculation that Levine’s admittedly obscene salary for a non profit institution was a business investment and that Levine would more than earn his own salary in increased donations and increased box office receipts.

    I also wonder how much Levine donated back to the Met over the years. I strongly suspect that the orchestra pit wheelchair lifts at Carnegie Hall and the Met were paid for by Levine (I have not heard any other person or organization being credited with this special one off donation). Admittedly this “donation” was self serving but I suspect in addition to this he donated back part of his salary over the years.

    And although I know the Met paid his brother’s salary I’m not sure that was always the case and there were other expenses he had as well that were unpaid by the Met, like maintaining the office at the Phramus building, an expensive location, as well as paying others in his entourage.

    In addition, his agent was receiving a nice cut.

    Gelb makes two million? Who is responsible for bringing in more donations and box office revenue to the Met? Levine or Gelb?

    • Lausitzer says:

      That’s certainly a valid question: Could it be that the main reason, or at least another reason, for taking the recordings with Levine off air is that they simply do not want to pay him further royalties? Would not be the first case of this kind in which no one wants to openly explain such a consideration.

  • Ametfan says:

    Generous as your suggestion may be, Maestro Levine did not pay for the stage lift, nor has he ever made any large donations to the Met. This is not to disparage him, just to quell disinformation.

    That said, his abilities and earned reputation generated untold revenue for the company over 40 years. He was not a fundraiser, but he certainly inspired donors and his name was legend.

    • Sharon says:

      Do you have any inside information on this or it just seems this way to you because he was not listed in the Met’s publications as a large donor?

      I would imagine that any employee who was making donations back to the Met would want to be anonymous–if not it would look as if he were buying his position and/or that the Met was in serious trouble.

  • fierywoman says:

    If you are going to compare Levine’s one-performance fee to the salary of the orchestral player, it would be more interesting to know what the player earned for the performance, not a month. Yes, a conductor has to prepare for weeks for a performance, but so does the musician: how many hours are spent wood-shedding at home in order to play Parsifal?

    • Phillip says:

      Thank you. I am sick to death of the moronic maestro-worshipping. Egomaniacal charlatans for the most part.

      • fierywoman says:

        Do you know that old (late 70’s, early 80’s) New Yorker cartoon where the stage is set up for something like Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, and the caption seems to be the instructions on the stand of the conductor: “Start moving your arms around. When the sound stops, turn around and bow.”

  • David says:

    All value is subjective, PERIOD.

  • Alex Davies says:

    It’s long seemed to me that there’s something wrong with the pay scale in the world of classical music. This was confirmed for me by a conductor friend who told me that he is sometimes embarrassed when he thinks about how much more he is being paid than the musicians in the orchestras he conducts. And while I am talking about somebody with an international reputation I am not talking about somebody who is a household name.

    While I don’t expect Anne-Sophie Mutter to be earning the same as a rank and file violinist in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, I can’t see how it’s right that she’s probably earning something like 100 times as much as that rank and file player. The current leader of the LPO, Pieter Schoeman, is one of my favourite violinists, not just as a concertmaster, but also as a soloist and chamber musician. Having heard pretty well all of the most famous (and highest paid) violinists of our time, I’d say with some confidence that Mr Schoeman is as good as the best of them, with a handful of exceptions such as Ivry Gitlis and Itzhak Perlman, who really are in a league of their own. I don’t know how much the leader of the LPO is paid, but I’ll bet he doesn’t have a net worth of US$15 million like Joshua Bell, who is nothing special as a violinist or musician.

    And, bringing it back to James Levine, the salaries of music directors/conductors do seem to me to be obscene and unjustifiable. The question must be, just how rare is talent, and exactly what value does it add? Take Jaap van Zweden’s salary of US$5.1 million. What is it that he does that is worth that kind of money?

    My first objection is that, while I don’t know how good the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is, I think I do know that what makes an orchestra really good is the orchestra itself, not the person conducting it. When I hear one of the world’s truly great orchestras, such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, it is the orchestra that I am listening to, not the conductor.

    My second objection is that there are a lot of really good conductors out there who aren’t earning a six-figure salary, let alone a seven-figure one. There are really talented conductors who probably earn around 1 percent of Jaap van Zweden’s salary. Do they have only 1 percent of his talent? I go to concerts, operas, and ballets where I see conductors, and I have played in orchestras under various different conductors, so I do understand what a conductor does, but I have no idea why the role of the conductor attracts so much more prestige and so much greater remuneration than the role of an orchestral musician. If I go to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony it will be the horn player who really makes that performance for me, not the conductor. And yet the conductor may be earning as much for one concert as the horn player earns in several months. At the extremes of high conductor fees and low orchestral musician salaries the conductor may even earn the horn player’s entire annual salary in one night.

    One also sees this trend in the UK with distribution of state honours. A first-rate conductor can pretty well expect a knighthood or damehood by the end of his or her career. Even a second-rate conductor can hope for a CBE. The really famous ones can hope to get even more prestigious awards such as the OM and CH. Much the same story with opera singers and instrumental soloists. Even orchestra leaders rarely get an honour, and even then only something like an MBE or OBE. Again, what is it that conductors do that marks them out as being so much more important than the mere musicians who play in the orchestras?

    • Nick2 says:

      As others have stated above, comparisons are useless unless you compare all factors on a like-for-like basis. You just cannot compare the salaries of a ‘star’ soloist with those of a musician in the orchestra, no matter how talented. It is a fact of life and of pure business that when you bill an Anne-Sophie Mutter or a Yo-Yo Ma as guest soloist, you will pack a concert hall virtually anywhere, almost certainly at higher ticket prices. With a Pieter Schoeman and other similarly excellent musicians, you will be hard pressed even to sell out at lower prices, especially as he is not a ‘known’ name to the concert-going public in most of the world. Whether we like it or not, that is just fact! Is it fair? No! But it is the way of the world.

      Re soloists, some countries have a model where soloists must pay their travelling and accommodation costs. In others, these and the taxes due locally on their fees are paid by the orchestra or concert organiser. Repeat concerts in a series will usually result in fee reductions by as much as 50% for the second and subsequent performances. So we have to remember that a base fee of, say, $30,000 is worth differing amounts according to different models.

      You certainly cannot compare salaries of conductors, soloists and musicians with those of sports stars – as some have suggested, for a wide variety of reasons. First, the earning years for most – except the few who really make it to the top and, like Arnold Palmer, who continue earning handsomely through endorsements, advertising, corporate events, named merchandise and so on – is limited to about one third of a musician’s career. Second, a sports event – whether a one-off basketball game or a four-day golf tournament – attracts far larger crowds. Third, sport is televised, often worldwide. That alone generates massive income during the event itself. Reruns can continue for years and add another huge financial bonanza. As an example, in 2016 the two weeks of the Wimbledon Tennis tournament netted over $110 million in worldwide TV rights alone. Fourth, massive corporate sponsorship. I could go on and on, but over the last 50 years sport has developed from a large series small niche local events to a monster global business. The model is so different from music as to be on another planet altogether.

      Equally you absolutely cannot compare salaries and fees from one country to the next. If Britain wants to pay its orchestra musicians more, then its boards and managements have to go out into their communities, lobby governments, raise ticket prices and somehow find more cash. I know! Easy to say and incredibly hard to do! But constant complaining about low pay and comparisons with other countries is just not going to solve the problem.

      Lastly, as I stated above, JvZ’s annual fee with Dallas was not $5.1 million. It was $1,788,997. A private donor provided the orchestra with a special sum to give to JvZ solely on condition that he remain with the orchestra in some capacity after the end of his contract. It did not come out of the orchestra’s own annual funds.

      • Mark Mortimer says:

        Interesting points Nick. Yes- the UK needs to treat its musicians better. But there’s still some perception (astonishingly)- fostered by an ingrained culture of thinking (& a political class who’re genuinely ignorant)- that musicians are servants or else come out at night after their day jobs. The situation is probably better in Germany where the general populace care about art & value its practioners. The US only slightly better because there’s probably more private dosh around & certainly not because the majority of Americans prefer symphonic concerts to baseball. Your point about ‘star soloists’ getting bums on seats is a valid one. But I’m sorry- I’ve a moral objection to Anne Sophie Mutter getting a golden fee (eyeing up that slick new BMW in the process) whilst a fiddler in The Philharmonia supporting her £K concerto per minute- struggles to pay the rent & feed the kids after the concert. Norman has correctly alluded in his various literature that half a century ago- your Heifitzes & Horowitzes got big fees commensurate to their talent- now the discrepancy between star soloists/conductors is sickening. The question should be asked- are they so talented & different afterall? The world is not fair- but it’s not wrong to say its not right.

      • Alex Davies says:

        You obviously were not at Anne-Sophie Mutter’s recent concert with the LPO which sold so poorly that up at the balcony level staff were on the doors with pre-printed stalls tickets asking people with balcony tickets whether they would like to move downstairs! But I’m prepared to believe that that was an anomaly and perhaps what happens when an orchestra schedules Panufnik and Penderecki in the same concert.

        Even allowing for the deductions many musicians have to make from their fee, such as travel, accommodation, clothing, maintenance of an instrument, etc., they are still taking home eye-watering sums of money. And yes, I do appreciate that there is an element of basic economics, but surely it is to some extent orchestras that have allowed this to happen. In 2005 Anne-Sophie Mutter was reported to be earning $3 million per year. Even if we say that half of that goes on taxes and expenses (which presumably are tax-deductible), and allowing for inflation, she must be taking home close to $1.5 million per year. The fact is that nobody needs to earn that much money. Orchestras could cut soloists’ fees by half and they would still be making extraordinarily huge sums of money. And if this were to be done across the board soloists and conductors would simply have to adapt to it. If Anne-Sophie Mutter had to choose between earning $750,000 per year or simply giving up performing she would presumably take the $750,000 per year, which is still something like 20 times what most people manage to live on.

        Yes, I did recall there being something unusual about JvZ’s $5.1 million salary for that year, but (1) it doesn’t really matter what you call it, it’s still his annual income and (2) even the stated regular salary of just under $1.8 million is just crazy. Nobody needs to earn that much. I don’t even know what I’d do with that much money. The question is, why are orchestras offering their music directors that kind of money? Basic economics would surely dictate that the conductor needs the orchestra more than the orchestra needs to conductor. If orchestras across the board cut music director salaries to, say, $250,000, still a huge sum of money, would conductors simply decide never to work again? I doubt it. And if a JvZ or Christoph Eschenbach refused to work for that kind of money I’m sure that there would be conductors who would and who would do so bringing exactly the same kind of value.

        We’ve seen this in the UK recently in universities, where vice chancellors or equivalent (principals, provosts, presidents, directors, rectors, etc.) are routinely earning hundreds of thousands of pounds per year, with one vice chancellor of a university of particularly poor reputation earning £808,000 in a single year. I think it is fair to say that there is a widespread feeling that vice chancellors are not doing anything to deserve to be paid ten or twenty times what an average UK academic is earning.

        • Nick2 says:

          I totally agree it is an unfortunate fact that life is just not fair. We can shout it from the rooftops and bang our heads against walls, but we as individuals can do absolutely nothing about it. The system of orchestral pay and soloist/conductor fees has evolved in different ways in different countries. It just so happened that historically the USA had a lot of very rich folks who felt that their communities needed a symphony orchestra and were prepared to give a small part of their wealth to creating and sustaining one. The resultant near-guarantee of generous annual funding, together with concerts packed with subscribers whose seats were frequently passed down to younger family members, evolved into the present day model.

          Add in to the mix three other factors. With few exceptions, a lack of knowledgeable and informed orchestra managers, an aggressive Union prepared to fight for the rights of its musicians – the more so after the period of ‘hire and fire’ Music Directors in the Reiner mould, and equally aggressive artists managers, and you end up with a financial cake that started at one end of the scale and for along time grew considerably larger each year. On this last point, whilst at one time it controlled up to 70% of the ‘music market’ in Britain, we know from the lengthy history outlined in “Ibbs & Tillett: The Rise and Fall of an Empire” that it made conscious efforts in the opposite direction: to keep fees down and thus affordable! So when one of its star names like Janet Baker went on her regular US tours, she earned a great deal more at a time where her fee in the UK was a few hundred pounds.

          Two other factors helped mould the present day fee structure – the explosion of two recording markets – LPs and then CDs – and, partly as a result, globalization. Countries like economically resurgent Japan got the classical music bug, a new breed of concert agents arose and suddenly, thanks in part to its mega-boom of the 1980s, the fees for many artists rocketed well beyond USA heights. Where else could Horowitz have received a reported fee of $500,000? Whether this was for one or two recitals is immaterial. The global worldwide market wanted stars and had sponsors and audiences with lots of cash for tickets.

          As for artists like Ms. Mutter taking home something like “20 times what most people manage to live on”, I don’t quite see the point. The boss of AIG, a company bailed out by the US government 10 years ago, enjoys a salary of $43.1 million. Warren Buffet, whose company has revenues four times that of AIG, received $100,000. On that subject, the UK Prime Minster earns roughly US$200,000 where the average salary is $36,000. The Singapore Prime Minster earns US$2.2 million where the average salary is $44,000. How can you compare them? It’s a pointless exercise!

  • Erik says:

    “Orchestra Builder,” that’s a good one. Let’s see, I’m a music director and as old and feeble musicians retire I will replace them with the hottest young talent in the country. Suddenly my orchestra sounds better and I get all the credit. What a gig.

  • For me the one, big question is: When will Gelb take on the responsibility for what went wrong and resigns?

  • Marcus Clayton says:

    While I am no great fan of Peter Gelb’s, I think calls for his resignation are premature.
    Gelb inherited the Levine mess, and he dealt with it as best he could while having to answer to the Met’s board. Levine obviously had several supporters on the board, who insisted he be kept on no matter what.
    Of course, they are now silent.
    Gelb has known for years that Levine needed to be removed as music director, mainly because hasn’t been physically able to do the job for many years.
    The board went along with Levine’s salary demands, and that was certainly their right to do so, as outrageous as it all sounded.
    I doubt that we, the general public, will ever know why the Met and the board insisted on keeping Levine on board for as long as it did. It is obvious now that this was a big mistake. I don’t think there was a blatant cover up of the sexual harassment and abuse claims, but rather a “look the other way” mentality.
    Let’s hope the lawsuit comes to a swift end, with Levine permanently out the door.
    The time has come.

    • Yes Addison says:

      This gives an indication of how well protected Levine was, despite decades of rumors, and even when he was clearly not up to fulfilling his job requirements anymore. From James B. Stewart’s 2015 New Yorker piece:

      “Beth Glynn, a member of the finance committee who was a partner at the money-management firm Neuberger Berman, has, with her husband, Gary Glynn, endowed two orchestra chairs and donated eight million dollars to the Campaign for the Met. According to Glynn, at one committee meeting, when she asked about the opera’s pension obligations, [William C. Morris, chairman of the executive committee] interjected, saying that anyone who had been paying attention would already know the answer. Glynn rephrased the question. At a different board meeting, she asked about the employment contract of James Levine, the Met’s revered music director since 1976. Morris refused to divulge the contract’s terms. The discussion became heated, with an angry Morris raising his voice—an act of incivility that shocked some committee members.”

      Ms. Glynn resigned shortly thereafter. You didn’t touch Jimmy. You didn’t even broach the topic of Jimmy.

    • Save the MET says:

      Gelb has continued to prove his incompetence in so many areas. His retail shop is a failure, the vast majority of his hand selected productions have either failed, or been entirely lackluster. He’s not charismatic, long standing employees at the MET hate his guts and feel he has done significant damage to the Company and its’ mission. The MET’s financial footing remains problematic and he continues to do the same crap he’s always done. The entire Levine thing was totally mis-managed by Gelb. He remains a joke as an impresario. .

  • barry guerrero says:

    NONE of this is worth arguing over. Can (fire) ALL of them and tear the building down in the process – it’s a disaster. Build a real opera house that sounds like something. Build a house where singers don’t have to scream and shout and compete to be heard in the back stalls. As good as the MET orchestra is, it’s not about the orchestra. N.Y. needs to get over its Barnum & Bailey, Cecil B Demille, Donald Trump aesthetic. The lobby looks like Las Vegas on its worst day, or when mobsters still ran the town.

    Anything less than hitting the reset button is just politics, which will slowly dissolve into the same old/same old, thus becoming a matter of who likes who (or who’s in bed with who). I suspect that that’s the direction that things will continue to just flow towards.

  • Mathias Broucek says:

    I work as an executive pay consultant. As far as I can tell, pay for “top talent” (soloists, conductors) in the music biz is totally irrational.

    CEOs of big companies earn $$$ but they are responsible for $billion of value and tens of thousands of employees. And a slug of their pay is typically linked to increasing profit and share price

    Sports stars and entertainers are able to increase the amount that can be charged for tickets, broadcasts and advertising (direct and of the TV broadcasts)

    But star classical musicians? They do increase bums on seats, ticket pricing and the amount that can be charged for advertising but the pay premium is not in proportion to the marginal economic value they create. Instead their fees are supported by donations, subsidies (direct and indirect) and advertising that is not expected to deliver a return-on-investment. Now not all value is economic, of course, and a really top conductor DOES make a big difference (I can still remember Jansons with the BBC Welsh…). But it’s hard for me to see like all this is sustainable in the long-term. Governments will be increasingly reluctant to subsidise an “elitist” art form with highly paid participants (see the stories on Slipped Disc about Toronto and Komsi’s festival) and I’m not sure that today’s business execs will be as willing to support US orchestras as the previous generation.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    William Osborne, where are you?

  • Jack Edmonds says:

    I understand that Trump has been paid a lot for the use of his name.
    Same for James Levine and others. Name-recognition is unfortunately one of humanity’s original sins. Compared to others Levine might have in fact earned this named-after role by early cult like misconduct.
    A serious problem now is that recordings which are identified by Levine’s name are valuable because of important contributions by many others. If one of these others is found to be a bad guy, the recording is not withheld. So yes, we should be able to hear ‘James Levine’ recordings, perhaps with his name removed.