What a player earns in the Concertgebouw

What a player earns in the Concertgebouw


norman lebrecht

May 04, 2018

The debate on orchestral earnings continues.

We kicked it off with an exclusive survey of German orchestras.

Then British.

Now a reports from a tutti player in the famed Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam, living not much above the minimum wage:

I have been a member (tutti) for about twenty years. Before tax monthly income is €5.040 (US $6,000) 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…) 😉

Is it any better in Rotterdam?



  • Peter says:

    The annoyance under the musicians about this is growing, especially since the quality of auditions is going more and more down and musicians leaving the orchestra too soon. Fame, quality, tours etc. makes up for the difference but there is a turning point in this, especially with a city that’s amongst the most expensive in Europe. It’s time for the management to live up their promises, put the salaries on top of their prioritylist and care more about the inside than the outside of the orchestra.

  • Tamino says:

    While it’s really not much for such a prestigious orchestra, to call about 6.000 € gross monthly – a good middle class income – a salary ‘not much above the minimum wage’, seems a bit detached from reality.
    How many shifts a tutti player in Concertgebouw has to work for that per year?

    • Peter says:

      You’re not a musician of the RCO for just your shifts, but 24/7. Every day practise, preparation, mental and physical fitness, the burden on your private life because of the many travels (around 50-60 days per season), the stress, the pressure etc. etc. It’s top sport uncomparable to shifts, hours etc. Compare it to being a football player in Real Madrid or Barcelona.

      • Tamino says:

        I’m very familiar with the reality of life of an orchestra musician.
        Number of shifts are one, not the only one, important parameter, comparing workload for similar jobs in different orchestras. It is also a measure, for how much additional income on the side from other gigs and teaching jobs is possible for tenured orchestra musicians.

        • Christopher Clift says:

          Just a small point Tamino.

          How many comparable highly-skilled, highly trained workers (solicitors, pilots, surgeons,) NEED to take second or third jobs (you cite ‘other gigs and teaching jobs’) in order to make a living?

          • Tamino says:

            Many musicians don’t really have to do additional jobs, but they do them, because they can (have the time for it).
            I also know pilots, at the beginning of their careers particularly, these days, who make INDEED not much above minimum wage.
            Yes the neighbors’s grass is always greener.
            I’m sympathetic with you, the salary for Concertgebouw should be more competitive.
            But you lose the sympathy of the public, if you engage in such hyperbolic comparisons and self pity.

  • Tim says:

    The minimum wage in the Netherlands is €1,551.60 (before taxes), which leaves you with approximately €1,250 after having paid your taxes. To state that €5,040/€2,268 is ‘not much above minimum wage’ makes me glad that your are not my accountant.

    • Peter says:

      Don’t forget that to rent a place of 60m2 will cost you about €2000,- per month in Amsterdam. And cost of living are anyway higher than in any other city in the Netherlands. Others don’t even come close. So taking that into account the salary is ridiculous in order to compete for the best musicians with the other top orchestras.

      • TM says:

        Yes, but this says more about the Amsterdam property market then about the salary of RCO musicians. Many people with pretty good jobs cannot afford to buy or rent houses in/near the Amsterdam city centre.

      • Tim says:

        That has nothing to do with the salary. Furthermore, nobody forces them to live in Amsterdam.

        • MacroV says:

          You can’t really play in the Concertgebouw and live off in the hinterlands. And even rents in The Hague (one hour away by train) are quite high.

  • TM says:

    This musician will have about €3.300,- after tax income, which is a fairly good salary by Duch standards, even if it compares unfavourable to what musicians make elsewhere. (Someone making 5.040 does not pay 55% tax – the 55% tax rate only applies to the top bit of such a salary, and in this case that’s a tiny part).

    • Peter says:

      Fairly good in comparison to what? I can make you a calculation of the amount of hours a musician on this kind of unique level spends for their job. You will be shocked with the hourly rate then. That’s less than someone that serves you a beer on a terrace with all respect for that kind of jobs. Compare it to highly specialist jobs on university level like a surgeon or a pilot. And yes, your comment about the Amsterdam property market is true. The big difference is that an orchestra of the statue of the RCO recruits worldwide. In order to be able to be the best of the world in the future the salaries really need a big raise to be able to keep competing for the best musicians since salaries of the others keep raising. We as Dutch people and Amsterdammers should all be proud of this crownjewel of Dutch culture and image Nationally and Internationally. Money is really not the problem in this country…

      • TM says:

        Hi Peter. I’m not saying I don’t think they shouldn’t be paid more (I’m really not sure about this), and I’m very fond of the RCO myself. To me it seems like a relatively good salary because it is twice modal income, and three time the average income. I’m not saying it’s huge, I’m just saying that many people live more then decent lives with much less, also in and near Amsterdam.

        So, I just wanted to point out that 1) the statement that they earn very little, or even close to minimum wage is false and 2) that the issues about property markets have little to do with RCO salaries because Amsterdam is expensive for almost anyone.

        • Peter says:

          TM, would you make the same argument for a surgeon, a pilot or any comparable highly skilled jobs that only a small group of people are able to do? I don’t think so… The RCO plays at Champions League level for a 2nd division salary. In order for them to keep the level something must fundamentally change since they are loosing the battle for the best musicians to orchestras where they pay 3 to 4 times more and where the cost of living is 2 times lower.

          • TM says:

            Again, I’m not saying the shouldn’t be making more money. If it is true that RCO is not attracting excellent musicians, or if they are losing excellent musicians because they can make more elsewhere, this is a reason to increase their salary.

            But to suggest, as is done above, that they are close to minimum wage, is just false. And to suggest that one pays 55% of taxes on an income like this, also false. You might be right that a salary increase is needed, but this is not because the musicians are not able to lead decent lives on this salary. That’s all I’m saying.

          • AC says:

            Comparisons to the Champions League are sadly not all that useful. Professional soccer players play to television audiences of billions… and television audiences of billions means television rights agreements of billions of dollars.. Comparing being a professional soccer player for Real Madrid to being a professional violinist in the Concertgebouw Orchestra is just not helpful.

            I don’t deny that the Concertgebouw Orchestra is a top, top, top orchestra… that is true. And I’m also not saying that the musicians *shouldn’t* earn more. Quite possibly they should. But… well… market forces and all that…

            And I’ll just add: 6000 Euros seems to me to be a pretty good salary for the privilege of playing great music with great musicians with (sometimes) great conductors in one of the greatest concert halls in the world. Perhaps consider talking to some opera musicians working in Germany if you want to know about people surviving on very little. I was one of them… was a repetiteur at a major Berlin opera house… and I made under 3000 BEFORE tax. And I worked there for almost seven years. That’s what ten years of high-level university/conservatory training…and three different degrees (in music and languages)…will get you… BUT… I got to be involved in the preparation and performance of NINETY different operas, and got to learn from many of the best conductors, directors and singers in the business. And I made it work financially. I’m very grateful for that crappy salary and the opportunity to have lived and worked in Berlin for these years. 🙂

          • Tamino says:

            The comparison with other professions, surgeons, pilots, or even professional football players. is moot and makes you look a bit silly. Life is unfair and these salary differences are well known and nothing new. There are many professions which make even less than you and could claim to be at least as skill and labor intense.
            Also, you don’t know really what it takes to be a surgeon… Many of them die quite early.

            Valid is your argument with having to pay competitive wages, adjusted for local cost of living, on a global market for an orchestra that wants to recruit the best players world wide.

    • John de Jong says:

      The facts: there is no 55% tax rate in the Netherlands. You pay the following amount:

      till the amount of€ 20.142, 36,55% of your income
      from € 20.143 to € 68.507, 40,85%
      from more than € 68.507, 51,95%

      The above cited musician will pay about 40% overall over his salary (not including tax reduction, like a quite favourable mortgage system).

      • Tamino says:

        Does that tax include mandatory health insurance coverage in the Netherlands, or is that a separate additional percentage?

  • Nik says:

    The complaint here seems to be more about the exorbitant tax rate in the Netherlands (not specific to musicians) than about the salary itself, which is really not bad.

    • TM says:

      Perhaps, but the claims about the tax rate above are plainly false. Only the part of one’s income that exceeds €70.000,- is taxed at 52%. Income below that is taxed at lower rates (between 37 and 41 percent). I don’t consider that excessive at all, but that’s another question.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    There are several issues in this whole debate. Basic salary in an orchestra SHOULD cover the player’s living expenses, including purchasing a property then covering family commitments. I am not meaning producing several children and buying a mansion, but having an average family, and a house large enough to include for one room dedicated to the musician’s practise and preparations for his/her day to day playing.
    One of the biggest problems for a player of international calibre, in an orchestra of international standing, is having the financial ability to resource the purchase of a suitable instrument, to insure it, and maintain it to the standard such an occupation demands.
    It is accepted that string instruments (including bows, strings etc) GENERALLY cost substantially more than wind and brass instruments though there are occasionally exceptions. And in most orchestras, instruments such as the harp, the percussion and others, (celeste, orchestra piano) are usually provided by the organisation. That said these players also need an instrument (or instruments) at home in order to practise. Then in the case of the players of reed instruments, (oboes, bassoons, clarinets) there is the no small matter of outlay on material and tools for creating reeds. Most high level performers make their own, and do not usually rely on third parties to make them.
    Add to the financial burden of providing and maintaining the instruments the cost per hour of individual practice, and the overall hourly rate starts to diminish quite rapidly.
    So given a typical 40 hour week devoted to the job (25 playing hours and 15 spent travelling on out of town dates, foreign tours, and so on) PLUS the time I have mentioned in individual practice and maintenance of instruments, (say an additional 10 hours per week) the salary quoted in other parts of this debate soon looks decidedly average. £30,000/(46 weeks x 50 hours) works out at just over £13 per hour (before tax and social deductions), and out of which instrument purchase and maintenance have to come.

  • Harald says:

    Please , as a member of the RCO you have a fantastic job…with travelling all over the world ,playing in the best halls and…staying in the best hotels…

    So….maybe a little bit less moaning…

    • Christopher Clift says:

      Sadly Harald, all these things you mention, ‘travelling all over the world, playing in the best halls,’ do nothing, if anything, to contribute financially to a player’s ability to live a life comparable to that of, say, a well trained, well paid engineer, doctor, surgeon, head teacher, none of whom is required regularly and often to travel the world as part of their career.

      • Christopher Clift says:

        And in addition Harald, not EVERY orchestra, even of the status of the RCO, always ‘stays in the best hotels’. Sometimes they are compelled to use fairly modest ones, when they play in cities where prices rise during major festivals – Edinburgh at Festival time comes immediately to mind.

    • Peter says:

      It is true that that is a great side of being part of such an orchestra. Don’t forget what needs to be done under those circumstances to be able to perform on the highest level at all times for audiences that expect that quality. Jetlags, hours of bus driving, waiting at airports etc. Not even mentioning the burden on your private life. You describe the sunny side of it all but there’s more to that.

      • Tamino says:

        Really, stop whining, you should get a dose of reality what some other – highly skilled no less – jobs are like…

        • Christopher Clift says:


          This response demeans your earlier arguments. Pray, give us some examples of other highly skilled careers which make similar demands on their practitioners.

        • Peter says:

          You mixed up ‘highly skilled’ jobs with jobs that require skill. It’s not a 9 to 5 job with free weekends. A painter, craftsman etc. also have skills but in a country there are thousands of people that can do these jobs with some proper training as in these ‘highly skilled’ jobs there are only a few of them. ‘Life is unfair’ is also no argument. A pity you conclude the discussion with ‘stop whining’, it shows that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

          • AC says:

            For goodness sake, can’t we accept that this issue is not two-sided. It is a multi-faceted topic worthy of discussion from multiple angles… no-one can be “right”, per se. Some will say that 6000 Euros is more than enough to live on, quite your whining… some will say no, 6000 Euros is not nearly fair compensation for the pressures and challenges of such a highly-skilled job, given high taxes and high cost of living in Amsterdam. Neither are right, neither are wrong. They are opinions.

            I, personally, would be far more interested to know how much the CEO (or Intendant or whatever) of the Concertebouw makes in comparison to the players. I would also like to know the salary of the Music Director. I would also like to know the fees that are paid to guest conductors and guest soloists.

            THEN… let’s have a REAL discussion about money and inequality in the classical music world.

          • Peter says:

            You’re right AC. The salary on itself is good enough to life from on your own. To have a house for a family with 2 kids from this salary with the housing market of nowadays is impossible.

            Facts stated about the minimum wage and the percentage of tax are indeed wrong.

            What is left is what the orchestra should be ‘worth’ since they are ‘Champions league level’ paid as 2nd division. I didn’t mean that in the literal sense of course but just to paint the difference in payment and quality.

            The other thing is the issue of competitive wages. Not in comparison to the Netherlands but worldwide.

            I think we agree on the fact that in that light things need to change in order to survive long term. We all know the examples of the Dutch football competition.

            A top level worldclass orchestra needs a mix of experience and youth. Lately the Concertgebouw mainly attracts (very talented) young players that had a job in a less paying orchestra or orchestra of much less quality.

            It’s for the management, the city and country to decide what should be the future of this orchestra.

            I think you know my opinion now. 🙂

          • AC says:

            Cheers, Peter! Yes… it’s certainly an interesting and important debate. And I left my job as an opera pianist in Berlin in part because I knew that whilst I could “survive” in the short term, it wouldn’t have been a good longer term option for me…whether in terms of my artistic development, or my financial security, or in terms of other things I’d like to do with my life such as support a family or travel (visit my family in NZ…for one…)

  • Jim Wilt says:

    Do pilots have to buy their own planes? Do athletes have to buy their own equipment? Our string players carry mortgages on their instruments that rival many homes. A new bassoon could easily start over $50,000. The musicians pay for these tools. In the US, there is often the addition of enormous student loan debt to service. While it is indeed wonderful to be associated with an orchestra the caliber of the Concertgebouw, you should not have to make unreasonable sacrifices for the “privilege” of playing there. That’s is a negotiating tool used to beat down musicians asking for a fair wage. They also exploit the factthat a musician is going to give their absolute best regardless off compensation. There is no shame in trying to earn a compensation commiserate with not only skill level, but continued commitment and devotion to excellence, which is a constant necessity.

  • Jim Wilt says:

    Apologies for typos – composing this on an iPhone at the Barbican

  • Scotty says:

    It’s all supply and demand. The demand for cardiac surgeons and top rank football players is greater than the supply. In sports and entertainment, add in star value. Even if a reasonable substitute for Messi can be found, his followers drive up his salary. Even if from behind a curtain Wunderkind X sounds indistinguishable from Perlman, Perlman’s fees will be higher because of his history and reputation.

    Peter’s salary is as low as it is because of the relatively large supply of skilled musicians who are looking for orchestra jobs. Peter’s salary is as high as it is because he is better than most.

    The only way to fight market forces is to organize. If Concertgebouw musicians are grossly under-compensated they can strike or take their talents to South Beach.

  • Sue says:

    “55% to the taxation office”!!!!!!!????????????

    God almighty. No wonder everybody is so poorly paid. I’d be moving to another country. Like Gerard Depardieu.

    • TM says:

      Let me repeat what I said above, just to be sure, the 55% claim is plainly false. Nobody pays 55% in NL. People pay 52% over income they make above €70.000. The income below that is taxed between 37 and 42%. This means that the RCO player will pay 52% over only a tiny tiny part of their income, at most. This is not taking into account other cuts one may be entitled to (such as cuts on mortgage or subsidies for day-care).

      And the pay is not poor, it is twice modal income, three times the average income of people living in the country. People paid much less (like myself) have nothing to complain about in terms of standards of living.

      To be sure, I’m not saying they shouldn’t be paid more (I’m not sure). I’m not saying I don’t understand s/he’d like to earn a bit more. I’m not saying I don’t understand why one would consider to take a better paid job elsewhere. Just a bit bothered by the falsehoods claimed above.

      • Sue says:

        Ok, thanks for clearing that up. But I think your taxation rate is excessive from the figures you’ve provided. Imagine paying more than half your income over a certain level to government. Completely unacceptable, on any level or paradigm. We are going the same way in Australia with our ‘top marginal rate’ (that’s what we call what you’re talking about). And the people wonder why, with fingers poised at their foreheads, people have tax minimization schemes.

        In Australia we have an Opposition party which claims that earning $87,000 or more per annum puts you into the “rich” category. (Holds sides trying to have them slip from laughing and then frowns with cynicism.)

  • Christopher Clift says:

    Before you start celebrating/consoling yourself, this data (UK average salary of £27,500), was taken by the (UK) Office For National Statistics from 21,563,000 people’s earnings, with averages broken down for each profession. Topping the charts were brokers, who earned £133,677 on average, followed by chief executives and senior officials (£107,703), aircraft pilots and flight engineers (£90,146) and marketing and sales directors (£82,962).
    So comparing a musician’s average salary of around £30,000 even with the (UK) national average, leaves said musician with precious little to fund the purchase of a high quality instrument, (not provided by management), concert clothing (not provided by management), instrument upkeep and insurance (not provided by management), practising time (not paid for by management)………need I go on ??

  • Mark J Henriksen says:

    Needless to say, they should be making twice that much, as in the LA Phil, for example. One more reason that the US model of private funding is working well.

    • David Rowe says:

      Maybe. But how much with the LA Phil musician pay, over a lifetime, for education (his/her own, and any children), health care, retirement savings, etc. I do not know enough about the Dutch economy, but am quite sure those high taxes offset many of these huge expenses. And so to compare in a totally fair way, one would need to account for all of the benefits offered to taxpayers in The Netherlands!

  • Pierre says:

    How much makes Daniele Gatti ?

  • Tamino says:

    Why don’t all of you musicians with mediocre pay just become conductors? Problem solved!!!
    A Baton costs you less than a thousandth of an instrument (Or if you do it like Gergiev even less.)
    There is room in the smallest bathroom for your score and a baton. (not the Stockhausen score, but who makes money with Stockhausen anyway)
    And in a week you make about 20 times or more of what those noisy musician proletarians make in the same week.
    And your kids can sleep while you practice.

    I’m a McKinsey analyst and you should listen to me. The market clearly tells us, that most money is in conducting, so every musician should try to be a conductor! Problem solved. It’s easy, capitalism is not rocket science.

    • Peter says:

      Tamino I totally agree with your statement before about self pity and public support for higher salaries. It’s an easy trap to fall into when discussing about this subject. Let me be clear that the current salary is not bad in comparison to the minimum wage. That’s also not the point. The comparison to other higher paid jobs is in my view a valid one but it needs better explanation and facts. In general highly specialized top quality people earn more and in the Concertgebouw Orchestra it’s just not the case.

      I think we can agree on the fact that the argument for competitive wages is the strongest one.

      I’m curious to know which argument(s) you would add to that.

      About becoming a conductor: many tried and failed. Being a top conductor is really a rare talent. Are they overpaid? In a lot of cases yes! Are the top conductors overpaid? I don’t think so, they’re worth the money and it’s a matter of supply and demand.

      • Tamino says:

        Peter, I think your game is to make the point about Concertgebouw musicians being enumerated in the context of being ranked as one of the best orchestras in the world and thus the salaries must competitively reflect that, realistically, within the context of the Dutch tax code and the local cost of living, and within a European context. (maybe not so much looking at American top orchestra salaries, there are too many other factors which make the comparison with the US one of apples vs. oranges)

        All the other arguments we all have back in the canteen, football players, surgeons, pilots… that is not your game you should play and no politician or sponsor will take you serious on that, because THAT game means not only do you want to change the salaries of Concertgebouw musicians, but that you want to change the whole world. And then you lose any support you potentially could have gotten for your justified cause, because nobody is motivated to help you with that.

        My attempt at humor with everyone becoming a conductor for the better pay is just sarcasm. 🙂

  • Roger Kaza says:

    Remuneration in the very top US orchestras is a minimum of $150K, with some having private pensions of $80K on top of that, plus government Social Security. Health care is provided by the employer, often at what we call “Cadillac” levels. Education K-12 could be free depending on if you have faith in your local public school. So, yes, by these standards, the RCO is underpaid and I encourage them to investigate ways of increasing their compensation, such as endowment and private annual funding. FYI a previous inquiry: conductors, as a general rule, make $1M or more for leading a major orchestra. Guest conductors and soloists: $20 to $100K per week, depending on reputation and star power.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    The salary of the musicians at the RCO put them in the top 5 percent of Dutch salaries. It is simply ludicrous to claim that the musicians can’t live a “decent middle-class life”. And frankly offensive. [And almost all middle class households these days have a husband and a wife who both work, hence it is silly to only look at a single salary.]

    Despite what is often claimed, Dutch taxes are not that much higher than taxes in the US (once state taxes are included with federal taxes, at least in New York, California, and other such states).