Principal flute sues Boston SO for equal pay

Principal flute sues Boston SO for equal pay


norman lebrecht

July 04, 2018

Elizabeth Rowe, principal flute of the BSO since 2004, claims in a lawsuit that she she asked for years for the same pay as the principal oboe, a man.

The oboe made $280,484 in 2016, some $70,000 more than the principal flute. That’s unfair, says Elizabeth.

She is taking the action under a Massachusetts Equal Pay Law that came into effect on July 1.

More here.

UPDATE: Why pay an oboe $70,000 more than a flute?

UPDATE: A second principal flute is blatantly underpaid


  • drummerman says:

    I certainly believe in pay equity but the oboist in question has been in the BSO three years longer than Ms. Rowe. Perhaps that is one explanation for the pay discrepancy? In other words, each time her contract comes up for renewal, she is welcome to negotiate a pay increase.

  • Anon says:

    BSO is probably going to make the claim that individual players can negotiate their own salaries and that the difference is not gender related.

    It was pretty naive of BSO to think that players who are this tight in the orch. (Ms. Rowe and the Principal Oboe have collaborated on chamber music, concerti and they clearly are both friends and colleagues) are not going to compare notes on salaries.

  • Caravaggio says:

    Good for her and wishing her all the best in her pursuit of fairness. Would that more players in orchestras all over the USA and elsewhere had the courage to compare salaries for equal or comparable work and then summoned the courage to act on that information. It may be the only way to end the abuse.

    • Bill says:

      Abuse? Both parties entered into negotiation to set the pay figure. What’s next, a lawsuit by some sports figure about how he or she isn’t getting as much as some other player on the same team?

      As for comparing notes, look at the IRS Form 990 filings for most big US orchestras and you can see what the top 5 player paychecks are – it is not exactly a secret. Of course, that only tells you what it was at the time of the filing.

  • MacroV says:

    U.S. principals get what they can negotiate. Sometimes they have bargaining power, sometimes they don’t.

    Ferillo at the time he was hired by the BSO was arguably the biggest oboe player in the business, and the BSO had to hire him away from the MET, where he was the highly-regarded principal. He probably didn’t even do an audition (except for the “come play with us for a week to see how we like each other” thing. In summary, they probably wanted him more than he wanted them, and so he was able to negotiate a good salary.

    I believe Rowe was assistant principal in the NSO, not Baltimore, but not an important distinction. She presumably won an open audition, and moving to the BSO job was a major step up, with salary a secondary (or even tertiary) consideration. At the time she took the job, she was basically a price-taker.

    Ok, it’s years later now, and she has proven herself more than up to the job. And there may well be discrimination involved in a continuing gap. If she wants parity with Ferillo, there’s an easy way to do it: Tell the BSO if she doesn’t get it, she’ll leave. Ultimately the market determines what she’ll earn. Perhaps if she’d gotten another orchestra to offer her a principal job, she could have used it to bargain for a higher salary; not an uncommon tactic. How much do you think Riccardo Morales gained in moving from the MET to Philly, then pursued by both the NY Phil and the CSO? Or Tim Hutchins pursued over the years by the Philharmonic, Boston, and Pittsburgh (always ultimately staying in Montreal).

    I’d also point out that the BSO principals (as in any orchestra) probably have widely divergent salaries; the comparison here is to Ferillo (who I assume is #1 after the concertmaster), but what about the others? If she’s the lowest-paid principal (and the only woman) she’ll probably have a stronger case.

  • Phil Widuch says:

    Oboe deserves more period. Reed making alone is primary reason not to mention the utmost importance to the total found of the orchestra.
    Please, suit not warranted.

    • LBSCH says:

      I see you have a male name. Hmm.

      And maybe the contrabassoon or tuba player should earn even more because it’s heavy to carry. I wish pay was related to playing, not reedmaking.

  • Ricardo says:

    The BSO had a female solo flutist (Doriot Anthony Dwyer) for many, many years, back in the days.
    All talk about number of years served, how much the orchestra wanted the oboist etc is just BS. I cannot believe 70.000 dollars is a fair difference of pay for three years less of service. A solo wind position in a top orchestra should be paid equally across the section. Don’t tell me the oboist gets more because he gives the A. ? ?

    • Phil says:

      Absolutely not equal. Flute assembles the instrument and plays. Not Oboe, Never Oboe. Never does Oboe assemble and play. Reeds must be made which is a 20+ hour a week endeavor. Do some research on reed making please. So much time and money is wasted on bad bamboo, splitting, etc. Oboists know what I’m saying. There are reasons why Principal Oboe is second highest paid and let there be no sour grapes. Non Oboists who are ignorant of these facts need to get educated. Supplies alone are thousands every single year! An Oboist makes their sound every single day with their reeds, unlike an assembled instrument. Bad Reeds = Bad Sounds. Just this stress alone is reason for extra compensation.

      • Leslie Marrs says:

        So you don’t think that the flute solos alone are demanding and stressful? In addition, the principal flutist is generally responsible for leading the woodwinds as a light conductor. Every performer in a top tier orchestra has something demanding about their gig. Any principal player is in the spotlight every damn concert. Claiming that reed making accounts for a $70,000 grand pay difference is ludicrous.

        I was just informed by a colleague that the principal timpanist tends to be the highest orchestral player, just behind the concert master/mistress. There are definitely job considerations, but Rowe has been racking this pay differential for plenty of time, and has given the BSO plenty of time to respond well. She absolutely has a suit that she should win.

        • Phil says:

          Seriously, flute is not a leader of the Woodwinds section. It has been and always will be the Principsl Oboe.
          They just don’t open a car and play. Reeds must be soaked before playing, kept moist, etc. The hours spent “tuning” a reed is reason enough not to mention difficulty in finding quality professional players.
          Research NY Times for article on Oboe players and why they are second highest paid. In the end, it does come down to private negotiations outside a union contract for minimum Principal players.

      • MacroV says:

        You’re absolutely right about the reeds, though I’m not sure that accounts for the difference. Still think it’s still a reflection of what each was able to negotiate when they joined, and the gap has persisted. There are undoubtedly orchestras where the principal flute earns more than the principal oboe.

        • Max Grimm says:

          “There are undoubtedly orchestras where the principal flute earns more than the principal oboe.”

          The Philadelphia Orchestra (Jeffrey Khaner’s salary vs Richard Woodhams’) and the Cleveland Orchestra (Joshua Smith’s salary vs Frank Rosenwein’s) are two examples among the top American orchestras.

      • Bruce says:

        In that case the entire oboe section should get paid what he gets paid… 😛

    • Jerome Hoberman says:

      Does Ferillo even give the A? Or does he just operate the electronic tuner that gives the A, as was done when Genovese was Principal? (Sorry, it’s been years since I heard the BSO.)

  • Manny says:

    Dwyer was an exceptional flutist, above all others at the time save, perhaps, Julius Baker. The principal harpist is the one who should get equal pay. If I led the orchestra, I would force out someone as greedy as that, or diminish their position considerably, she needs humbling.

  • Anon says:

    Oh come on, Prinoipal Harp in all fairness should be a half time job. Harp plays a fraction of the programs a Princ Wind plays.

    • Musician says:

      Nailed it!

    • Michael Comins says:

      The same could be said for tuba, contrabassoon, percussionists, bass trombone, etc. A sure way to wreck an ensemble. What an idiotic remark!

      • LBSCH says:

        My point exactly! This is just as idiotic as the $70000 pay discrepancy. They’re both idiotic!

      • Anon says:

        Yes, Michael, we see that you know your orchestrations and secondary instruments very well!

        The point is that these instruments have a lot of built in free time that automatically comes with their contract so they are not in a good position to negotiate in the same way a Princ. Oboe or Flute is.

        You don’t usually see a harp or a bass trombone coming forward to negotiate above the salaries of other soloists because of this. They don’t have as strong a case. It has nothing to do with them being less vital to the orchestra.

  • VQP245 says:

    Of course there should be equal pay between the principal flutist and oboist. Don’t know why there isn’t – probably to do with the contracts when originally negotiated. But, this reminds me of a little story in the Julius Baker memoir – when hired by Fritz Reiner to be principal flute of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Reiner asked Baker how much he wanted, and which Baker replied, “Same as the principal oboist”.

  • Orchestral Musician says:

    I expect her to win this, and if she does, her colleague in the Principal Oboe chair will have effectively negotiated the salary for the Principal Flute position.

  • Sue says:

    “A man”!!!!! Oh, god, she’s got a case right there. If it was a giraffe she’s be on dangerous ground but, heaven forbid, a mere man!!! The poor thing, having to deal with such a species. Eeeew.

    “What a brave new world that has such creatures in it”.

    PS: Has she taken any time off or out to pick up kids, stay home when they’re sick, attend to school functions and the like? Just asking.

    • Freyyd says:

      She does not receive any more time off than her male counterparts in leadership positions in the BSO, some of whom are missing in action much more frequently than she is.

      Kind of idiotic and sexist to suggest that she doesn’t earn her keep, isn’t it?

    • Mark says:

      The giraffe from “We Are Toys” (better grammar, not infringing a trademark) is looking for work. Maybe it can play flute.

  • FreddyNg says:

    Simple explanation – the oboe is more difficult to play and also more difficult to find players of a high caliber…..

  • artsczar21 says:

    Equitable pay is essential, but there are reasons musicians negotiate over and above the salary specified in the CBA: supply and demand (how hard was/is it to fill the position), recruitment and retention (luring someone away from a job or trying to keep them from going to a new one), solos and teaching artistry written into the contract, value to the orchestra off the stage (are they great at PR & fundraising).

    One cannot look at one musician’s salary (apart from base and seniority) and state that others should be paid the same.

    I do fear the negative impact this is going to have on the industry. Most orchestras negotiate individual contracts on an annual basis. I can only imagine that at this time, orchestras might look to eliminate all overscale salaries to protect from suits such as this. Perhaps this is ultimately a good thing, but it will be a huge cultural and financial shift for many.

  • Doug says:

    Simple. You want “equality”? GET OUT OF THE ORCHESTRA BUSINESS.

  • MacroV says:

    A little bit of history might be relevant here:

    John Ferillo was hired around 2000, after the retirement of Al Genovese (around 1997, I believe). If memory serves, the BSO held multiple open auditions where they hired nobody, and tried out a few principals from other orchestras, most prominently the late William Bennett, who either declined the position or was declined, I don’t know.

    After a while I guess the BSO just decided to go head-hunting for one of the the big fish from another major orchestra. Nobody from the other Big 5 orchestras was likely to leave, for various reasons. I assume they tried out some others like Cindy Koleda from Pittsburgh or Ted Baskin from Montreal (no idea if it’s true; just speculating). Who was the biggest fish likely to move? Ferillo. And they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, seeking him out after a long and fruitless search for someone they deemed worthy to hold the position.

    BSO flute history is especially rich: Doriot Anthony Dwyer retired around 1988, I think. They probably had some auditions, invited other established principals (notably Montreal’s Tim Hutchins, who legend has it was offered the job and declined it, as he did in New York a few years earlier). It took them seven years to finally hire a principal flute: Jacques Zoon, previously principal of the Concertgebouw. And I assume paid him a princely sum (and give his wife a spot in the cello section). But after several years he left, opening up the process yet again. I don’t know what they did the next time, but eventually Elizabeth Rowe won, in what I assume was a fair, transparent, and open audition. But she wasn’t being hired away from the Concertgebouw; she was moving up from a lesser position in the NSO. So much less negotiating power than Ferillo (or Zoon).

    The question I’d be interested in knowing is whether when she started out, she was paid less than Jacques Zoon when he had the job. My bet would be yes, but that would also be largely attributable to leverage in negotiations rather than gender discrimination.

    All this said, I would say that after 14 years in the job and evidently doing it very successfully, she’s justified in seeking some kind of parity, if not on gender basis, simply because she’s established herself as one of the BSO’s star players.

    • Anon says:

      Thank you, Macrov. This is the answer. Amid all the idiotic replies and speculations in this thread you are the one who’s hit the nail on the head. What you’ve said is exactly right. This discussion should end with your comment because you are right.

  • Stephen says:

    I’m really happy about how civil this comment section is. This is a sensitive topic and I see a lot of polite, intelligent disagreement. Thanks for getting along!

  • Sara M. says:

    Her husband also plays in the orchestre. Likely makes >400K with teaching, extras, etc….This american identity politics thing has to stop. The us empire was a laughing stock. Folks negotiate their rates. Ferrillo was coming from the Met. She was coming from low tier orchestra. He has 20yrs+ on her. What is this us lawsuit joke really abt?

  • Byron says:

    She doesn’t have a chance to win. First, for auditions many more flutist will show up and to select from. Not many oboist (rarer), so it is supply and demand first. Second, they will consider cost of maintenance. Cost to maintain an oboe is substantially more than a flute. Try buying and maintaining the oboe reed making equipment, it cost a fortune in case you didn’t know. Third, numerous hours are spent making shaping and practicing with reeds in order to find the “right” one to play with. This is substantial time that the oboist doesn’t get paid for yet has to perform outside of work which is required. It is easily worth the $70k more, not to mention the stress involved if a reed fails during performance or oboe goes out of whack while playing, etc. A flautist has none of the time the oboist spends on their instrument outside of playing a concert or practicing. Or I should say miniscule compared to a double reed player. No chance, sorry.