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

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


norman lebrecht

July 04, 2018

We’ve been hearing more about the equal pay dispute in which the Boston Symphony is accused of paying principal flute Elizabeth Rowe a much lower salary than principal oboe, John Ferillo. She claims it’s down to sex discrimination.

BSO will claim it’s a matter of seniority. Ferillo has been in the job three years longer. Would that justify so large a pay gap?

He’s more experienced, and at higher institutions, they say. Rowe was assistant principal in Baltimore, before winning #1 flute in Washington DC, and auditioning for Boston a year later.

John Ferillo was co-principal at the Met and a professor at Juilliard before he joined Boston in 2001. He’s a student of John de Lancie at Curtis, blue-blood credentials in American music.

Still, 70k is an awful lot of credentials. How Boston allowed this internal disparity to simmer untreated for a dozen years suggests a certain degree of institutional complacency.



    • Lori Kunde says:

      I have played oboe my whole life.
      What Mr. Ferillo does to prepare and to play beautifully is vastly different than what this flutist…or anyone else…is required to do!
      How sad that this is not understood.

    • Crystal says:

      I can understand him being paid more, but not 70k more…..3 years is not a huge amount of seniority either. I can see perhaps 20k more because of his experience etc….

      What are the other principals in the orchestra making?

      • commensenseworld! says:

        He has 18 years of experience if you put age in it! if you consider a 3% increase for each year he’s been working, he should be making more! Used a base of 200k a year

        • Crystal says:

          He has 18 years of experience, but if you read up…..she’s only been there 3 less years……and HE HIMSELF feels she SHOULD be making the same as him. 😉

  • Will Duffay says:

    First thought: US players are paid well, right?!

    Second: the seniority argument is utter nonsense. A player is paid for the position, for the work they do, for the ability to play in the Boston Symphony and to maintain its high standards. Who they were taught by or where they studied is utterly irrelevant.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    One possible explanation (although I do not rule out gender discrimination here, and yes I am going to duck down after posting this) is that flute players are, well, not literally a dime a dozen at the BSO level, but anything but rare. Oboe players? They not only have to perform at a high level but make their own reeds at a high level. Just try putting together a good pick-up orchestra some time. Principal flute can get filled early on. Not so the double reeds.

    In my experience even some pretty ordinary orchestras have splendid flute sections. But it is rare to hear any orchestra where you couldn’t imagine the first oboe being a bit better.

    • John G. says:

      David, I think that you are onto something regarding the rarity of exceptional oboists. Also, I presume the the flutist knew the pay scale before she signed on. If the symphony could find a great oboist who could get the job done at her same pay, I presume she would be content with that — not!

  • Anthony Boatman says:

    In our orchestra there is no seniority pay. A first year violist gets the same rate as his/her stand partner who may have been here 20+ years. Why? Because all players are being paid for their performances THIS year, not how they played in the past. I know this will sound like heresy in some quarters, but it works very well and the musicians are content with it.

    • ADM says:

      I’d be surprised anyone would want to stay at such orchestra for that many years. However, I would presume that the average time players stay in said orchestra to be less than 5 years. People have different priorities, I understand, but I would be concerned if I learned that I wouldn’t be compensated in some way for my development within the orchestra throughout the years. I understand some people might be content making the same amount for 20+ years, but as a profesional orch musician, if I knew my pay rate when I enter that orch is all there is and all there will be, I’d be looking to upgrade as a soon as I got there.

      Seniority is really not just about the amount in the paycheck. It’s your worth to the orchestra. A way for the orchestra to say, “We appreciate all your years of work and how you’ve developed your section and essentially shaped the sound of the orchestra throughout the years”.

      In the end, everyone has and has had a different value to an orchestra and that should be reflected.

  • william osborne says:

    I’m familiar with this problem due to my wife’s long struggles for equal pay in the Munich Philharmonic. She was put in a lower pay group than all 15 of her solo wind colleagues, all of whom were male. She was the only woman, and the only one paid less.


    It would be interesting to know how Elizabeth’s pay compares to the other solo winds, and especially the wood winds.

  • Daphnis says:

    The principal oboist is paid more than the principal flutist in the overwhelming majority of orchestras, for two reasons:

    • It is infinitely more difficult to find a great principal oboist than to find a great principal flutist. Playing the oboe at that level is far more rare than playing the flute at that level: there are FAR fewer oboists than flutists who can do so.

    • The principal oboe position has been defined by many conductors as “the orchestra’s second concertmaster” or “the concertmaster of the wind sections.”

    Positions in major American orchestras are paid according to individual negotiations. The orchestra needs to pay enough to compete for the individual whom they wish to hire or retain. The player needs to have leverage (such as other employment possibilities) in order to be paid more, and has to be willing to leave or to back down if that is not offered. Pretty simple.

    With all of the valid gender inequality issues that DO exist, one does a great disservice to achieving progress on this front by trying to turn everything into a gender duscussion, as often happens in this forum.

    • Steven Larsen says:

      Agree completely with everything you wrote. The principal oboe is often the weakest link in an otherwise excellent wind section.

      Just because the player with the higher pay is male doesn’t automatically mean there is gender discrimination. I suspect the higher pay for the oboist would follow even if the genders were reversed.

    • John Borstlap says:


      Also, the 1st oboe is paid extra for giving the right A at the beginning of the tuning. If he/she gives an A flat, or an A sharp, or another note altogether, the entire orchestra will be in disarray for the whole concert, with booing audience, angry conductor, etc. etc. – so a heavy responsibility rests on the player’s shoulders.

  • jim says:

    I don’t know enough to have a valid opinion regarding her claim. However, I do have a question. The orchestra members all belong to a union. What is the role of the musician’s union in all of this and why isn’t this filed as a grievance with the union rather than as a lawsuit?

    • Daphnis says:

      The union negotiates the orchestra’s “base” pay (minimum for all members, called “scale”). Individual members’ contracts (“over-scale”) are negotiated by the individual players, directly with management.

      In almost every orchestra, the principal oboist is paid more than the principal flutist, for two reasons:

      • It is infinitely more difficult to find a great principal oboist than to find a great principal flutist. Playing the oboe at that level is simply more rare than playing the flute at that level: there are FAR fewer oboists than flutists who can do so.

      • The principal oboe position has been defined by many conductors as “the orchestra’s second concertmaster” or “the concertmaster of the wind sections.”

      Any orchestra needs to pay enough for a particular position to compete for the individual whom they wish to hire or retain. The player needs to have leverage (such as other employment possibilities) in order to be paid more, and has to be willing to leave or to back down if that is not offered. Pretty simple.

      There are definitely very many REAL gender inequality issues in all professions. However, it is counter-productive to discuss ALL situations as if this were the only factor, or even a factor at all, as is frequently done in this forum.

      • MacroV says:

        I actually disagree that it’s harder to find a great principal oboist than principal flutist. Yes, there are more flutists out there (more flutists than people, as one of my youth orchestra directors memorably said once), but at a major orchestra audition there are LOTS of good oboists; these days the standard is extremely high, and you have unemployed oboists who can play circles around the greats of yesteryear (which is probably true of every instrument, even tuba).

    • Caravaggio says:

      Because, frankly, unions are often useless when it comes to mediating on behalf of one individual. They are called unions for a reason. By the way, I am thrilled by the recent US Supreme Court decision. About time.

      • MacroV says:

        How are unions useless in advocating for one of their members? And if you’d like them to be MORE effective, what cheers you about the recent SCOTUS decision, which ultimately just allows more free-riding (aka freeloading) by people who derive benefits from the union without paying.

        But as others explained, the union negotiates a master agreement and “scale” pay. And that’s gender-neutral. Principals like Rowe get “overscale” through negotiation; that’s not the role of the union. But if she wants to hire an agent, she’s free to do so.

      • Michael Comins says:

        You would be thrilled if there were no unions, undoubtedly.

  • Manny says:

    Here we go again, only this time the MeToo is about a moneygrab. Any musician knows the oboist has the responsibility for tuning the orchestra. The oboe is second only to the concertmaster, I believe. The flute is far more ephemeral. Given the high pay they are probably both receiving, $70,000 is probably an appropriate gap, and I highly doubt she is special enough to warrant equal pay. Doriot Dwyer would, William Kincaid, but there is no flutist today that exceptional, is there? And I wonder how much less the principal harpist is paid. The harpist has to constantly tune 47 strings, do repairs, practice three hours a day on top of rehearsals, play concertos and solos at the drop of a hat, sit out for countless bars and then play a cadenza. There is no one who works harder than the harpist except the concertmaster. Certainly not the flute! Did a flutist ever think that maybe they were doubling the harp and not the other way around? Harps also cost twice as much as flutes and probably oboes, and an orchestral player can easily need three $65,000 instruments in a working life.

    • Liza says:

      Nonprofits must report most highly compensated employees on the IRS Form 990 and 2015 filings are available for free on Guidestar. I got curious and looked up Boston as well as a few other orchestras.

      Generally the concertmaster was paid the most by a country mile, then top paid tend to be more common in cello, horn, trumpet, oboe and clarinet but violas, flutes, bassoons and tympani do make some lists. (No harps in sight.)

      Boston highest compensated 2015:
      concertmaster – 390
      oboe – 280
      trumpet – 245
      viola – 244
      tympani – 216

      In light of this topic the interesting one I’d call out is Philadelphia. The 2015 filing lists:

      concertmaster – 387
      clarinet – 283
      flute – 268
      trumpet – 266
      oboe – 263
      horn – 257
      cello – 249

      Flute beats oboe here, but Woodhams is a oboe legend. With no disrespect to Khaner, I don’t think anyone would argue in favor of him against Woodhams’ legacy and reputation as one of the greatest of all time in American oboe playing. But Khaner earned more $$. Not a lot more, but going by some of the sentiment here that a great oboe is worth a premium, if any oboist has been worth a +70K adjustment over the last 3-4 decades, I’d argue it’s been Woodhams.

      • Stephen Owades says:

        The 2016 figures for the Boston Symphony are available too (see Part VII). The five highest-paid players are the same, and in the same order. (Note that the Music Director, Andris Nelsons, is not included in this list, since he is paid through a corporate entity rather than directly.)


      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Your points about Woodhams are on the mark. He is now retiring and it will be interesting to see what his successor earns in a few years (the 990s are typically 3 or 4 years behind the current year). I think both Woodhams and Ferillo are underpaid.

        In general, in major American venues (Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, etc), the head stage hand and head electrician make more than the concertmaster of any orchestra performing in those Halls. They have highly structured union agreements which allow for massive overtime. Probably not a valid comparison with principal orchestral musicians but a quirk of the pay scales in the US.

        Concerning Ms. Rowe, I am amazed that the BSO let this situation come to a public kerfuffle. Some sensible negotiation on both sides coupled with a compensation plan for the future might have avoided the current situation. A $70k differential is rather large given the similarity of the positions. If the BSO values her artistry, they will come up with additional $$$. She should be much closer to the principal oboist’s salary, if not at parity.

        Contrary to some other contributors to this blog, I am actually shocked that these principal salaries are so low given the demands and prestige of these positions.

        BSO has a huge annual budget and a substantial endowment. They can afford to open their purse a bit more.

      • MacroV says:

        Philly actually makes sense. The CM is always first.

        Riccardo Morales was hired away from the MET (around 2002?), for which they undoubtedly paid a premium. He then got offered both the CSO and New York, and he may have declined for “personal reasons” but it probably also bumped his pay. And Riccardo has been the biggest fish in the clarinet world pretty much since he joined the MET in 1993.

        Jeffrey Khaner was hired from Cleveland c. 1990, so probably also got a decent pay bump to move.

        Woodhams was recruited by the CSO c. 1995 to succeed Ray Still, but decided to stay. I recall hearing that at the time Philly gave him a multi-year contract for about $200k/year (plus a recording of the Strauss Concerto).

        In any case, all three of those principals earn somewhat more than Rowe (and in Philly, which is a cheaper city than Boston) and not much less than Ferillo, most likely because they all were hired away from comparable positions or had offers to go elsewhere.

      • Daphnis says:

        Very occasionally, in a few top American orchestras, one principal wind player is able to negotiate a personal salary that is geared to another principal wind player’s salary. This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with gender equality, but merely reflects an “I will only come (stay) if I am paid as much as (more than) so-and-so” attitude. The Philadelphia salaries seem to reflect this; comparable New York Philharmonic salaries might also.

    • Anon says:

      Harp. Give me a break. At least a third of most orch programming doesn’t even involve harp. So the harp has plenty of built in paid free time to tune their strings or whatever. And the ratio of good harpists to jobs is even higher than flutes. No orch is going to pay a premium for a harpist. A harpist is lucky if they have a full time position given the poor odds. Harp. Really?!!

      • Michael Comins says:

        “Harp, really?” – It’s not the amount of repertoire governing salary in a full-time position, but readiness to deliver a 1st-class performance WHEN CALLED ON. A major orchestra paid only by repertoire requirements and not full-time is no longer a major orchestra.

        • Anon says:

          Yes. And Principal Winds are “CALLED ON” to deliver those 1st class performances quite a bit more often than a Principal Harp.

          Michael, your interest in classical music is commendable, and it’s wonderful that you’re an enthusiastic and knowledgeable concert goer. But many of us commenting on this subject are prof. orch. players.

          You keep responding with prissy, pedantic comments. You sound like a bossy school marm who knows just enough about music to want to tell everyone else how it’s supposed to be done. It’s kind of insulting for those of us who actually make our living doing this.

          • Michael Comins says:

            Anon: I’m a retired professional player who played in both a major orchestra and major opera – and then did studio work for a lot of years. I repeat: Orchestra principals are paid to be there no matter what the repertoire calls for. Such condescension! I’m wondering what kind of an amateur you are especially since you remain ANON…..

        • Manny says:

          The only reason the harp is not used more often is poor programming. Harp could actually be legitimately used for continuo playing. The harp is the most unique instrument in the orchestra and is indispensable in a large percentage of vital repertoire. The anti-harp sentiment stems from the 19th century Germany where there were, according to Berlioz, such inadequate instruments and players that Symphonie Fantastique could not be performed. That milieu continues to be propagated by musicians schooled in still German-dominated music schools curricula and programming by orchestras. It has nothing to do with reality.
          Harps are subjected to a great deal of wear and tear, and so are harpists, by the inept writing of most composers. Your remarks betray complete ignorance.

          • Anon says:

            Manny, any way you slice it the harp does not play as much as a Principal Wind in any orch. It doesn’t matter why. It’s just the way it is. They play fewer concerts, period.

        • Anon says:

          Michael, you are arguing with yourself. No one is saying that any Principal is less important than another and no one is saying that they should be paid according to repertoire.

          The point is that instruments that are used in less repertoire, like harp, are not in the best position to negotiate above what other Principals are making. A Principal Flute or Oboe is.

    • Nina says:

      Well said!

  • bob says:

    If there’s actually evidence (emails, recorded conversations ect.) that her lower pay is because of her being a female then she does have an argument.

    If not,

    Then I say it is probably a money grab; That it’s arrogance and greediness disguised as her only “fighting for her rights”.

    She probably makes around $250,000 a year, so it’s not like it’s life of death anyway, or even the difference between weekend shopping sprees and not. I only wish the base pay of the good musicians just below her in the hierarchy was that $70,000 a year.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    First, both are over-paid. If the BSO can afford it, fine. There are doctors who don’t make that kind of money. And they wonder why American orchestras record very little these days.

    However, the oboe player more than likely spends endless hours making and adjusting reeds. It never ends and drives players crazy. The lucky flute player just puts the thing together and is set to go. Bassoons and oboes deserve more just for having to deal with those damned reeds!

    • Jack says:

      Is there something I’m missing? I saw nothing about what musicians in the BSO are paid, only the difference in dollars between two principal positions.

    • mr oakmountain says:

      At our local wind band, we gave the reed players a yearly allowance for buying/making their reeds. It wasn’t 70k though.

    • Ainslie says:

      Add these to the list of frustrations an oboist has to deal with:
      1) bad annual cane crops, sometimes for several years, meaning that it becomes difficult to actually make a good reed
      2) you and the bassoonists are the only players in the orchestra whose performance depends on the vicissitudes of small slips of organic plant material that are carefully shaved down and tied together. Even the best reed eventually goes bad; hopefully, you can predict its demise before you get to the solo in Don Juan.
      3) the life span of an oboe is 7 to 10 years. Flutes are significantly more expensive, but basically they are metal machines that, with a little maintenance last forever, and don’t depreciate
      4) since you play the tuning ‘A’, everybody gets to complain about

    • Jeff Rathbun says:

      Let’s clear up all speculation about the reed theory, please. As a longtime assistant principal oboist of a major orchestra, I can emphatically state that our reed-making duties have absolutely nothing to do with our negotiated overscale – absolutely nothing. We are expected to play at the highest of standards all the time, and if an oboist is struggling with reeds, or spending many extra hours making them, nobody cares, and that’s the way it should be. The ones pontificating about Ferillo’s standing in the oboe world, coming from the Met, etc., are closer to the truth. This would explain the disparity between the salaries, at least for a few years. John is worth every penny he makes and deserves more – but, after a certain amount of time, Rowe’s salary should be much higher, perhaps in the same vicinity as Ferillo’s. The BSO made a big mistake on how they handled this situation.

      • David K. Nelson says:

        I am sure you are correct that the orchestra pay-setters don’t know or don’t care about the reed making aspect of a professional oboe player’s life — any more than they know or care if a string player has a good bow and keeps the strings fresh and true. That is because the consequences of not doing so speak for themselves. A technically fine oboe player who can’t make good reeds won’t get or hold the jobs because it means they won’t produce fine results.

        The ultimate point I was making is rarity, and supply and demand. Yes there is equal demand in a top orchestra for great flutes and great oboes. The supply of great players is not equal (the sheer number of oboe majors cranked out by the conservatory/university music factories who hit the audition circuit notwithstanding).

        Whether this actually explains the BSO situation or not is up for grabs but I think it at least creates an argument that on its face would seem a plausible and valid defense in an equal-pay act dispute of this kind between instruments, not between genders. I have no doubt that pure discrimination can enter into the process however, as the Elayne Jones story so eloquently illustrated (go ahead, Google her name – then listen to her Bartok recording with Stokowski).

        • Bill says:

          And indeed, the law’s apparent collision with supply & demand makes this very interesting. I think we can all agree that there would not be any story here without it if we had a male flutist unhappy about his pay relative to the oboe.

          As mentioned by another commenter, the BSO was apparently warned this was coming. While it seems at first blush like an error to not have somehow resolved this behind the scenes, doing so would potentially set a troublesome precedent for overscale negotiations down the road, at least if the player could wave the law around. And if the player couldn’t, but was in a similar situation vis a vis the pay relative to others, that also opens up a can of worms – “you pay her more than you pay me simply because she’s a woman and the law protects her but not me” – one way or another, there’s going to be some resentment if you are only willing to adjust based on gender.

          It would not surprise me if the BSO counsel and board thought that perhaps it was worth fighting this just to keep their options open. Even if she is underpaid relative to some of the others, that’s a gig that one does not lightly walk away from.

          • Jeff Rathbun says:

            From personal experience, as well as knowledge of my orchestra colleagues throughout the country, I can safely say that Rowe is underpaid. Whether or not this can be legally resolved in her favor remains to be seen.

            I know for a fact that many principal woodwind players, in major orchestras, were making in the low $200,000’s back in 2001! Rowe is basically being paid at a 2001-level salary, which is outrageous. I only hope that this disparity can be resolved either through the lawsuit, but more preferably outside the courts.

  • Tamino says:

    Maybe simply the principal oboe negotiated better and harder?
    Funny how the biggest advocates of free market policies can become all socialists, when it is about affirmative preferences.

  • clay says:

    Playing the oboe is much harder on the diaphram than playing the flute. The oboe is also a voice instrument. Double reed instruments also is takes a few years off a performers life. Oboe should be paid more this reason alone! Flute come a dime a dozen.Superior oboe players are a rare commodity.

    • Scotty says:

      Contrabass hurts the fingers and often leads to tendonitis. Trumpet players have shorter life expectancies. String players pay insane amounts for their instruments. Percussionists have to manage stifling boredom. Bassoonists have to endure ridicule. Tuba players have to schlepp more than trombonists. What does any of this have to do with the supply-and-demand for a specific instrumentalist?

      • Thomasina says:

        But I don’t understand “Bassoonists have to endure ridicule.” In my eyes they are divines…I think of Sophie Dartigalongue.

  • anon says:

    The problem is that gender discrimination claims work both ways: if Ms. Rowe were to prevail, she’d then be the highest paid principal wind player (along with the oboe), which would mean that, now, all the other male principal players could now claim that *they* were being discriminated against based on gender because they all got lower pay than the woman.

    Basically, Ms. Rowe is making the demand that *all* principal chairs should be paid exactly the same, otherwise, all disparities in pay could be claimed to be based on gender, race, age, sexual orientation, national origin, etc.

    Even if all orchestras had lockstep salaries based purely on level and seniority, management would still have to pay signing bonuses, extra benefits, to entice star players to join the orchestra. Yes, there are star players: the market is always determined by supply and demand.

    • Hornblower says:

      Precisely. In all of the instances cited above, we’re talking about discrepancies that can largely be tied back to one of two things:

      – Musician A was recruited from an ensemble that paid more Musician B. This is undoubtedly the case with Ferrillo, who was principal at the MET, and Rowe, who was assistant principal with National.

      – Musician A wins an audition elsewhere, then uses their ability to leave as leverage to negotiate more favorable terms with their existing orchestra. This is, more or less, standard practice in any sector of employment in America.

      Now, if Rowe can actually prove gender bias, that’s a different story entirely. But if William Hudgins retires and the BSO offers the clarinet job to Ricardo Morales, and Morales negotiates a higher number than Ferrillo, does Rowe then argue that the principal clarinet is a better benchmark for her wage? Would a female tubist, playing half to two-thirds of the subscription weeks, be able to demand the same wage as the principal horn, because they both play brass instruments?

      The burden’s on Rowe to pony up the evidence. It’ll be interesting to see what she has, or if this is just a game of chicken in an attempt to get the BSO to re-negotiate her salary.

  • Tamino says:

    Oh for f*** sake, this is not an issue of gender discrimination. This is an issue of individual A having been attracted to BSO from another top orchestra also by a certain salary, and individual B having been a relative nobody in the business when winning her position.
    The gender fascism crowd is going bonkers again with this, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    • music_montreal says:

      Lots of good comments all around. My suspicion is that Ms Rowe would not care if the disparity was more like 10/20K a year. But 70K on a base salary of what, 150K a year is a lot, and she had given the BSO plenty of chances to right this. Let’s see what a judge says. And it’ll make a good topic for a Mozart in the Jungle episode…

      • Daphnis says:

        This must make for some really fun rehearsals when Elizabeth and John are sitting side-by-side.

        • Anon says:

          From what I understand they are not only colleagues but also friends. That’s how she found out how much he was making. I’m sure he supports her on this.

        • anon says:

          Conductor: “Flute, can you play a little bit louder to match the oboe?”

          Flute: “Not at my salary I can’t. Equal pay for equal work; it takes extra work to play louder!”

          • Tamino says:

            Conductor: „How much is forte for these two bars? 20 bucks? Here it is.“ Takes out wallet.

      • Blair Tindall says:

        Alas, no more Mozart in the Jungle. Canceled.

  • Nelson says:

    It’s painful to read all this utter nonsense about the difficulty of Flute vs. Oboe, making reeds (ok, how about the bassoon??), or finding THE great principal flautist or oboist. As if anyone making these comments has the slightest idea of what they are talking about! Try learning EITHER instrument at a masterful level, then the art of being consistent night after night in all of the repertory thrown at one, and then come back and tell us of the differences (and similarities)…..then we can have a conversation. Even then, to connect any of this with the case at hand is likely a futile endeavor. Otherwise this is all at the level of “Mozart in the Jungle” writing for lay consumption. Whether this IS a valid case or not has little or nothing to do with these speculative stabs in the dark.

    • Daphnis says:

      I think that we should be able to make comments without resorting to personal attacks and derisively dismissive condesention. As someone who did regularly sit in the principal flute chair of a top-12 American orchestra for over three decades, as well as serving on principal wind audition committees, I might qualify as having at a minimum “the slightest idea” of what I have offered in these posts. As to your benchmark “masterful level,” mine was sufficient to retain my position until my recent retirement. You certainly may be even better qualified to offer your professional perspectives, in which case we could politely disagree without theatrical hyperbole.

  • Alan Huckleberry says:

    There is one important detail missing from this entire discussion, including the original post. This is about Massachusetts LAW. In 2016, the state passed the Massachusetts Equal Pay Law, which after a waiting period of two years, took effect July 1, 2018. In it, it states that no woman should be payed less than a male in a comparable position. Ms. Rowe is making the case that the principal oboist is the comparable position.
    This is not a matter of Mr. Ferillo’s or Ms. Rowe’s qualification. It’s simply a matter of whether the two positions are comparable. If that premise can be “proven” (which Ms. Rowe must do), then she should be payed the same. If they are not comparable, then she shouldn’t.

  • Harold Goldner says:

    As an employment lawyer (who also plays oboe) I would like to clarify a misconception. The Equal Pay Act requires equal pay for persons in “substantially equivalent positions.” It does NOT require a finding of bias. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (the Federal statute prohibiting discrimination because of race, sex, religion or national origin) does require a finding of bias, but if an employer can demonstrate a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory basis” for its decision, it will not be liable for discrimination.

    So I suggest the real question is whether principle oboe and principle flute are “substantially equivalent.”

    Frankly, that seems like a close, but far from settled call, however, I agree with one poster above who faulted the BSO for permitting this to get out of hand in the first place.

    • BillG says:

      AH, we’ll let a Federal Judge decide which is more valuable oboe, or flute? An subject rife for satire, except I’m coming up a blank this morning.

      • Harold Goldner says:

        I feel like there should be a scene in a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta just like this, with a judge on the bench deciding such things…..

    • Bill says:

      Principal, not principle – I expect lawyers to get the details right!

      Now that I’ve made a friend, could you comment on how this law is applied to sports figures? Do all of the defensive tackles for the NE Patriots suddenly make exactly the same pay, or do they get what they and their agents negotiated with the team management, much like the principals with their overscale agreements in the BSO? Do tennis tournaments offer identical prize lists for men and women?

      While I applaud the general intent of the law (as I understand it), it seems like it has some potential to illustrate the law of unintended consequences…

      • Harold Goldner says:

        It’s funny you ask that question. I distinctly recall in first year Contracts class the professor discussing the concept of “personal services contracts” and then, at the close of one class asking us, “So if all of this is possible, how could the Boston Red Sox have traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees?” (Answer, by the way is “assignment,” another contract term we were about to learn).

        Fact is that professional sports enjoy certain “exclusions” from various laws intrinsic to their nature. As one poster above noted, base pay ranges are typically the subject of collective bargaining between unions and management. Even ranges of pay can be set by collective bargaining agreement. Fact is, almost everything can be set through collective bargaining because the courts give wide deference to the National Labor Relations Act.

        As between individual athletes (I especially enjoyed the baseball analogies in this thread) it’s a function of individual negotiation between typically agents and players, or even salary arbitration, another process established through collective bargaining.

        On the other hand, it is well documented that in the professional soccer world, women players make a fraction of what male players do — whether professional or not. There was litigation involving the USA Women’s National Soccer Team on this very point. Title IX pretty much requires that funding is equivalent on the collegiate level with NCAA, but professionally, there are many MANY examples of women athletes making less than their male counterparts.

        I can’t speak to whether Wimbledon, for instance, offers the same prize money to men as women. On the PGA front, I suspect that prize money for women dwarfs prize money available to male golfers, and that’s probably true for most professional sports.

        Fact is, I don’t think that professional sports works as an analogy for professional musicians, notwithstanding Peter Schickele’s humorous efforts to the contrary.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          There is equal pay (in terms of prize money) for men and women at Wimbledon, and indeed all the slams. They are playing in the same tournament. Other tournaments only have either men or women, and this results in lower female pay. Golf has separate male and female tournaments too.

          Football have very different pay for men and women. Although the England footballers at the World Cup are performing for free (as they do whenever they play for England). Female players probably could not afford to play for England for free.

  • william osborne says:

    Part of the problem is that these high salaries harm the orchestral world. The USA is the only country that doesn’t pay uniform salaries based on the position filled. As a result, we have a top heavy system that costs so much that the orchestral landscape is impoverished. Europeans pay reasonable, uniform salaires which allows them to fund far more orchestras. (The UK might be on the low side, but in general orchestra musicians are fairly paid in the EU.)

    Many Americans think it’s normal for major cities to have just one full time symphony orchestra, but that is not the norm internationally. In Europe, cities comparable to those where our top orchestras are, usually have about five to eight full time orchestras. For example, London has 8, Berlin 7, Munich 7, Paris 6, and Vienna 7. By paying reasonable salaries, and through the advantages of public arts funding, the cities provide full time employment to 5 to 10 times as many classical musicians.

    With so many more orchestras per city, they reach a much larger demographic. They also provide a much richer training ground for conductors and composers, which is one of the reasons Americans are relatively rare at the top in these fields, especially for a country our size. (All of our top 6 orchestras are conducted by foreigners.)

    We need a system, and new legislation if necessary, that puts better controls over non-profits. This would include a more uniform and reasonable system for compensating orchestra musicians that it not so top heavy. It is ridiculous that players in top orchestras make so much, while regional orchestra can hardly pay their musicians at all. This is America’s system of cultural plutocracy at its worst.

    Note the smug and blinkered world of American classical music, which cannot acknowledge this reality at all.

    Below I list the full time orchestras for each of these five cities I mention.

    + London Symphony Orchestra
    + London Philharmonic
    + Royal Philharmonic
    + Philharmonia
    + BBC Symphony Orchestra
    + BBC Concert Orchestra
    + Royal Opera Orchestra
    + English National Opera Orchestra

    + L’Orchestre National de Radio-France
    + Orchestre de Paris
    + Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
    + L’Orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris
    + Ensemle Intercontemporain
    + Orchestre de Chambre de Paris
    (The Paris Opera Orchestra has 170 members since the services must be rotated to meet demand.)

    + Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
    + Bavarian Radio Unterhaltungs Orchestra
    + Munich Philharmonic
    + Bavarian State Opera Orchestra
    + Gärtnerplatz Opera Orchestra
    + Munich Symphoniker
    + Munich Chamber Orchestra

    + Vienna Philharmonic
    + Vienna Symphoniker
    + Vienna State Opera Orchestra
    + Vienna State Radio Orchestra
    + Volksoper Orchestra
    + Klangforum Wien
    + Tonkünstlerorchester
    (The VPO and State Opera Orchestra use the same personnel, but the ensemble has 149 positions so that they can rotate the services.)

    + Berliner Philharmoniker
    + Konzerthausorchester Berlin
    + Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
    + Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
    + Orchester der Staatsoper Unter den Linden/Staatskapelle Berlin
    + Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
    + Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin

    • william osborne says:

      Barcelona also has multiple orchestras, but I do not have the names at hand. Even Mexico City has around five.

      • Cubs Fan says:

        Most large American cities do have multiple orchestras. Boston has the Boston Philharmonic, Boston Baroque, and others besides the BSO. New York has multiple orchestras. The LA region has the Pacific Symphony, the fine orchestras in Pasadena, Glendale. The LA Chamber Orchestra. And the amateur/community orchestra scene is quite healthy everywhere. Maybe they’re not professional and not going to challenge the great orchestras of Berlin, London, and elsewhere, but it does show a desire and interest on the part of musicians.

        You have to realize that public funding will never happen in the US. We have so many other needs that paying for what is perceived as an elitist art form (and not without reason!) is going to be a very low priority. And don’t blame Trump, like you always want to do. Classical music just isn’t of interest to most people in Washington or elsewhere really. The megarich tech tycoons don’t give a damn about it either. There are some communities whose governments do provide some funding, low or free rental in performing venues, and other support. And I’m happy with the set up. As soon as any gov’t entity gets involved, a lot of demands come with it. You’d be expected to have racial quotas in orchestras. Play a certain percentage of works by women, LBQTXYZ composers, and other PC nonsense.

        • Derek says:

          William was listing the major full time orchestras. He could have gone on.

          In London to name a few others –
          The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, The English Chamber Orchestra, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, London Chamber Orchestra, The Aurora etc.etc.

          The approach appears to be different from top to bottom (this may be simply to do with history), but the “range” in salaries seems to be much greater in the USA.

    • BillG says:

      The difference between state funded and private funded entertainment. Not worth the effort to try and debate which is better. The important thing is that they are different.

      That impacts the impact of this information on the discussion at hand.

      Of as an old boss use to say at staff meetings, tell me the “so what?”

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Interesting comments here – all of them. I can add nothing.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    If the concertmaster is a man and the associate concertmaster is a woman, should they get equal pay? The former concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony was earning $800,000 (eight hundred thousand dollars) yearly and nobody batted an eyelash. This flute player who is suing has no case but I’m sure the Boston Symphony will settle – they don’t want to look like the mean guys.

    • Bill says:

      No, they weren’t. That would have been all over the industry when the first 990 filing came out.

  • anon says:

    Chicago Symphony just hired a 24 year old principal oboe. That’s what all orchestras should do, hire recent graduates, and pay them all the minimum salary. No dispute, no competition, no envy.

    • Doug says:

      Even further along your point, orchestras should just buy the best, most recent AI program with sound generating hardware. That way there is only a singe outlay of cash and the sound is always the same. Install wind generators on the roof of the concert hall so when the electricity goes out the concert doesn’t grind to a halt.

    • Michael Comins says:

      You can rest assured that the new 24-year-old CSO oboist will NOT be making minimum. It’s not about age, but about position.

      • MacroV says:

        He will probably make principal scale, but not much in terms of over-scale. Simply because it’s his first job, and they’re not hiring him away from a comparable position.

  • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

    As a Brit I am sitting here trying not to gawp in amazement that there exists a world where orchestral players get paid this much. And as for British orchestras paying a premium to get a really good player in from elsewhere… well, there’s more chance of (the late) Peter Stringfellow being made Pope.

  • George Young says:

    For what it’s worth, here are comparable (publicly available Form 990 for 2016) highest principal musician compensation levels (to nearest thousand $) for all the American orchestras of note. (F) female where designated.

    Not giving any consideration to gender, it seems Ms. Rowe may have something of an argument to make, as flute remuneration tops oboe in six out of thirteen major orchestras in at least one given moment. With her case in Boston, I would also find it useful to question why the timpanist apparently makes so much more than she does!

    New York: Concertmaster(F) 411 – Horn 390 – Oboe 383 – Cello 371 – Clarinet 345
    Chicago: Concertmaster 493 – Trumpet 299 – Clarinet 290 – Cello 287 [In 2013, before both chairs became vacant: Flute 288 – Oboe 274]
    Boston: Concertmaster 415 – Oboe 287 – Trumpet 279 – Viola 264 – Timpani 255
    Cleveland: Concertmaster 585 – Trumpet 258 – Viola 257 – Flute 247
    Philadelphia: Concertmaster 387 – Clarinet 284 – Flute 268 – Trumpet 266 – Oboe 264 – Horn(F) 258 – Cello 249
    San Francisco: Concertmaster 507 – Trumpet 266 – Clarinet 266 – Viola 257 – Associate Concertmaster(F) 252
    Los Angeles: Concertmaster 489 – Trumpet 302 – Cello 291 – Bassoon 287
    Pittsburgh: Horn 276 – Clarinet 252 – Oboe(F) 246 – Trumpet 204 – Bassoon(F) 196
    Houston: Concertmaster 193 – Oboe 183 – Cello 182 – Horn 170 – Co-Concertmaster 156
    Minnesota: Concertmaster(F) 239 – Trombone 169 – Oboe 167 – Horn 160 – Clarinet 160
    Saint Louis: Concertmaster 241 – Clarinet 178 – Viola(F) 168 – Flute 160
    Dallas: Concertmaster 293 – Horn 197 – Flute 186 – Oboe(F) 185
    Baltimore: Concertmaster 291 – Oboe(F) 140
    Seattle: Horn 127 – Oboe(F) 125
    Detroit: Concertmaster 194 – Cello 137 – Flute 135

    • Derek says:

      Significant variation, no uniformity, Different instruments favored.

      It would seem to indicate that players are paid by what they have negotiated and how much they are wanted by the orchestra.

    • Liza says:

      Interesting re: Chicago. Those numbers suggest Izotov – another titan on oboe – took a pay cut to go to SF. I would also assume Dufour also took a significant one to pick up the flute post in Berlin based on all the discussion above around EU pay scales.

      • George Young says:

        Can’t say about Dufour, but wouldn’t assume that about Eugene Izotov in SF. Have to wait to see since non-profits report for preceding years and then are released in arrears. Also, he needs to have been there through a full calendar year, which I don’t believe has occurred as yet.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    One thought does come to mind.

    As someone who has played under hundreds of conductors in many different bands and orchestras, it’s much tougher to get away with a less than stellar oboe than a less-than-stellar flute. Flute is one of those instruments for which it takes a bit of effort to actually make it sound bad. Oboe takes a tremendous amount of work and dedication to make it sound good. A less than good oboe can just kill a performance. That rarely happens with flutes.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    The average 2018 salary of the 10 top-paid starting MLB pitchers was $28.35 million. For the 10 top-paid starting MLB catchers, the average is $14 million. The latter is arguably the more debilitating position.

    • barry guerrero says:

      Try sticking an oboe player out there and see they handle a 100 mph fast ball, or some outrageous breaking ball (coming in a luxurious 80-something mph). Then they’re expected to hit at least .250 and get 10 to 15 home runs, minimum. I don’t think even a studly trombone player could cut it.

      OK, you could then say the catcher couldn’t play oboe either. True. But the catcher has thousands watching every single day, plus those watching on tv, as well as dealing with the expectations of the owners and sponsors.

      • Tamino says:

        Now I’m all in tears. Oh, those poor baseball players. What a pressure. OMG. Only in thousands of years will mankind be able to understand their heroic deeds.

  • Bruce says:

    FWIW, Boston Globe article: https://tinyurl.com/globeflutepay

    “Reached by phone in Tanglewood, Ferrillo provided a portion of a formal statement he has made that will be provided to the BSO: “I have been asked to do a very specific task — to appraise the value of the relative work, worth, and abilities of Elizabeth Rowe,” he stated. ‘I consider Elizabeth to be my peer and equal, at least as worthy of the compensation that I receive as I am.’”

  • Michael says:

    Let’s face it. The bass drum player deserves the highest salary. Only J.P. Sousa recognized this, and his bass drummer was paid accordingly.

  • Don Fatale says:

    So a flautist, who gets paid to do what many do for pleasure, more than surgeons, prime ministers and presidents of many contries (yes, in the West) and still thinks they’re underpaid. I find this sickening. Go get a reality check-up.

    • Horn101 says:

      What? Don, get over yourself. You clearly don’t know or understand the life of a PROFESSIONAL musician! Think of it this way, why pay anyone for anything they can do for fun…..that’s essentially your sentiment.

      Why?? Because we as musicians take our profession seriously, we put in hours upon hours of rehearsals, self practice etc….we can’t call in sick because we don’t feel well….we have to be there all the time just like any other profession. I know many amateurs and professionals…..there is a HUGE difference. Now, with this being said….she is not asking for the exact same pay…..she’s fighting against gender discrimination……he is paid more because he is a man. He has even stated that he feels she deserves the same pay as him. So, before you continue your assinined statements…..what exactly is it that you do for a living? Do you have to work hard? Put in many more hours than you are paid for? Perhaps you need to learn to read more about what’s going on here…….there are people who do it for just leisure and there are those of us that have chosen Music as our careers just as a pro tennis player or a computer programmer have chosen theirs.

    • Jeff Rathbun says:

      Don, so profound! Let’s insert other words than “flautist”: professional “baseball players”, “golfers”, “football players”, “basketball players”, ” “soccer players”, “hot dog eating contestants”, etc. It’s such a tragedy that all these people, getting highly paid for something pleasurable, might make more than prime ministers or doctors. Oh, the humanity!

  • Malcolm Kottler says:

    In case no one else has mentioned it, the July 6 Boston Globe has a story about this by its music critic Jeremy Eichler:

    “The BSO’s principal flutist says she is paid far less than the man who is the principal oboist”

    Here is a link although it might be behind a paywall:


  • Michael says:

    It would be interesting to find out how much the other principals earn. Clarinet, bassoon? What about trombone and percussion? If she is earning less than all of her colleagues, I would say that she has a good case. On the other hand, if she is earning more than some of the other principals, then that would weaken her case. If she were to win, maybe the other principals who earn less (if they exist) will jump on the bandwagon and claim reverse sex discrimination ( if they are men). I wonder how the other principals feel about this?

  • George Young says:

    Well, as more details emerge in the Boston press, it seems Ms. Rowe, over the last couple of years, gave the BSO ample warning about her intentions given the state law just now taking effect. With every opportunity to do something, the BSO management apparently did … nothing.

    Speculating, it would not surprise me to learn that on the BSO Board of Trustees there are some Massachusetts lawyers who see this a test case opportunity to assess judicial boundaries in the application of the law’s new provisions. After all, they can do this with other people’s money, i.e., BSO patrons and contributors, without risking any financial standing of their own firms.

  • davidrmoran says:

    can we (including NL) please get the lastname spelled right always, Ferrillo

  • Tutti Flutie says:

    I can’t speculate on how this will turn out, but I have to say that in taking this action Elizabeth Rowe has proven herself to be a worthy heir to her predecessor, Doriot Anthony Dwyer.

    Doriot was one of the first female principals in a major US orch. and has always made clear her family ties with her ancestor Susan B. Anthony.

    It would be fascinating to get an interview with Doriot herself, or at least a comment from her on this issue.