Boston Symphony goes into mediation over principal flute’s lawsuit

Boston Symphony goes into mediation over principal flute’s lawsuit


norman lebrecht

December 11, 2018

In a huge feature on Elizabeth Rowe’s demand for equal pay with principal oboe John Ferrillo, Geoff Edgers repots in today’s Washington Post that the orchestra and its troubled flute will enter mediation this week.

If that fails, it’s straight to court.

… Speaking publicly for the first time about the lawsuit, Rowe says her case has far-reaching implications. Her lawsuit will be the first against an orchestra to test Massachusetts’ new equal-pay law, its outcome potentially affecting women across the U.S. workforce who are paid less than their male colleagues.

“Money is the one thing that we can look to to measure people’s value in an organization,” Rowe says. “You look at the number of women that graduate from conservatories and then you look at the number of women in the top leadership positions in orchestras, and it’s not 50-50 still. Women need to see equality, and they need to see fairness in order to believe that that’s possible.”

Rowe, 44, makes $250,149 a year. Ferillo, 63, is on $314,600.

Read on here.


  • Rogerio says:

    Rowe will be making slightly more than Ferillo makes today when she is 63 if she simply gets a raise of 2% every year to cover inflation… Is that how Ferillo got to his present salary…?
    She could certainly complain if both of them were plumbers yesterday and both started work as musicians with the orchestra today.
    They should go to court. It will be fun.

  • Wiggins says:

    So between her and her husband (who is also in the orchestra), they’re probably making close to $400k a year from this orchestra and she’s suing them for even more.

    The greed of these musical 1%ers is staggering. Stop hiding behind strawman statements such as “my artistic home,” it’s gag-worthy to musicians who struggle to make even $40k a year.

    • S says:

      this is an issue of women’s rights and equality, not 1%.

      • Doug says:

        No, it is not “an issue of women’s rights..”. It’s about an ORCHESTRA something highly SUBJECTIVE and ARTISTIC not the Boston chapter of the Red Guard out to destroy “the Four Olds.”

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        After this I expect she’ll be hearing that all-too-familiar word four-lettered word when looking for a ‘promotion’ or another gig. NEXT.

      • J says:

        Disclosure 1: I’m a guy.
        Disclosure 2: Raised by a single mom, I support equal pay for women.
        That said, that may not be the issue here. The BSO had to go out an get the oboist to come play for them, luring that player away from the player’s current position.
        More than 200 flutists applied for the Principal Flutist position and they picked one. The law of supply and demand seems to be a factor–the higher the demand the higher cost, or as possibly in this case, the pay.
        I am a business owner and if faced with a similar situation I don’t think I would have offered the flutist the same pay as the oboist, and gender would not have been a factor. Is it one here? I do not know but the mere fact the he makes more than she does not make the case for gender bias.

    • Joe Mattisson says:

      Stop hiding yourself behind clear false cause, as hominem and tu quoque-arguments. Of course this is not a strawman. The salary of other musicians elsewhere have nothing to with salaries in this orchestra. She’s not suing because her salary is to low in itself but bcs it’s lower than someone else doing a similar task in the same working place. Right or wrong who knows, but at least let’s discuss the actual topic at hand and not completely other things. I have a friend who plays flute sometimes and he doesn’t get payed at all. Outrageous, I tell you!

    • Jack says:

      So are you suggesting she should be paid less because her husband is in the orchestra? Or should she be paid closer to 40k a year so people in that strata won’t gag? Neither has to do with the core issues in this matter.

    • Freddrick says:

      “Musical 1%ers”
      haha, Brilliant!

    • Musician says:

      Spoken like a bitter freelancer. “To the winner comes the spoils!”

  • Doug says:

    Heck, let’s just apply the “Trudeau Principle” to orchestras and guarantee that every orchestra is perfectly 50/50 male to female even among sections and principals, equally skilled and possessing equal artistry and that their age remains at a constant median. This way the Podunk Philharmonic will be equal to the Berlin Philharmonic: Utopia achieved!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      And, if you live in Quebec, according to its Premier, “Oil is unacceptable”. Fairly intelligent in a freezing country. Not. A direct result of the “Trudeau Principle” (which is a nice oxymoron).

  • Don Ciccio says:

    the article has a misleading head line. It says: “The star flutist was paid $64,451 less than the oboe player. So she sued.”

    Actually, the oboe player is the star. The flute player is just another world class flute player, which are not exactly in short supply.

  • S says:

    I don’t think these people are on fixed salaries that go up 2% a year. She is also paid less than many other lead musicians in the orchestra. I’m not sure what the actual numbers are, but given how pay in MANY industries is significantly lower for women than men (Often because women aren’t given the better, higher paying roles because, well, they’re women), there is likely something to her claim.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, it’s such a nuisance having the burden of pregnancy and children and not being at the workplace the EXACT same number of hours as men. Low resolution ideological thinking is a one-shoe-fits-all equation!

  • Dennis says:

    Completely disingenuous of her to frame this as simply a “gender equality” issue. That a flute and oboe are different, and perhaps good oboe players more difficult to come by, seems not to matter. Pure identity politics for self-aggrandizement. I’d gladly take half that salary to play a flute for a living.

    • Jack says:

      You do know that John Ferillo (Principal Oboe) supports her 100%, right?

      • Peter says:

        You do know that John Ferillo is not her employer, so it’s not him who would pay at the end.
        Would he support her if the orchestra offered to take away 50% of the difference from him to give it to her?

  • S says:

    When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. The claim should be examined by neutral parties who can substantiate it or not. Across a big enough sample it should be close to 50/50, but within an individual orchestra that might not be the case. Reacting as if asking for fair treatment is akin to putting some ridiculous constraints in place just shows how accurate the first sentence of this comment is.

    • Tamino says:

      What should be 50/50 and why?
      To expect equality of opportunity is common sense. To expect equality of outcome is simply stupid nonsense.
      More men are in prison. More men die in wars. Where is the privilege of men?
      You can’t only look at a few shiny examples and claim foul play.

  • anon says:

    Of their relative musical talents, these are empirical questions that can be answered empirically, rather than proclaiming in generalities about gender equality:

    – Survey the musicians (anonymously).
    – Interview the music director and guest conductors.
    – Take a poll of the audience.
    – Survey the music critics.
    – Compare their concert schedules, performance and recording histories, teaching posts.
    – Survey their peers.

  • Orchestral Musician says:

    According to the BSO, Elizabeth Rowe is paid more than nine male BSO principal musicians, and is paid more than any other BSO musician for solo performances. This detail will not help her or her lawyers prove gender discrimination.
    However, paying this fine musician the same salary as Mr. Ferrillo will not even remotely break the BSO budget, and I find it astounding that management did not settle this dispute quietly and privately by raising her pay.

    • Karl says:

      Then wouldn’t every other player have demanded a pay increase? When you have 100 musicians that adds up.

    • Bill says:

      So what are all the other BSO principal players, chopped liver? Why not pay them all the same? Those BSO section players could be principals in many other orchestras, maybe we should give them all the same pay.

      You get hired at a certain rate you negotiate as a big-name principal. Her pay has increased relative to other BSO principals (because in the 2016 Form 990 filing she was not in the top 5 as the orchestra reports she is now). Not sure why she should automatically “catch up” with someone who has been on the job much longer, but now she’s got a new law that if you look at it the right way might offer her the chance to claim that she’s being discriminated against because she’s a woman. I don’t know how the law is written – if the genders were reversed, would the lower-paid male individual have the law on their side? And will she be asking the BSO to increase the pay of all the principal players who have been there longer than she has? Would she be equally enthusiastic about simply dividing the total principal compensation evenly among the principal players (that’d value everyone’s work the same, after all)?

      I’m curious about whether this law has provisions to deal with school teacher compensation, which typically (in CA, MN, and IL, the three states where I know teachers) has additional compensation for length of service and thus could easily produce two teachers with similar credentials, different hire dates, and substantially different pay. That’s the same fact pattern we have here, is it not?

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      That is ridiculous. She only plays one note at a time! The harpist plays at least eight. So, she should get eight times the money, because she also plays melodic lines of single notes, too. Plus the two feet at work, so that’s ten times the money. And a gold harp costs about $65,000. I don’t think they even make a flute that costs that much.

      • Alexa Clarinet says:

        I think this answers my question. You’re not a flutist. Many professional flutists play on instruments that cost more than $65,000.

        • Bill says:

          You can spend more than that on a harp, though not everyone does, just as not everyone spends that much on a flute. Many string players would be eager to spend “only” $65,000! You can spend that on a bow alone…

    • Malcolm James says:

      Neither the principal clarinet nor principal bassoon are amongst those earning more than Elizabeth Rowe, and they are both male with between 25 and 30 years service. If she is worth the same as John Ferrillo, so presumably are they. However, there is no gender equality legislation to help them and they will probably just have to suck it up. is this fair? The real problem is the practice of allowing principals to negotiate their own deals, rather than having a rate, or at least a rate scale, for the job.

      • Bill says:

        I would say that is a problem only if you are forced to confront the reality that someone else made a different set of decisions and is now more highly compensated. If one is a world-class player and wants to play in a group where everyone gets paid the same, regardless of scarcity, one should audition for European orchestras, not US ones. The flute player here sought a job in a setting where compensation has been this way for her entire professional life — it’s not like some sort of bait-and-switch took place here.

  • Amos says:

    The issue of gender inequality, wrt pay, in the workplace has been well documented and needs to be seriously addressed. Unfortunately, imo, this isn’t one of them. My sense has always been that next to the concertmaster the Principal oboe is the most important member of the orchestra and certainly of the wind section. If anyone has evidence that Principal flute and oboe are paid similarly in major orchestras I’ll gladly acknowledge my mistake. Last, imo both Ms. Rowe and Mr. Ferillo are superb musicians.

    • Bern says:

      the article gives such an example – St Louis Symphony Orchestra pays male flutist more than female oboist.

      • Orchestral Musician says:

        The male flutist joined the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in 2000, the female oboist joined in 2013. Seniority is very likely is the reason for their pay discrepancy.

    • MacroV says:

      It varies by orchestra. But you would think people who were hired away from other orchestras (and thus had a good bargaining position) tend to be the highest paid – Ferillo in Boston; Riccardo Morales and Jeffrey Khaner in Philly, probably Chris Martin in New York. A couple years ago Whitney Crockett (principal bassoon) was the highest-paid player in the LA Phil (after the CM), probably because he was hired away from the MET. I would bet Tim Hutchins is the highest-paid player in Montreal, having turned down offers to move to New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh over the years. Steve Williamson is probably one of the highest-paid in the CSO, having turned down an offer to move to New York.

      I actually find the BSO’s “oboe is harder” argument specious. Anyone who wins a BSO principal audition is one of the top persons in his/her field, and getting that point is hard, no matter the instrument.

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      And yet, the oboe is just one more windy instrument. A clarinet could take its place, or a saxophone. The harp is the one unique instrument in the orchestra, the only chordophone, the only “plucked” string instrument, requiring hourly tuning.

      • Musician says:

        LOL. The Harp harp has more time off than anyone else in the orchestra. Much of the repertoire doesn’t call for it.

    • Malcolm James says:

      We are told that in certain orchestras, e.g. Cleveland and Philadelphia, the principal flute is/was paid more than the principal oboe.

  • MacroV says:

    This issue has been debated several times in SD in recent months, and nothing is new here other than that the parties are going to mediation.

    My objection here is simply that she’s using John Ferillo as the reference, ignoring that she is, according to the article, the fifth-highest paid member of the orchestra. She’s earning more than most of the principals (nearly all male).

    One thing I object to in the article is the mention that she has been a soloist more frequently than other principals. Presumably she received a separate fee for those appearances, so that fact shouldn’t be relevant to her salary as a principal player.

    • Jack says:

      You know that Ferillo supports her claim, right? It’s in the article.

      • MacroV says:

        The article says that Ferillo regards her as his equal, but stopped short of saying she should be paid the same, because he didn’t think it’s his place to tell the BSO management what it should pay anyone.

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      The harpist deserves more money than she does. She doesn’t have to use her feet, do constant tuning, or practice for hours on end to play difficult and unplayable parts.

  • Jack says:

    It would be interesting to see the comments if the principal flute was male. In the NY Phil days, did Julius Baker earn tons less than Harold Gomberg?

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    This is smells very much like metoo, me-too!
    This clearly has nothing to do with male/female salary disparities and it’s a shame this particular case is assuming that position.

    As stated in the October article, and published by the BSO, she makes more than numerous other [male] principals and is paid the most for solo performances.

    While the oboist may be in support of her, i imagine his salary reflects a contract agreement between him and the orchestra; we cannot dismiss he was previously co-principal of the Met Opera! She climbed her way to the top, yes, but she probably didn’t leave a higher salary (and a job at Juilliard) to play for BSO.

    The violins play far more notes and have *far* more instrument-related expenses than any wind player. I would be curious how far a principal string player would go to match her salary given this disparity.

    What’s most unfortunate is this case is drawing such split views, when legitimate metoo salary cases probably do in fact exist, but haven’t reached the surface.

    And I would be the first to say—I think the principal oboe, whose sound is the first and only sound to be heard individually at every American orchestral concert during tuning, deserves a higher salary, male or female. If the flutist had left a higher paying job to join and ultimately made more than the oboist, fine—-this is negotiated, right?

    • NYMike says:

      Of all the wind instruments, the oboe has the most pitch stability – the reason it sounds the A for tuning the rest of the orchestra.. This does not require great musical talent. It’s past time this reasoning needs to be left out of the pay argument.

  • Anon says:

    So what if her husband is in the orchestra! They are separate people, professionals. Principals should be paid the same rate, as in London orchestras, hence alleviating a huge chasm. Funnily enough, in an orchestra, all players rely and need each other to function as a unit – or maybe not in the USA!

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    The article tells nothing new. It rehashes the tripe that has been in print for ages now. She is full of it and should get nothing out of this other than fired. She is no “star.”

  • Louie says:

    Fixed overscale. It would solve so many problems in American Orchestras.

  • TimStevens says:

    Something that no one seems to understand is that when you negotiate your individual overscale, leverage is all that matters. If you are going to the BSO from the MET, you have a lot of leverage and are going to get more overscale than if you were coming from the Tulsa Symphony. The flutist had more bargaining power than she, and thusly has a higher overscale than she does.

    An example: I know someone who plays a section position in a good orchestra and won an audition to play in an orchestra with a higher salary. Her current orchestra offered to match the other orchestra’s salary in order to give her incentive to stay. So she stayed and is now making more money in her current position than other section players in her orchestra. This has NOTHING to do with gender and EVERYTHING to do with negotiating power.

    This has nothing to do with gender and has everything to do with initial leverage and whether or not your lawyer negotiates a good contract for you. To frame it as something else is disingenuous and is frankly just sour grapes.

  • Pamela Brown says:

    It could be said that we have come full circle since the day when Doriot Anthony Dwyer, also then of the BSO, was the only female Principal Flute in the entire country…