High fliers: Maestro booked cellist for $275,000

UPDATE: These figures have been overturned by official documents.

Anomalies at Mexico’s National Symphony Orchestra have been exposed by the country’s audit office.

It is reported that the music director Carlos Miguel Prieto and his manager Claudia Hinojosa agreed in 2015 to pay 5,219,312 pesos (US275,000) for two concerts by the veteran US cellist Lynn Harrell, a sum way out of line with cellist fees anywhere on earth.

Prieto is also found to have booked the Venezuelan trumpeter Pacho Flores in March 2016 for two recitals at $220,000 and the young US violinist Eric Silberger for two million pesos ($100,000).

Prieto, who has been music director since 2007, has faced recent protests from unhappy musicians.

Read more here.



share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • It averages out to about $100,000+ per concert for soloists across 3 instruments.

    Isn’t that the going rate for soloists?

    Of the three instruments, the cello market is the most robust, how much do Ma, Weilerstein, Maisky, Gabetta, Capuçon charge?

    Plus, the real measure is, how much proceeds did these concerts take in? To take in more, sometimes you need to invest more, but you also can charge the audience more.

    • the seating capacity of Palacio de Bellas Artes is 1000. I doubt its possible to charge enough to cover such fees.

    • Artist managers and orchestras do everything they can to keep soloist fees a secret. You won’t find them on their tax returns (in the U.S.), unlike conductor or CEO fees. But suffice it to say that Yo-Yo Ma makes in a single concert what many rank-and-file players in mid-sized orchestras take home in an entire year. Orchestras justify it by saying that the star soloists are the draw that get butts in seats.

      • I’ve long wondered about this. From a purely economics perspective, a soloist should be paid no more than the additional revenue his/her appearance generates. Pretty sure Lynn Harrell would not generate an additional $275k in revenue relative to two purely orchestral concerts.

        But one of Yo-Yo Ma’s (or Lang Lang’s, or Renee Fleming’s) gala concerts, where the orchestra probably does just 1-2 rehearsals, the soloist plays a popular concerto and maybe schmoozes with donors who pay big dollars for the privilege, probably does generate revenue sufficient to cover the outsize fee.

    • $100,000 the going rate? Clearly anon does not work in the music business. I doubt even Ma receives that for a special gala event with increased ticket prices, but the mean rate for those on his list will be well under $50,000. And a repeat concert of the same programme generally carries a major reduction in the basic fee. $275,000 for a pair of concerts – if that is what was paid – is utterly staggering!

      • Factor in the confusion of Mexican Pesos with dollars that has been mentioned numerous times on this thread, and 275,000 turns into about $14,000, which is much more reasonable.

  • If true, these fees are beyond outrageous. I am not sure if Claudia Hinojoss is Prieto’s manager or the manager of the orchestra. If the latter, she should be immediately fired. As for the orchestra’s Board of Directors, they should resign en masse.

    Some will no doubt argue that when offered fees of this ridiculous level, there is no problem with artists accepting them. I disagree. They and their agents should be condemned. They must be aware that the excess above their normal fees could have been used far more constructively in the annual management of the orchestra.

    • Claudia Hinojosa is the manager of our orchestra and does a superb job. The original article contained a foolish and malicious error: confusing the Mexican peso with the US dollar. Dividing the quoted sums by 18.98 (the current value of the dollar in pesos) yields perfectly reasonable sums. —William Harvey, Concertmaster, National Symphony Orchestra, Mexico

  • You know, it is funny in the first place why is a conductor as bad as Carlos Prieto (he is widely known as one of the worst conductors in the middle circuit) the music director of this orchestra. Second, this man comes from an extremely wealthy and influential family – his father is a cellist son of a frenchman who made a fortune selling explosives to the mining industry -. People born in money sometimes don’t understand the value of it. I think this is the case.

      • Not just one person’s opinion, other professional musicians such as myself have been baffled at how Carlos Prieto ever got a music director position (even from the first time we saw him wave his elbows). Naturally, opinions can differ, so can anyone please at least confirm whether or not Prieto even has a degree in music? His official bio says “a graduate of Princeton and Harvard universities” (but that does not mention whether his degree was in music or in something else like business). I know that some of the conductors he lists as having studied with were only during a summer masterclass where Prieto was playing violin.

        • Confirmed through his wikipedia page as well as Harvard’s website: “Prieto earned a degree in electrical engineering from Princeton. In 1992, he earned a Master’s of Business Administration at Harvard University. He worked for a sugar company before devoting full-time to music as a career.” But still no clues as to whether or not he studied conducting beyond one or two summer courses.

        • He does wave his elbows (so what?). Perhaps if we knew your identity we could ask co-workers whether 100% of them like your artistry. If not, then they should be allowed to voice that displeasure on the internet anonymously for equal measure. In the good old days in these situations an artist simply would not be invited back, after all, these viewpoints are partially subjective.

          • There is also more to being a conductor these days. He has gotten great soloist for the orchestra to play with which has raised the level of the orchestra. It Is also quite rare for Mexico to get so many great soloist. Most of the musicians do not give a shit about the level or opportunity BUT are just jealous and too arrogant to understand why these soloist would be worth every penny they get. A lot of these musicians would be happy with a horrible conductor that would get the musicians more money even if the music making was highly sacrificed.

      • I heard him near the beginning of his career (1972) and he was quite good. Then I heard him a few years ago and he was not quite so good. He’s getting old, I’m afraid.

        • what did you hear him do in 1972? He was born in November of 1965, so he would have only been 6 years old then. And apparently he did not start conducting until after earning degrees in engineering and in business.

          • Jack could be referring to Carlos Prieto (Carlos Miguel Prieto’s father) and a cellist.

        • Sorry, I thought we were talking about Lynn Harrell (b. 1944) who I heard play Haydn & Dvorak in 1972, just a few years after launching a solo career after being principal in Cleveland. I didn’t see that this string was about someone else.

    • This orchestra NEEDS Carlos. Never has the orchestra seen and gotten to play with such great soloist!!!! Carlos has given this opportunity to you. I sense a lot of jealousy. He is also one of the best conductors in Mexico. The National Symphony is honestly not too great of an orchestra and Carlos is DEF NOT under the level. The musicians should be grateful for what he has gotten for the orchestra!!!! This orchestras biggest problem is NOT Carlos Miguel but the musicians who yell out FAG to members of the orchestra that are GAY and the administration not caring or doing anything and other members of the orchestra staying quiet. I know this for a fact!

    • The National Symphony has some good but plenty of horrible musicians and overall isnt a good orchestra. Carlos is not the problem. He has helped raise the level bringing in great soloist and with his musicianship!!! This is not the NY PHIL SORRY. Oh and the NY phil should still sound pretty great with Carlos.

  • Likely this is a scheme. The artists never see that amount. They probably don’t even know about it.
    Agency and Orchestra direction make a secret deal, part of the sum goes back to the managers involved privately in some form that is secret.
    It wouldn’t be the first time this scheme is done.

    • It was a foolish and malicious error by an unethical journalist here in Mexico who deliberately confused Mexican pesos with US dollars. The peso currently trades at 18.98 to the dollar. Dividing the absurdly inflated amounts by that number yields perfectly reasonable fees. —William Harvey, Concertmaster, National Symphony Orchestra, Mexico

      • If that is so, the above mentioned scheme is irrelevant here.
        Nevertheless it is apparently not too rare, that money is stolen from public or sponsor’s wallets that way.

    • It would be shocking if it were true, which it’s not. The original article is as fake as can be, having unforgivably confused the Mexican peso with the US dollar. —William Harvey, Concertmaster, National Symphony Orchestra, Mexico

  • Troubling, given the low pay of Mexico’s orchestra musicians. Some might like to know that Mexico city has 8 full time professional orchestras:

    + Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional,
    + Filarmónica de la Ciudad de México
    + Orq. Filarmónica de la UNAM
    + Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería
    + Orq. Sinfónica del IPN
    + Orquesta del Teatro de Bellas Artes and Orquesta de Cámara de Bellas Artes
    + Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Eduardo Mata
    + Orquesta Sinfónica Carlos Chavez

    • Not trying to be mean but I should correct this a little….

      The Sinfonica de Mineria is not considered full time. It is a per service orchestra with a two month summer season and various events spread throughout the year. The two month season is the only concrete work in any given year.

      The Mata orchestra and the Carlos Chavez are both scholarship based ‘Youth’ orchestras. The Carlos Chavez, in fact, is the orchestra that is part of the FOMENTO music school program and would not at all be considered full time nor professional. The Mata is more of a training orchestra that pays a meager allowance for the young musicians to live.

      Also, I would like to add that while by American dollar comparisons the pay may seem low (the peso has taken huge hits the past years), professional classical musicians live a VERY middle class lifestyle in Mexico City. Always scrambling to do more gigs and make more money, but none in these orchestras are doing second jobs like alot of orchestra musicians in the US do.

      • Thank you for the corrections. This would still leave five full time professional orchestras in Mexico City:

        + Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional,
        + Filarmónica de la Ciudad de México
        + Orq. Filarmónica de la UNAM
        + Orq. Sinfónica del IPN
        + Orquesta del Teatro de Bellas Artes and
        Orquesta de Cámara de Bellas Artes

        My source for the two youth orchestras said they were training orchestras, but insisted that they are seen as providing a full time salary. Nevertheless, I have removed them from my list.

      • Most of these players make about 950 USD per month. That is a nice living wage. However, according to the article, the fee that Harrell received (if he even received it), would easily cover the entire OSN orchestra’s musicians’ expense for an entire month (2 million pesos).

      • My experience with this orchestra as a principal; lots of outside gigs, which enabled me to afford a rented room and no more than one beer a day. Needless to say, it wasn’t a good gig to grow old in.

  • We all know this is not Carlos Kleiber we’re talking about. Yes, Prieto is somewhat mediocre and most pros know it. He is the male version of Alondra de la Parra. Prieto is on a par with conductors like Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, and Pablo Casals – men who loved to conduct but who were not real conductors. As an aside, I have heard that Mexican President (Lopez Obrador) is attacking corruption with a sledgehammer. More “audits” are on the way. Let’s hope he succeeds. I think Harrell’s fee is around 35 thousand per concert so the fee referred to here is quite exorbitant.

    • The original article is based on a huge and unforgivable error: confusing the Mexican peso for the US dollar. As I have noted elsewhere, dividing the absurdly high fees by the exchange rate yields reasonable fees.

      As for AMLO, suffice it to say that given firings and resignations that have taken place here, I cannot freely express a critical opinion of him and expect to avoid any issues, which should tell you all it needs to. Let’s just say that the multi-hour lines for gas all over the country give the correct answer to those of his defenders who tried to claim that he did not, in fact, want to turn Mexico into Venezuela. For men like AMLO, the fight against corruption should start with a long look in the mirror.

      —William Harvey, Concertmaster, National Symphony Orchestra, Mexico

  • This simply is not factual. Eric Silberger is a young violinist who plays well, but does not even have management representation or major debuts under his belt. He would receive in the range of US $1,000-2,500 per concerto performance and $500-1500 for a chamber music collaboration. $100,000 for 2 performances. Sounds fishy.

    • Careful. When you say “this simply is not factual” what is the part that you are contesting? Nowhere in this nor the other articles does anyone claim that Eric or Lynn nor any of the soloists actually received those amounts. Before you claim “fake news”, look at what is actually being investigated. The news is merely that the Mexican audit office found these high fees to have been claimed by the orchestra. Who is to blame or whether that money ever went anywhere … that is all yet to be seen.

    • You are correct that it sounds fishy…it is what these days they call “fake news.” The original journalist confused the peso for the dollar, perhaps deliberately. Dividing the quoted fees by the rate of exchange (often between 18 and 20 to 1) yields perfectly reasonable fees. —William Harvey, Concertmaster, National Symphony Orchestra, Mexico

  • One curious thing is while the National Symphony under Pieto is unable to make recordings,one training orchestra the Eduardo Mata Symphony,make a very good one available just now in Naxos and they have a plan to release another.

    • The youth orchestra Eduardo Mata is the oposite of National Symphony under Prieto,a very good new ensemble and play in the Sala Neza,that hall also have a much better acoustic than the art nouveau opera house Bellas Artes,that Palace are build of course for opera,not for orchestral music.

        • I don’t know this details,but they have much less money to spent than the National Symphony,despite this,I can say that OJUEM play better than some professional orchestras…

        • La Filarmonica de la Ciudad de Mexico it’s full of musicians from Europe and USA,and the OJUEM have a majority young music students from la Ciudad de Mexico,despite this that band play in the same level of the professional orchestras,and for me Sala Neza have not only the best acoustic in Mexico,but is one of the best Halls of the world listed in the famous Leo Beranek book.In the classical music field young musicians suffer a kind of prejudice,one associate conductor of Eduardo Mata Symphony,Ivan Lopez Reynoso with an age 28 ,is today a very gifted conductor but the people only value aged conductors,it’s Dudamel and the orchestas of El Sistema that have changed this and today a young orchestra and conductor can be more respected in the classical music field.

  • The nastiness displayed by commentators towards Carlos Miguel on this blog post is staggering in its ignorance, and entirely characteristic of this community’s shameful tendency to comment on matters of which it has little or no knowledge.

    This report must be taken with a healthy sackful of salt, since it is based of government sources. Mexico is now part of a malignant far-left axis, and is rapidly accelerating its purging of the intellectual elites, straight from the Chavista playbook which it is so keen to adopt.

    It is not without profound significance that the new Mexican president refused to join the Lima Group in denouncing the current Venezuelan dictator’s presidency as illegitimate, inviting him, rather, to his inauguration. In other words, the new Mexican president is happy to endorse the architect of a criminal, failed narco-state, all for ideological purposes.

    In that context – and context is essential to any story of Latin American origin – we can expect more and more of these witch hunts. It is perfectly valid to open a debate on the fee structure of musicians in the classical music industry – and even welcome, in my view – but it is not valid to do so on the back of unsubstantiated rumors emanating from the Mexican press in today’s political context.

    Furthermore, it is utterly despicable that – again, on the back of an unsubstantiated report – a man’s character and professional integrity can be publicly impuned simply because his family’s ancestors were successful in business. Is success now a crime to the bitter far-left, which brays against the hereditary accumulation of hard-earned, private income while – in the case of Mexico’s allies in Venezuela – perpetually endorsing those who steal billions from the public purse and abscond to the Caribbean while impoverishing and staving an entire nation? And with what gall do politically-motivated commentators attack a polymath like Carlos Miguel, suggesting his brilliance in science disqualifies him from being a excellent professional musician, as though there is no precedent for such?

    Let me quote the words of a musician universally considered to be brilliant, Yo-Yo Ma: “To play with him conducting as a cellist is a dream conversation, comfortable in following or leading, following the dictates of musical drama. The same is true playing chamber music with him: We converse.”

    I can reliably testify that Carlos Miguel has an encyclopedic knowledge of his professional subject, coming as he does from a family that has music at its heart. He was raised on music, and it is a virtue, not a defect, that he chose to educate himself in engineering and business while maintaining his profound interest in music, choosing to professionalize the latter when it became a viable proposition.

    I have known Carlos Miguel professionally for ten years, witnessing first hand the extraordinary work he has done at the Orchestra of the Americas (formerly YOA) over four tours, as well as several concerts with the Louisiana Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico. His professionalism and competence on all occasions was of the highest order, which might explain why he was Musical America’s “Conductor of the Year” in 2018.

    I lend my wholehearted support to Carlos Miguel Prieto, and look forward to the truth emerging from this mess. I would bet my house that Carlos Miguel will emerge with clean hands.

    • I more than unconditional agree with you.I know Carlos well and admire him since 2003 when I for the first time saw him conduct the YOA in Brazil.
      In 2004 I organized the European Tour for the Xalapa Orchestra that was conducted by him and in 2008 another European Tour for the OSN; 14 concerts in Europe’s most prestigious Venues.
      The 2 concerts in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw were absolute highlights in my International Orchestra Series there. Carlos is a great musician and wonderful, sincere human being which means this whole story about him stinks.

  • >