Mexicans deny overpaying guest artists

Mexicans deny overpaying guest artists


norman lebrecht

January 16, 2019

We have received a document from Stefana Atlas, the Columbia Artists agent who represents both Lynn Harrell and Carlos Miguel Prieto, showing that the cellist was actually paid $14,830 (282,125 pesos) for a pair of concerts in 2015, not the $275,000 that we reported yesterday, based on an account in a Mexican newspaper.

A further official document, sent to Slipped Disc by a source within the Mexican ministry of culture, reveals a clear discrepancy between the online database and the scanned PDF of artist payouts, which led to fees being misreported. Basically, someone at the ministry mistook pesos for US dollars.

A human error?

Not at all, says our source within the ministry. It’s part of a campaign to destabilise Prieto, who has been music director for 12 years.

Prieto (pictured) has given an interview in New Orleans, where he conducts the Louisiana Philharmonic. He said: ‘This is a ‘lost in translation’ situation. I am kind of saddened (because) I don’t want this to give a bad impression of my country, and it saddens me this … was published without verified information.’

Having seen all the relevant documentation, we are happy to clarify that Harrell and others were paid regular fees in Mexico and not the inflated amounts first quoted. We regret any discomfort caused by the misapprehension.





  • Baeza Montemayor says:

    The downward correction of the fees paid to the artists is convincing. But whether the originally mentioned significantly larger amounts were bookkeeping errors, or rather did exist and were moved into “other channels”, remains unclear.

    • It was not a bookkeeping error: it was a very foolish attempt to confuse Mexican pesos with US dollars. Converting the figures cited as fees paid in dollars to Mexican pesos yields perfectly reasonable fees, as the peso trades at approximately 20 to the dollar. —William Harvey, Concertmaster, National Symphony Orchestra, Mexico

  • Sam McElroy says:

    I trust that the vultures who impuned Mr. Prieto on the previous, now-debunked entry, will turn to scavenge on humble pie and forthwith issue heartfelt apologies to Mr. Prieto, one by one. I reiterate my support for Carlos Miguel, a man of integrity and loyalty, a wonderful musician, pedagogue and champion of new music and young musicians.

    • Michael says:

      Those people will either chose to ignore this entry or find some way to disprove it. It’s impossible to win against internet vultures.

    • Allen says:

      As for myself, I only impuned Prieto on the way he flaps his elbows and expressed my overall bewilderment at how he managed to secure a music director position with what appears to be little to no training as a conductor. Being a good violinst does not necessarily qualify one to be a music director, nor do degrees in engineering and business. Money and charisma should not be enough to acheive such positions, but then those were also about the only qualifications that got the US president elected too.

  • Katrina says:

    According to Transparency International, Mexico is “highly corrupt” and some of its peer countries, brothers-in-corruption by the CPI metric, are Russia, the Dominican Republic and Ukraine. So it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that these artists never received the amounts reported in the ministry audit. Carlos Miguel shouldn’t be smeared for things he hasn’t done but that doesn’t necessarily mean Juan Carlos Talavera hasn’t uncovered substantial corruption in the cultural ministry. There’s more reporting to be done here.

  • I always wondered what a prominent soloist gets for an appearance.

    Now we know the way to find out is to claim they got paid too much.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      The standard amount for an established artist for an orchestral concert in Europe or the US is $5,000-$10,000. If the soloist is not much known they may get a little less (and poorer orchestras will usually have to pay less). A very few artists might get a bit more, especially if they are going to the Far East. The artist sometimes agrees slightly lower fees if they want to play with the orchestra (or play a particular piece of music), and will usually offer a discount for multiple concerts.

    • Anon says:

      This is just the link to the error that was made! The Mexican govt. put “dollars” when it should have been “pesetas”! You are showing us that they made the mistake themselves!

      Compare it to the actual figure on Mr. Harrell’s contract, which his manager did and provided a copy to Slipped DIsc. It’s the same figure but in pesetas.

    • Anon says:

      Furthermore, why would the Mexican govt. quote a fee in a foreign currency? The national currency is the peseta. Why would they pay someone in dollars?

      That makes no sense. This whole situation makes the Mexican govt. look very foolish. I don’t blame Maestro Prieto for feeling embarrassed for his country.

    • Anon says:

      Here is the link to the contract that clearly says Mr. Harrell was paid 282, 125 MEXICAN PESOS. Above it is the conversion is the same figure converted to dollars – %15, 250 US DOLLARS, which is what Mr. Harrell received.

  • Nick2 says:

    ‘Bravo’ to CAMI for clearing this up so quickly. Yet one has to wonder. Would not a quick call to CAMI have settled the issue so that it could have been included in the original sensational story?

  • J. Moore says:

    Hello Norman,
    The fees paid to the artists are correct. The information was taken from Mr. Talavera directly from a Government entity that compiles information regarding the use of public funds. There is no way a serious government entity would publish or fabricate erroneous information in order to smear Mr. Prieto. The fees paid to artists hired by himself are by all accounts correct. There was an instance a few years ago when the tenor Ramon Vargas was Artistic Director of the Opera in Mexico and it was disclosed that his salary was $40, 000,000 million mexican pesos. When it was made public, the argument made by Mr. Vargas was the same as it is in this case, that is was an ‘error’ caused by the Government and he had never earned such fees. Mr. Talavera article is only demosntrating the tip of the iceberg, as Maestro Prieto has always conducted himself in a questionable manner as an administrator. For ten years he has only hired soloist from the agencies that represent him (one of them was Dispeker Artists).

    • Anon says:

      To hire artists from your own agency is not “questionable”. Many music directors do it.

      Why would the Mexican govt. be listing fees payed to solists in a foreign currency?

      Why does this revelation coincide so closely – within just one month – of the Maestro’s Musical America award?

      This has the earmarks of a smear campaign.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    So, Lynn Harrell’s fees are half what he gets in the USA. That makes sense. I guess it also means Carlos is a highly competent and inspired conductor and that Mexican bureaucracies are not corrupt.

  • Alex Klein says:

    Carlos Miguel Prieto is a superb conductor and musician, and arguably one of the best to rise out of latinamerica, ever. I worked with him on several occasions and he never failed to astonish me for his high-quality work and artistic management. For those who are used to control-freak, dictator-like conductors it is understandable that you would think Carlos has anything to do with…accounting, contracts, fees, and so on. The job of the music director is to select the artists. Calling CAMI to negotiate contracts is part of management. Blaming the music director for accounting mistakes is a testimony of ignorance on how an orchestra business works.

    It is also common for many countries to mix foreign currencies when dealing with foreign guests. This doesn’t happen only with the US dollar, but also Euros, and it happens in Canada, in Russia, China, everywhere where one can perceive an open mindedness in how one treats foreign guests and such fees – negotiations tend to get more complicated if they are forcibly done in only one currency. In the US and in a few other places we can sense a certain opposition to thinking in meters and celsius scales, let alone foreign currency. The occasional misunderstanding and even mistake is no reason to call in Mexico’s supposed corruption, which is at best a separate subject.

  • Anon says:

    Hearing a first hand report about Prieto from an artist of Alex Klein’s caliber convinces me. I’ve heard similar excellent reports about Prieto from musicians in a no. of orchs.

    I also don’t think that Musical America hands out their “Conductor of the Year” award, which Prieto just won, lightly. A look at the laureates is proof of that.

    Bravo to Concertmaster William Harvey for intervening in this discussion. Now that’s a Concertmaster. Someone willing to come forward and speak the truth as an artistic leader of their orchestra. You don’t see enough of that, esp. in conflictive situations like this. Bravo, sir.