What they really earn in German orchestras

Yesterday’s claim that musicians at Frankfurt Oper were seriously underpaid, lying 27th in the national pay league, prompted us to call up some stats from the national orchestra association, DOV.

First, a German correction.

The Frankfurt Oper players are not 27th in the league. They lie 26th. Good to know that.

Now, here’s the top ten:

1 Berlin Philharmonic

2 Munich, Bavarian State Opera

3 Munich Philharmonic

4 Gewandhaus Leipzig

5 Staatskapelle Berlin

6 Bavarian Radio, Munich

7 SWR Stuttgart

8 Sachsische Staatskapelle Dresden

9 Bamberg Symphony

10 NDR Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg

And how much do they earn?

Tutti players in the Berlin Philharmonic are paid on average 114,000 Euros (US$128,000, UK£98,000)

Bavarian State Orchestra, in second place, make 89,000 Euros.

Frankfurt, in 26th place, pays 76,000 Euros per head (US83,000, UK£64,000)

Fair? unfair? How do they compare?



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  • But this gives tutti player, say a back desk viola player.
    How much might, for example, Sarah Willis in your photo earn ?

    • According to the Berlin Phil website, Sarah Willis is not a principal or associate principal (just a fabulous horn player!), so the tutti salary structure would apply. Tutti doesn’t just cover back desks – it covers all desks except the very front and is therefore most representative for comparison.

      • She not tutti. Horns specialize. Horns 1 and 3 are high horns, horn 2 and 4 are low horns. The 3rd is also a co-principal with the 1st many times as the 3rd horn part has many solos. The “tutti’ thing is likely for string/etc…

  • To put it in the perspective, tutti players in Nordic orchestras earn roughly 60% of the German average. Yet the cost of living is much, much higher, at least in the Nordic capitals. Frankfurt is obviously more expensive than for example Berlin, but still the claims that those musicians can hardly make ends meet are strange.

    • AFAIK it’s more like 80% in the north. Also working hours (shifts per month or year) there are often somewhat less. Always difficult to make valid comparisons, there are many more parameters beyond the gross brutto.

  • Didn’t the Director say they had to apply for benefits to even be able to sustain their families? At 76k a year (excluding teaching, freelancing, etc.), that would be surprising.

    • But 76k is already very low if you think about taxes. Probably they earn around 35-40k after taxes

      • The median netto (after taxes) income in Germany is about 19,500.- EUR a year. Median means 50% make less, 50% make more.
        So right in the middle (class).

        A median income of about 40,000.- EUR a year places one into the upper 20% of society’s income pyramid, probably even better. Hardly “very low”.

        • Those salaries are top 5-10 percent of the income distribution. They are very good salaries. None of them are applying for welfare payments.

  • Right, Chicago wants US$185.000!!! Are they really so much better than Berlin with US$128.000? They are certainly much better than San Francisco!!!

    • Assume they’re equal. But remember that in Berlin the principals play only half the time and AFAIK – from watching the DCH – section players play about 50-60% (and they make generous use of Academy players as subs). So the CSO make more but from what I can tell, also play more. Which I assume leaves them more time for solo/chamber/teaching work – or just sitting in the yard and chilling, not having to grind out quite as many concerts as their US counterparts.

    • European orchestras will pay for your instrument purchases, Instrument insurance and repair, and have excellent health plans included I’d say that’s about even…..

    • Your statement is fundamentally fallacious with the assumption that quality equals salary.
      Capitalism doesn’t work that way.
      Quality by itself is meaningless, only market power counts.

      Or why do you think CEOs of major corporations these days make 500 times more than the average of their employees? Certainly not because they are 500 times better…

      Capitalism is broken, it has no ethics, but nobody has anything better up his sleeve either.

      Chicago is financed by financial aristocracy, the plutocrats, the ruling class of America.
      Berlin is financed by the community, by taxes. Different systems with different leverage for world class orchestras what kind of salaries they can command on their respective market. Apples and oranges.

  • Is it fair?
    Considering all the orchestra jobs in Germany are public service, paid by the tax payer (only a small fraction is recovered through ticket sales), I think it is very fair, even generous.

    BerlinPhil – rightfully at the very top – aside, the others in the top 10 make at least as much or somewhat more of what a professor in the highest bracket achievable (W3) in Germany makes.
    Not bad for a 30 year old winning a tutti job in any of these orchestras I would say.

    They usually have other gigs, private teaching etc., further increasing their already good middle class income.

    • The professor will work less and pay less taxes and no social and health insurances. The professors netto will be much higher!
      Do not forget,in germany we pay up to 42% income taxes plus all the other social taxes!
      Singe income-not married you will get less then 50% of your brutto income!

      • No? Professors are not ‘Beamte’ anymore in many cases. Those days are in the past. They now pay the same taxes and social security insurances than any other employees.
        And to become a professor, in most areas one has to work many many years very hard, write many scientific articles, get published, etc.
        Rarely it’s achieved before the age of 40, often later.
        And a tutti orchestra musician gets the same or even better salary, if lucky right out of music school, or only a few years later.
        Anyway, there should be no ‘Neiddiskussion’, but orchestra musicians in Germany should not forget to see themselves in the bigger context of public service and cultural funding.

        • “Anyway, there should be no ‘Neiddiskussion’, but orchestra musicians in Germany should not forget to see themselves in the bigger context of public service and cultural funding.”

          Thats right!!

          Anyway, because I am a german Orchestra member and teaching (NOT as a professor), I know that in munich and Berlin the W3 Professuren are Beamte…in munich even 50% W3 will are Beamte…a collegue of mine is like that,so there still are verbeamtete Professoren!!

          Another anyway:
          The big picture is that in Germany we can be very very happy about this many orchestra-jobs,most of them secure and well payed!!

      • Correct, but try using an online dictionary.

        brutto= gross salary, before tax & deductions, Can look quite handsome but is basically meaningless in Germany.

        netto= net salary, after substantial deductions from the gross for tax and “social security” payments (unemployment and state pension contributions). Also deducted is health insurance.

        That is the cost of socialism in the EU, also for the financing of the bureaucratic monster in Brussels and adventures like the European army.

        Professors who are civil servants for life will
        pay no unemployment or pension contributions and much less for health insurance than the peons. Not all professors are in this category though.

        The downvoters here must still be pretty ignorant.

        • Where to begin with your stupid comments.

          The deductions for taxes will apply to everyone regardless of income, even professors. There is no European army (and pretty much all European countries spend much less on the military than the US). The Brussels bureaucracy actually employs very few people (unlike Washington), much fewer than most town councils.

          The actual tax deductions in Europe are not that different from the US once you take account of the state taxes in the US. Of course, the US lets the super-rich largely escape taxes. It turns out that public health care is a rather efficient and cheap way to provide health coverage compared to the US system.

  • Unless they are bringing up a large family on a single income, it would be an exaggeration to claim they are close to starving.

  • If Herr Loebe is successful in getting the 15 frozen positions unfrozen, increasing the size of the orchestra from 115 back to 130, it will take some pressure off of all those tutti players, allowing them more time for other activities (paid or unpaid). This might be his and GMD Weigle’s primary aim when directing the salary comments at Frankfurt’s politicians.

  • It would be good to see a chart of tutti salaries in the UK. I’d imagine that Frankfurt is in excess of double and Berlin more than triple what the average rank and file player is getting here.

  • of course, this also means around 100 german orchestras are paid less than Frankfurt, many significantly so.

    There is a list of all German orchestras, with their position in the various TVK categories:


    (“A” being the highest salary group, all the way down to “D”.
    Some have additional payments, like “F1” or “Medienpauschale” or “Zuschlag”.
    e.g. – roughly speaking – “A” is 500,- per month more than “B”, “F1” another 500,-)

    This means, for example, the Orchestra of Staatsoper Stuttgart gets less than Frankfurt – with the cost of living being similar.
    Not to mention smaller (and less renowned) orchestras in cities like Wiesbaden, Freiburg, Regensburg or Heidelberg.

    • It’s certainly the orchestra that always claims to be the best in the city. But when I heard Valkyrie under Rattle recently, it was IMHO obvious they are not as good Staatsoper.

  • Are these numbers brutto or netto? Aside from Berlin Phil, I heard about much lower numbers, like around 3k€ netto for a tutti player.

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