Maestro pay: Dudamel joins the big earners

Maestro pay: Dudamel joins the big earners


norman lebrecht

June 19, 2019

In Drew McManus’s annual survey of US maestro earnings, Gustavo Dudamel has lagged for some years behind the plutocrats of the podium, the ones who earn several millions dollars each year for 14 or 14 weeks work.

Dudamel has been content so far to hover around the million-dollar mark at the LA Phil, picking up Hollywood gigs to pay for any spare villas and unforseen extras.

No more.

As of Drew’s new list, out today, Dudamel tops the list of US earners with $3,010,589 in declared audits for 2016/17. He can now afford the yacht.

Second is Riccardo Muti in Chicago with $2,716,488. Third is MTT in San Fran.

The top ten:

1 Dudamel, Los Angeles Philharmonic: $3,010,589
2. Muti, Chicago Symphony: $2,716,488
3. Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony: $2,492,623
4. Van Zweden Dallas Symphony: $2,206,908
5. Alan Gilbert, New York Philharmonic: $1,645,865
6. Yannick, Philadelphia Orchestra: $1,424,000
7. Andris Nelsons, Boston Symphony: $1,395,161
8. Franz Welser-Möst, Cleveland Orchestra: $1,319,353
9. David Robertson, Saint Louis Symphony: $1,040,317
10. Marin Alsop, Baltimore Symphony: $987,667

Read on here.


  • Tamino says:

    So from position 5 down, they make roughly about 100k each week they work. 20k a day.
    The agents rejoice. Praise the Mammon.
    And are worshipped as semi-messiah by the gullible classical music crowd. Not a bad deal, compared to a musician who chooses the hard path and actually sticks to an instrument.

    • Symphony musician says:

      Why do we think more high-level orchestral musicians don’t also train as conductors then? Most wouldn’t succeed at the highest levels, but it seems to me if more took the plunge we’d have a strong supply of talent, and eventually more equitable compensation between conductors and musicians.

      • Jaime Herrera says:

        There are dozens of conductors leading second and third tier orchestras who make VERY decent incomes – well over 100K per year for about two and one half (cumulative) months worth of work.

    • Anonanon says:

      I mean I fully agree that this world has a maestro deification problem. But when we talk about musician pay, we inevitably talk about all the work beyond their rehearsal and concert schedule, yet it’s less fun to think about conductors in that same way.

      Music directors are paid this way in large part because they’re the brand. I think that’s a little unhealthy, but it is what it is. They’re the face of the organization, often the spokesperson, and they have a ton of asks on their time from marketing, to PR, to glad handing at donor events or dropping in for education photo ops. They also do work to some degree on the planning of the season, artistic priorities, etc.

      What all that is worth, I can’t say exactly. They are paid well regardless. But just counting their concert weeks and dividing their salary by that is probably a bit unfair.

    • wladek says:

      Gullible classical music crowd ????
      should read ” stupid ” classical………

  • Olassus says:

    Actual worth —

    Dudamel, Los Angeles Philharmonic: $500,000
    Muti, Chicago Symphony Orchestra: $1,000,000
    Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra: $250,000
    Van Zweden Dallas Symphony Orchestra: n/d
    Gilbert, New York Philharmonic: $250,000
    Nézet-Séguin, Philadelphia Orchestra: $500,000
    Nelsons, Boston Symphony Orchestra: $500,000
    Welser-Möst, Cleveland Orchestra: $500,000
    Robertson, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra: $500,000
    Alsop, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: n/d

  • ML says:

    It would be interesting to know how much Eschenbach made.

  • guest says:

    Alsop in the top 10 is shocking in that her colleagues on that list have a tad higher reputation.

    • debuschubertussy says:

      According to what scale? Seems to me Alsop is one of the few who can claim any popular recognition in this country.

  • msc says:

    Why not Nezet-Seguin instead of “Yannick” (in NL’s list)?

    • The View from America says:

      Let’s ask Madonna.

    • M2N2K says:

      Maybe because it would be incorrect? His last name is Nézet-Séguin. But I agree with you – it is odd at best and probably rather inappropriate that he is the only one of ten to be listed with his first name only.

  • Thomasina says:

    I’m intrigued by how much tax they paid.

    • two things certain in life says:

      A foreign tax resident working under an O-1B visa would be subject to automatic 30% Federal Tax withholding unless their country of tax residency has a tax treaty with the US exempting some or all of their income from that withholding under specified circumstances (Russia being one example). The artist would also have to file state and local tax returns where applicable. They would also likely declare their global income to their country of tax residency and pay social insurance taxes as well.

      Dependent on income level and deductible expenses, upon filing a return, the foreign tax resident may receive a federal tax refund or they may still owe additional tax over the 30% automatic withholding.

      This is similar to most every country I’m aware of.

  • Thomasina says:

    Please delete my previous comment !!

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    That’s only $57,900 per calendar week. How much is that in 1788 money, when Mozart was around? (By the way, Bezos makes a lot more than that in a single day.) In addition, Dudamel moonlights quite a lot in Europe so this number is not his grand total. Good for him. (Does anyone know if he helps out his countrymen in Venezuela?)

    • The View from America says:

      “(Does anyone know if he helps out his countrymen in Venezuela?)”

      I’m sure he sends them megabucks.


  • Edward says:

    Honest question – how do you justify a $3 million salary to Dudamel in LA? Sure, $2 million to get Muti (a tested giant in his field) to sit through the Chicago winters. But let’s face it – Dudamel may be exciting, but he’s no Haitink, no Muti, no Chailly etc. etc. If ridiculous salaries are based on market competition (i.e. if I don’t pay him/her this amount, another orchestra is going to steal them away), who’s going to offer him near that amount? Imagine the countless people lower down the musical food chain that would benefit from the $.

    • Tamino says:

      It’s show business. Particularly in L.A. They have the patrons there who cough up that money specifically for him apparently.
      Image wise he is a good match to L.A. me thinks.

    • Anonanon says:

      I imagine you justify that salary based on what the music director can generate for your bottom line. He has celebrity that Haitink or Muti or Chailly do not, even if they are more critically acclaimed. And celebrity and public recognition turns into attendance and donations. Worth noting the headline that he “joins” the top paid conductors. That would suggest that the LA Phil has done a cost-benefit analysis over the past 9 years or whatever, and deemed it is worth giving a raise to keep him. I have little doubt it is useful to have a Latino conductor and an El Sistema alumni be the face of your orchestra in Los Angeles as they, like a lot of orchestras, try to position themselves as being more inclusive and about education. That last piece is important to rich donors.

    • Rgiarola says:

      So it’s seems the next question is: How long in LA? Or if a decrease in fees would be acceptable? Perhaps the answer of the second question, is the key to answer the first one.

    • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

      Call me crazy but I believe that among the top 15-20 orchestras in the U.S. and Canada, the only difference is money.

    • guest says:

      I think LA needs an exuberant personality on the podium. Mehta was much more successful there than Giulini. All those guys you mention are great conductors but Dudamel is a much better fit. The LAPhil is in good financial health. They can afford to pay him 3 mil. Maybe its an anchor.

  • Ben G. says:

    What about conductors in Europe? The Euro is worth more than the dollar n’est-ce pas?

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Salaries, generally, are lower in Europe. Note, however, they are usually not required to meet donors. And usually, they have more freedom over the music programmes, allowing them to play more interesting and varied repertoire.