Swiss festivals pay conductors $40,000 a night

Swiss festivals pay conductors $40,000 a night


norman lebrecht

July 21, 2019

Michael Haefliger, director of the Lucerne Festival, has given an eye-opening interview to Christian Berzins of NZZaS in which he accepts that Verbier is under the control of Russian oligarchs whose money buys influence over programming and the choice of artists.

NZZaS: Es gibt aber durchaus Festivals in der Schweiz, wo Geldgeber gewisse Stars wünschen, viel Geld bezahlen – und dann probiert man alles, um sie zu kriegen.
HAEFLIGER: Das ist bei uns am Lucerne Festival eindeutig nicht der Fall.
NZZaS: Beim Verbier Festival ist die Neva-Stiftung, die explizit russische Kultur fördert, ein grosser Geldgeber: Nun ist dort mit Valery Gergiev ein russischer Chefdirigent im Amt und auch sonst treten viele russische Künstler auf. Das «Zaubersee»-Festival des Luzerner Sinfonieorchesters bringt russische Musik nach Luzern, ein Hauptsponsor ist Viktor Vekselberg. Da wie dort: russische Musik durch Geld. Das ist Macht.

Haefliger is asked about the economics of maestro magenement: if you pay a conductor 40,000 Swiss francs ($40,700) per concert, each seat will have to be charged at $200-300.

Aber bezüglich der Top-Gagen ist es doch wie einst. Wenn man einem Dirigenten 40 000 Franken pro Abend bezahlt, ist es auch logisch, dass eine Konzertkarte 200 bis 300 Franken kosten muss.

Haefliger replies: Zumindest in der Schweiz leben wir in einer Marktwirtschaft. Wenn Dirigenten eine tolle Leistung bringen, habe ich mit den Gagen kein Problem. Wenn sie eine schlechte Leistung bringen und noch dazu eine Arroganz vorlegen, dann passt es nicht in unsere Zeit, dann muss man jemanden auch nicht mehr einladen. Für hohe Konzertkosten sorgen jedoch vor allem die Orchester.

At least in Switzerland, we live in a market economy. If conductors bring a great performance, I have no problem with the fees. If they perform poorly and add an arrogance to it, then it does not fit into our time, and we don’t have to invite them. For high concert costs, however, the orchestras are primarily responsible.

Full interview here.





  • sam says:

    How’s that different from any other summer festival in the world? Different rich folks with different nationalities, but same influence and same economics.

    • Michael Endres says:

      But isn’t it a teeny-weeny bit heartwarming and uplifting to see the privileged to care so much about classical music and shedding the odd ( trickle down ) tear towards the end of Tschaikowsky’s 6th or Godunov’s last half hour, whilst the 40.000 dollar a gig conductor’s private plane is waiting ?

  • John Sorel says:

    Oh, those naughty Russian oligarchs, eh? Slap their little wrists, for funding the Verbier Festival with adequate funding for world-class event!!

    How much do tickets for Arsington go for these days? Not counting the jolly old picnic hamper, eh, what?

    • LEWES BIRD says:

      Actually, since you asked, Arsington is cheaper than Lyndebourne or both Ranges — the New Range at the Old Range, and the Old Range at Elsewhere. Not to mention much cheaper than Alzburg or Uzern. The problem at Arsington is the auditorium, where every single seat is a good seat so there’s no real cheap seats. Got it, now?

  • Musician says:

    Isn’t that how the world works? Let’s see if Mr Haefliger had an Oligarch approach him (with a programme/soloist request to go with it)if he’d turn it down… doubt it!

  • Conductors are Overrated says:

    That’s an awful lot of money to pay to a “musician” who never makes a sound!

    • Orchestra musician says:

      Agreed, and I love your nickname.

    • will says:

      Yes I absolutely agree. In general, audiences, concert promoters and even some agents are ‘taken in’ by these obscene fees.
      My Biog: I am a ‘3rd rank’ conductor / keyboard director who has been lucky enough to make about 50-odd CDs, conducting/ directing both modern and ‘HIPP’ ensembles.
      About 20 years ago I was very busy, working all the time, when I had an agent and my concert fee/ recording fee was about £2,000 GBP.
      Now, without an agent, the only way I can get any bookings at all is to charge only a ‘pro-rata’ hourly fee of about £70 per hour. For several concerts and CD recordings that I have done recently, my fee was £140 for a 2 hour concert and £420 for a CD that was recorded in 2 x 3 hour sessions. The irony is that many people think that conductors are paid ‘silly money’ but it simply isn’t true!

    • anon says:


  • Max Grimm says:

    Norman, Haefliger does not say that if you pay a conductor 40,000 Swiss francs ($40,700) per concert, each seat will have to be charged at $200-300.. That assertion is made by the journalist interviewing him. While Haefliger says that he doesn’t have a problem with high fees “if a conductor achieves a great performance”, he counters the journalist’s assertion by saying that the main reason for high ticket prices is first and foremost the high cost of engaging big/top orchestras.

  • Anon says:

    You obviously don’t know anything about conducting. Go back home.

  • Anon says:

    Your mom’s, Will boy