Exclusive: The Met lays off its orchestra and chorus

Exclusive: The Met lays off its orchestra and chorus


norman lebrecht

March 19, 2020

Peter Gelb has notified musicians of the Met orchestra and chorus that their employment is suspended from March 12.

Invoking the Force Majeure clause in their contracts, he has agreed to pay two weeks’ wages up to the end of this month.  Healthcare and instrument insurance will, however, be continued.

The force majeure clause dates back to the 1960s and has never been invoked before.

This is an exceptionally brutal measure at a time of unprecendented vulnerability for the musicians, most of whom are now self-isolating.

The Met has made no public announcement, and other media seem unaware of this dire development. Not a peep from Yannick.

The musicians are starting a campaign called #MusicConnectsUs, which you can find on Facebook metorchestramusicans and elsewhere on social media. Let’s do what we can to show solidarity.

This measure will raise alarms at every salaried orchestra on earth.

UPDATE1: Now Canada

UPDATE2: And Australia

UPDATE3: Peter Gelb waives his salary


  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It may sound shocking but may be necessary for the survival of the company. The world will not be the same at the end of this health crisis as we have chosen to save individual lives over the collective.I understand the factors that led the politicians to follow the path that they have taken, not least lack of faith in their health care sectors to cope with an influx of patients. Once we come out of this period, we will have to rebuild again, but it will not be the same.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      If this gets worse no healthcare system could cope. Italy is one of the best there is.

    • Chris C says:

      Mustafa, I guess you are in safe full time employment?

    • Jill says:

      You’re right– we wouldn’t want people like Peter Gelb who makes millions of dollars every year to make any sacrifices. He’ll need that money to acquire tests and ventilators for himself and his family. Anyways, over the next year I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a spike in suicides among musicians, especially freelancers. A lot of us are already vulnerable and uninsured because of the greed and lack of respect of orchestra administrations across the country, and the government certainty doesn’t give a shit about anyone in the gigging economy.

      • Araragi says:

        Jill – you likely don’t realize this, but Peter Gelb has already said he is waiving his entire salary for the rest of the season.

      • Stephen Owades says:

        The Met Orchestra and Chorus are contracted employees, not freelancers, and they are at or near the top of the salary scale worldwide. The Met has no choice but to stop paying them when the house is closed for an extended period. They’re cutting salaries for the remaining administrative staff (at least those above a certain pay level), and Peter Gelb is going without pay for the duration. What would you have them do? The Met’s endowment is nowhere near large enough to cover the entire budget with no ticket income.

    • Jim Cricket says:

      “we have chosen to save individual lives over the collective”

      Excuse me but what the heck is that supposed to mean? Obviously you’re no physician. But what sort of meeting do you wish too have of what group of people to save which collective exactly?

    • Suze says:

      No problem.

      The Met can simply start auctioning off their assets to pay singers, musicians and staff plus their vendors, etc.

      Then they need to sell the building which is admittedly too big for them now. They rarely fill it anymore anyway.

      It’s people first, then money, then things…

      • Stephen Owades says:

        The building is owned by Lincoln Center, not by the Metropolitan Opera. They couldn’t sell it even if they wanted to, and what would the market be for a large opera house anyway?

    • Julia La Bouchardiere says:

      You’re dead right. If other opera houses and theatres behave like the Met no one will dare to make their career in the creative arts, and the things which enrich out lives will not be there for us to enjoy.

  • Catherine says:

    I believe the same is true here at Opera Australia. Very sad, tough times.

  • JC says:

    At Opera Australia, musicians have been asked to take 2 weeks paid leave, while a way to continue to pay company members is found.

  • Monsoon says:

    Compared to what’s happening in other sectors, the fact that they have health insurance AND they’ll get to keep it is actually pretty good.

  • Rustier spoon says:

    Why is it particularly dire and why should it raise alarms? The Met is not immune…in any way…at least when they ARE working their musicians are on a pretty decent salary, unlike so many around the world, those in the UK for a start…

  • Yellow says:

    The Board should suspend his salary affective immediately and choose a new General Director to take the helm once the theater reopens.
    No one should work for him after this cowardly enforcement.

    • V.Lind says:

      I’m sorry, but in the absence of the whole story — I have only read the posting above — I am not sure what else he could do. I doubt many companies will be paying people who are not working for very long. Look at the massive airline lay-offs.

      Under provisions the government has announced, these people may well be compensated. If so, they are probably better off than many. If this action saves the Met to rise again, that is a GOOD thing.

    • Anon says:

      Are you referring to Gelb?
      So you think Gelb made this decision all on his own?
      And you think that the board disapproves of this decision and should suspend Gelb?

  • Prof. Dr. K. A. Lavdas says:

    Unless every other option was really very carefully considered, this is an appalling decision. The MET is not just a ‘company’; it has immense intrinsic cultural value for NY City (not exactly a poor city), NY State, the US and the world.

    • Jim Cricket says:

      Who is going to attend right now? It’s not a disbanding!

    • Ruth Kurzbauer says:

      Absolutely right Dr. Lavdas. These musicians are the lifeblood of the institution. How thoroughly we’re other options explored. Defer or cancel a future new production and pay your team instead. Shocking especially in vulnerable times like these

  • Sad says:

    Peter Gelb truly is the Donald tRump of the operatic world. Ignorant, arrogant, lurching from one horrible decision to another as he sinks the company he’s supposed to be saving.

  • sam says:

    Pure demagoguery.

    If management actually did what is proposed here, the Attorney General of New York, who is in charge of nonprofits, would prosecute the Met for mismanagement, violation of trust, misappropriation, fraud…

  • Jaakko Kuusisto says:

    What choice do they have, if all of the company’s income has disappeared?

    • Tamino says:

      to use funds they have or acquire from private and public partners. obviously.
      at the core is the question what you consider the Met to be? Is it a material thing, a piece of real estate in NY?
      Then people are accessory and need o be fired in time of crisis.
      Or is the Met the people who make it run and sound? Then you must protect them by all means.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      They still have the income from existing ticket sales, which they should encourage those who can afford it to convert into donations. They still have their wealthy donors who need, at this time, to step up and show an elevated degree of civic-mindedness.

      They have lowered expenses, not paying guest artists for canceled performances.

      And they could still announce that senior management (Gelb, but not only him) are taking serious salary cuts, or foregoing salaries altogether, while the house is dark. It is the absence of this last step that conveys the most callousness on their part.

      • Just sayin' says:

        “…they could still announce that senior management… are taking serious salary cuts, or foregoing salaries altogether… It is the absence of this last step that conveys the most callousness on their part.”

        A more complete report published elsewhere states that “The company noted… that higher paid members of the administrative staff will take pay cuts and that General Manager Peter Gelb will waive his entire salary.”

  • na says:

    This is happening all around the globe and not just at the MET.
    they are not laid off/fired, just suspended because everything is cancelled.

  • Graham Eagland says:

    There has to be a better way of treating the maestri of such an international beacon of excellence.

  • Tamino says:

    I’m sure the US government steps in for the workers in the cultural sector that are temporarily suspended, just like any other major western country does?
    I mean, it’s the greatest country in the world, right? A tremendous country, isn’t it?

    • CA says:

      Let’s wait and see. The USA typically doesn’t much provide for arts even in regular times let alone in crisis.

      • The Real Anon says:

        Before you start condemning the US or Peter Gelb, please get a handle on how it works. They keep getting paid. The govt. covers them. They are employees who are entitled to unemployment benefits from the US govt if they are temp. laid off. STOP FREAKING OUT ABOUT THIS. They are fine. They will be paid. Norman, I’m afraid you have created an unnecessary panic here. Panic is NOT what the world needs right now.

        • Bruce says:

          FYI, a lot of orchestras — possibly including the Met, I don’t know, but certainly including mine — don’t work enough hours per week to qualify for unemployment benefits. (I believe it may vary from state to state; I live in WA.)

          • The Real Anon says:

            Bruce, you and I both know that the MET is a full time orchestra. Of course they work enough hours to qualify for unemployment benefits!

          • Bruce says:

            I know they’re very busy for an orchestra but I don’t know that they work “full-time” hours which I think is 32 per week. (I remember someone in the NY Phil a long time ago saying they were the country’s busiest orchestra because they worked 22 hours per week. This was about 20 years ago, if that makes any difference)

        • James says:

          Oh okay, so what should we be doing? Just sit around while the rich and powerful take all the resources away from us? I’m assuming you’re not a musician, but there’s a whole host of people who make a living on subbing and freelancing and their entire income just disappeared overnight. There’s no way on earth that Republicans are going to include any relief to freelancers or arts organization. Like CA says, they barely provide any aid during normal times.

  • Lee says:

    Shame on Peter Gelb whose annual salary is above $2,000,000 and who will not lose a cent in this situation. Suspend all admin salaries and pay musicians who make Met a thriving company.

    • Il Grande Inquisitore says:

      I totally agree with you! His salary and the salaries of Jonathan Friend and Diane Zola will stay the same. Meanwhile the people who actually make the MET “happen” will suffer from this. Peter Gelb NEEDS to go. He has wasted thousands of dollars in pointless photoshoots, pathetic production and paying out singers to not perform – Ann Murray docet!
      The lack of care for his musicians is a new low even for him.

  • John Humphreys says:

    Peter Gelb – or Geld?

  • Joel A Stein says:

    The Orchestra still has three concerts scheduled for Carnegie Hall after the May 11 cancellation date set by Carnegie.

  • Odin Rathnam says:

    This is draconian, to say the least. I’m glad they get a couple weeks pay, but why not just have a short term furlough and see where we are in a month or two? Doesnt it send the wrong signal????

  • LauraB says:

    So. When I think of the extraordinary wealth on the MetOpera board, they should do what Major League Baseball ($1million/team)has done for it’s workers, create a resource pool to continue to provide salaries. Waiting for the generous billionaires to step up in this time of crisis. They have the resources to be a “force majeure” for these treasured artists. We subscribers/supporters will be watching.

    • Robi says:

      I was thinking the SAME thing… how much the The Met endowment?! I know over donated in the past. Why can they not break into that to preserve what the “voice” of the Met?? This is not a NFP barely getting by on low donations. Just asking –

      • Stephen Owades says:

        The Met’s total endowment is less than its annual budget. It’s a fraction the size of endowments for such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or, for that matter, the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    When I read the headline and see “lays off” I don’t read it as suspended; the impression from the headline seems that the orchestra will no longer have a position with the Met once this chaos is through. Yet they are suspended. If Tesco or Carrefour lays off 300 workers, how can that be interpreted—dismissal is temporary or permanent?

    I can’t help but worry about the musicians and their futures, near and far.

    • Bruce says:

      I looked it up. A layoff happens because there isn’t enough [or maybe any] work for the employee(s) to do. In a layoff, the employer expects work to resume at some point and plans to recall the employee(s) when that happens.

  • Hilary Davan Wetton says:

    Truly a brutal announcement. But no company could pay an extended orchestral bill with no performances; it is the US government that should step up now and keep the musicians solvent – even if only half salaries – so that they can practise at home and go back to perform as soon as is safe. It could be good for players to give their techniques a decoke, and have a pause for reflection – but not if they are going to go bankrupt while doing so. I fear that this is only the beginning….

  • The Real Anon says:

    Please stop the panic on this. It is perfectly normal. Gelb did the right thing.

    They are not fired they are just “laid off” or suspended for lack of work. This qualifies them for unemployment benefits from the US govt. which is a large percentage of their salary. This is how many, many musicians across the whole US survive on a regular basis when orchestras or opera companies don’t have year round seasons.

    This is exactly how the musicians of the SF Opera Orch., for example, earn a salary year round. It’s what they do year in and year out: they collect salaries when the SF Opera is in season and then unemployment (for lack of work) benefits for the months when it is not. It’s been that way for a long time & it’s understood when you take a job with SF Opera Orch. that that’s what you do. You are laid off for part of the year when the opera is not in season & you collect unemployment benefits as your salary. That’s what the MET is doing now.

    No idea about the chorus, but considering the MET orch. is one of the highest paid in the entire country & earn upwards of 6 figures, their unemployment benefits each week will be substantial, so they are going to be just fine. These are privileged musicians. I’m sure they’ve all collected unemployment before, they know what they have to do and are doing it. Yes, they will lose a percentage of their salaries. But this is what SF Opera musicians do every single year. It’s ridiculous and sensationalist for everyone to get riled up about this. It is business as usual. This is how many arts organizations across the US work on a regular basis.

    • CA says:

      Sacrifice like this needs to be shared. It is one-sided in this case, it seems.

      • The Real Anon says:

        I agree, it should be shared!

        These MET musicians – who all earn well over $100K a yr., plus teaching, soloist and extra incomes, who probably have savings enough to to weather this period until the MET is running again, and who will get 2 wks full pay then maximum US unemployment benefits plus all health care and instrument insurance paid for during that time – might want to consider helping out their less fortunate freelance colleagues who have NO INCOME, NO HEALTH INSURANCE, might not qualify for unemployment income, are struggling to learn new technologies to keep meager teaching studios afloat and still have bills to pay.

        Absolutely. It should be a shared sacrifice. Let those MET musicians share what they have with the armies of freelance players and music teachers around the globe who are struggling mightily right now because they have absolutely NOTHING right now.

    • DirtLawyer says:

      The maximum unemployment benefit in New York is about $500 a week. Somehow I doubt that comes close to matching their Met incomes.

      • The Real Anon says:

        Dirt Lawyer: Well, tell that to the SF Opera musicians who do this every single year. Somehow THEY get by on unemployment for several months every single season when THEY are laid off. And in one of the most expensive cities in the US.

        • DirtLawyer says:

          False equivalence. The Met musicians take the job expecting a full year of pay and budget and plan their performance schedules accordingly.

          The SF Opera musicians don’t — or at least shouldn’t — do so, since they know they are being laid off annually. They aren’t and shouldn’t be expecting pay every summer, and they can plan to earn other income or take UI as available.

          • The Real Anon says:

            DirtLawyer: conversely, MET management hires musicians expecting a full year of performances and income and plans its budget accordingly. When that doesn’t happen & force majeure is invoked, the musicians have to change their expectations abruptly. We all do right now. Why should MET musicians be the exception?

          • DirtLawyer says:

            One reason I can think of: Although its endowment is smaller than, say the NYPhil or CSO, the Met is still in a far better position than the musicians to weather this mess until, say, the fall, especially with Gelb foregoing his salary.


    • CA says:

      $504 a week maximum unemployment benefit in NY state is not a “large percentage” of a Met musician’s weekly salary. However, this weekly benefit may be among the highest in the nation in reflection if the relatively high cost of living in that state. Some states max out at only $350 a week and only for 12 weeks. How do I know this? Because I live in such a state and have exhausted all those unemployment benefits long ago.

      • Julianna says:

        Very true. A 1BR apartment in NYC is $3,000 per month. You can’t even pay rent on unemployment benefits.

      • The Real Anon says:

        CA, thank you for the correction. Didn’t know the max. But even $504 a week is a lot more than most folks have now. With the salaries they earn, I’m sure they have savings.

        Agree UE benefits have a limit. But that applies to everyone. The whole world is going thru this right now. Why should MET musicians be put on a pedestal and treated differently than any other worker right now? They are in much better shape than most. I refuse to get on board with this pity party for the “poor” MET orchestra and chorus. They are so much more fortunate than everyone else, esp. freelancers. And you can take Gelb out of the equation now. He has just forfeited his entire salary during this time.

    • The Real Anon says:

      Guys, why the thumbs down? They are not in the street. THEY GET UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS!! This is how it works in the US. You get laid off, you collect your check from the govt not the company you work for. That’s why companies pay into unemployment insurance. This is what SF Opera does with their players every single season!

      Can someone from the MET orch or any other US orch please back me up on this? I think these down thumbing readers are Europeans who don’t understand how this works in the US. Or people reacting to a sensationalist headline. Or maybe they are actually MET orch or chorus members who object to the percentage of their salary they will lose going on unemployment. But come on, guys, these are hard times. You really expect do be earning 6 figures for staying at home not working in times like this?

      • GeigeSpielerin says:

        “Privileged musicians” and “six-figure salaries” are terms often used in times like these by people with little or no understanding of who symphonic musicians are and which organizations they work for. It was often uttered by people who didn’t care to understand why majors like Chicago or Philly were striking.

        I am in a 2-freelance-musician household and our income has been six-figure for a few years now. Is that scandalous to you?

        The MET is THE full-time opera orchestra in the U.S., largest one in the world in workload, I believe. If the person you know who plays with SFO is influencing your perception about how musicians make a living, they should be able to tell you that unemployment benefits are not a usual source income for a tenured MET musician.

        What Gelb is doing is not only wrong, it is also incredibly embarrassing for the MET as one of the major arts organizations in the country. Other countries actually create emergency funds for their artists so to protect their cultural institutions during crises.

        Please get educated on the issue and facts to prevent your next oral flatulence. Also, during the world pandemic of all our lifetimes is not the time to call highly skilled classical musicians privileged.

        • The Real Anon says:

          Geige, you really missed the mark here.

          I am one of those “highly skilled classical musicians” you refer to! That’s why I am annoyed. I have the same education, did the same auditions, do the same repertoire, have the same responsibilities and even work under some of the same conductors as these players. Except I do it in another orchestra, in another country for a fraction of what they make. Yes, it’s full time, yes, I am tenured, and yes there are expensive cities in the world besides NYC.

          YOU need to get educated. The entire orchestral world does not operate the same way and with the salaries of the MET or Phila or Chicago. You are living in a bubble. In a world view, these are musicians of tremendous privilege. There are tenured players everywhere who do the same jobs for a pittance in comparision. Now is not the time for them to exert that privilege, my friend.

          No, in other countries they are not automatically creating “emergency funds” for their artists. We are circulating petitions and trying to make politicians aware of our plight. Our freelance colleagues, unlike you, do not have a “6 figure household” with savings to fall back on. They are in dire straits. So, yes, it really irritates me to hear about well-off, privileged players who are whining because they have to go on unemployment during a world crisis.

          Your post is haughty and unrealistic and extremely ignorant. You say you’re a classical musician and yet you are so uneducated about how members of your own profession earn a living outside of the US that you mistook me for a non-musician.

          Now is not the time for you to be putting MET musicians on a pedestal and giving them special exemptions. They are workers like everyone else. They are very well paid and should be in a good position to weather this. Please get off your high horse.

    • Bruce says:

      In my orchestra (it may be a WA state thing) we don’t qualify for unemployment during our off-season. Several of us have applied over the years and been rejected. Our union local is recommending that we apply anyway since they keep track of the number of rejections, and the number of rejections will help demonstrate the need. For now we are still getting paid even though concerts have been cancelled, but I don’t think that can continue for long. We’ll see what happens.

  • AF says:

    Gelb should be fired immediately for mismanagement of one of American’s most treasured cultural institutions. Lay off all musicians and singers, but no other cuts? Sounds like union-busting, pure and simple. A reasonable executive would find a way to work with musicians to get through tough times, raise more revenue (the board should give more, for starters), and implement salary cuts at the senior management level. Austerity means everyone is in this together. Gelb has shown he cares nothing for those that work hardest to make The Met what it is.

    • Araragi says:

      Who said no other cuts? The higher paid members of the admin have agreed to salary reductions and Gelb has waived his entire salary. These are drastic times and all are feeling the pain.

  • Suzelbuondi says:


    They asked people to take pay cuts in the past but are now not paying their artists a cent….

  • AB says:

    Why doesn’t Gelb give part of his salary to these people?

  • IntBaritone says:

    There are multiple things to consider here that people with their quick and uninformed responses are not:

    1) The MET does NOT have a lot of money. They spend far more than they bring in with tickets and other initiatives, usually need donors to fund their deficits, and are not publicly funded.

    2) The musicians and choristers are NOT working right now. They cannot work from home, and absent of the thought of charity, the thought of continuing to pay a chorister a $200k salary during a period like this is not realistic. It hurts to say it, but it is reality.

    3) By doing this, ALL the workers can now claim unemployment. They also keep their healthcare and insurance for instruments.

    These are important factors. Just because we hate what the MET is doing (believe me, I cannot stand Peter Gelb), does not mean they’re not for the best (which is a super low bar at the current time).

    I, for one, hope opera makes it through this. It might not. And even if it does, it will be VERY different in the future. Many companies will not be able to bridge this gap as donors will dry up. Artists will lose their jobs and go bankrupt over this time. This will vastly change our industry in ways we cannot fathom.

    We are in triage mode. And hate it as I might, it’s what has to happen. For ANYTHING to survive.

  • Cassandra says:

    Whither the Met goes, so goes the entire American classical music industry. Expect every major opera company and orchestra to announce the exact same measures in the next weeks.

    A financial reckoning has been long coming for classical music in America, and I guarantee every Exec. Dir will see this as an opportunity to renegotiate every single player and singers’ salaries. Soloist fees will be dropped. Stage hands and managers and backstage, the same. People will be so desperate to work, they’ll take anything offered when things start to return to normal in the coming months (if we’re lucky).

    And it will all be perfectly legal because Force Majeure. Sure there will be lawsuits, but if the performing world wants anything more than extinction, they’d best be prepared to take what’s offered.

    This is the end of classical music as we know it. It’s nothing short of the apocalypse.

    • CA says:

      Many execs & senior staff are overpaid relative to (a) their organization’s budget and/or (b) the amount of revenues they bring in. Maybe bringing that in London should be part of the discussion going forward. I’m
      Just sayin’….

  • Montblanc says:

    Fact: Gelb is waiving his entire salary. He has announced this to the staff.

  • Sofia Amudsen says:

    They are furloughed, not laid off. Here’s the correction: https://twitter.com/vanmusi…/status/1240674770208919556…
    That means (1) their health insurance is still covered, (2) they will be reinstated when the Met is up and running, and (3) they should now be elegible for unemployment.

  • Julianna says:

    Is this the beginning of bankruptcy for these large companies?

  • Nardo says:

    Not a peep from Yannick? That was pretty snarky.

  • sam says:

    what are we arguing about? this is terrible. The Met is necessary. Culture is necessary. When this is over, we need to bring everyone we know to support the arts- all forms. Full on. Can you live without music? Can you live without drama? No way no how. Don”t care about your predilections. When this is over- we opera hard!

  • Karla Britt says:

    Does Mr Trump’s promised “Trillion to safe companies” not extend to cultural facilities?

  • Musician says:

    I am close to a few players from the orchestra and used to be an orchestra member myself. There is one important clarification: the musicians are NOT fired. I think the headline can be misleading, many people messaged me saying how horrible it was to fire the entire orchestra. While Peter Gelb, as always, handled this very poorly, and was the reason a lot of us left the company and auditioned elsewhere, no one actually lost their jobs so far. That would not be possible for him to do, thank God! However, the situation is very appalling and sad… Even much smaller companies than the Met keep paying the musicians through April and some longer. Shame on Peter Gelb, I really hope he gets fired after this… He should have been at least 10 years ago