Meet America’s highest paid orchestra boss

Meet America’s highest paid orchestra boss


norman lebrecht

June 30, 2020

Drew McManus has been doing his annual trawl through orchestral accountsto see who’s getting paid what. But fiscal 2017/18 was a weird year in which the really big spenders – New York, LA Phil and San Fran – had no CEO in place, or only for part of the season.

That meant only one orchestra was paying its boss more than a million bucks.

Now who was that? Any why is he about to retire when he’s finally broken into big money?


1. Boston Symphony: $1,050,596
2. Philadelphia Orchestra: $770,708
3. Cleveland Orchestra: $578,617
4. Chicago Symphony: $537,541
5. Seattle Symphony: $484,982
6. Detroit Symphony: $467,857
7. Pittsburgh Symphony: $431,015
8. Saint Louis Symphony: $427,176
9. Utah Symphony : $407,519
10. Minnesota Orchestra: $383,681
More detail on Drew’s site here.

Join us tomorrow for the music directors pay chart. No shrinkage there.


  • sam says:

    1. Boston can afford it, fine.
    2. Philadelphia can’t, especially coming out of bankruptcy
    3. Cleveland can’t justify it based on its smaller endowment and lower revenues
    4. Chicago is being fiscally conservative, it could pay the guy a little more

    9. Oh, c’mon Utah, are you serious?

    • CA says:

      Utah is pretending to be in the big leagues. Just a matter of time before they are no longer 52-week contract in my opinion. Their concert hall is stupidly large, the quality of the orchestra is meh…..again, my opinion. Wonder how much their new CEO will make?

      • The View from America says:

        … and opinions on their soon-to-be departed music director are decidedly mixed …

      • Doug says:

        Not only that, it’s a continental seating configuration. Hardly ideal for the customary symphony clientele.

    • MWnyc says:

      Philadelphia probably isn’t spending that much anymore; that pay was for previous CEO Alison Vulgamore.

      The Utah Symphony CEO also runs Utah Opera; they merged several years ago.

  • Gustavo says:

    Perhaps the associated Leipzig position is included in the million bucks?

  • E says:

    i am an ardent capitalist but … there are no concerts, no work for musicians and these salaries are nuts. good for drew for publishing them. the donor base will be outraged.

    • CA says:

      They are nuts even when there ARE concerts, some of these figures. And most donors probably haven’t a clue. I’m sure most of them don’t even read this blog or his. (Disclaimer: these are my opinions.)

    • PHF says:

      An ardent capitalist? What’s the surprise then?! Banks earn much more doing much less, since they don’t even deal with real money, just b*** virtual speculation.

      • Walter Briestmeister says:

        There’s no paying audience right now so these TAKERS need to put their egos aside and stop draining DONOR and GOVERNMENT funded institutions which can’t afford to support either them or the players.

    • Anon says:

      E – these figures, as per the top of this post, relate to 2017-2018, quite a while before Covid-19. It would be a bit strange for any outrage to concentrate on the current state of affairs when looking at these numbers.

  • Nick says:

    Very interesting, thank you NL!

  • PHF says:

    In order to make money with music is actually pretty simple: just don’t waste time with the actual music.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    In most cases, these are in line with the responsibilities of the position and given that orchestra scale for rank and file is over $100K.

    So paying your ED 4x scale for raising funds, dealing with egos, managing the union contract negotiations, courting perspective board members, and working long hours seems like a fair deal to me.

    • Doug says:

      Those managers are long gone. Now, they shine the shoes of donors and music directors and call it good.

  • OSH says:

    Oh sorry, I now realize you referred to CEOs and not music directors. Please delete my previous comment.

  • Monsoon says:

    I don’t have a problem with big salaries for non-profit c-suite leaders — there aren’t many people out there who can successfully run a large, complex organization with hundreds of employees.

    But compared to the rest of the non-profit sector, CEO salaries at arts organizations are crazy high. There are plenty of organizations with $100+ million budgets and 500+ employees where the CEO makes $500k — Philadelphia is less than half the size of that. Outside of the arts, to make $1 million as CEO at a non-profit, you usually have to be running an organization with a several hundred million dollar budget and more than a thousand employees.

    • Jaspers John says:

      The BSO may well hit the 1,000 mark and surpass it. They also have Berkshire Music Center/Tanglewood to run. No other orchestra comes close.

      • Monsoon says:

        According to their 990, they have a $100 million budget.

        A $1 million salary on a $100 million budget is still pretty high compared to other sectors.

        Sierra Club, for example, has a $141 million budget and the Executive Director only earns $286k.

        The American Red Cross has a $3 BILLION budget and the CEO earns $700k.

        American Cancer is $740 million // $884k.

  • MacroV says:

    Mark Volpe has been in the job >20 years; he oversees the BSO, Pops, Tanglewood. Why the surprise?

    And in general, why the outrage? These are difficult jobs running organizations that can never make a profit and always have to raise money. You can be fired any time. If you’re good at it, you’re underpaid. If you’re bad at it, well, then even $1 is too much.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Running an orchestra with a multibillion dollar budget is no different from running a large company. People with the skills to do that make good money for good reasons: it’s very stressful, demanding and difficult. Modern orchestras aren’t charities and a lot of people make very good livings in the business. Often on this site there are people whining that it’s shameful that the US gov’t doesn’t support the orchestras. This is why. If the gov’t took over many donors would stop contributing and then these highly paid managers wouldn’t be so highly paid. Follow the money.

  • drummerman says:

    What about Los Angeles and San Francisco? Are they not in the top 10?

    • John says:

      Both were open in 2017-18 — LA between Deborah Borda and Simon Woods, and San Francisco between Brent Assink and Mark Hanson. Both will be back in there next year.

  • Save the MET says:

    Debra Borda’s salary will blow them out of the water, also LA missing. With the exception of Boston those two have the biggest budgets and endowments.

  • Jaspers John says:

    The BSO is, by far, the biggest operation, with several orchestras working at the same time: the BSO plus subs, the Boston Pops, the Boston Pops on tour, the Boston Esplanade Pops, and the Esplanade Pops on tour. I’m sure he earned it. But for Philadelphia to be paying so much more than Cleveland, given the financial difficulties of the orchestra, is most unreasonable.

  • Jay says:

    What they both need is a good tailor.

    • Nik says:

      That picture is six years old (Tanglewood 2014). There may have been a few sartorial alterations in the meantime.

  • jim says:

    Mark Volpe has earned every penny of that salary. I’ve developed a great appreciation for him as I’ve watched him navigate some very difficult situations. Most particularly the Levine fiasco.
    My wish right now is that he will postpone his well earned retirement a year and see the BSO through the crisis caused by the pandemic. It seems like a particularly inopportune time for the orchestra to have to change leadership.