Met musicians: We read about our future in the Times

Met musicians: We read about our future in the Times


norman lebrecht

June 05, 2020

Leigh Mesh, associate principal bass at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, is married to associate concertmaster Nancy Wu. They have seen  see Peter Gelb announcing their future in a newspaper before he tells the musicians. Not happy about it.

From an interview with Leigh in VAN magazine:

I’m talking personally, but I’m irked at finding out what happens in my workplace in the media. I’m particularly irked at the particulars of what our online gala brought in. [The Met has raised $60 million in the past two months, including through the gala. The orchestra musicians and singers who participated were not paid. —Ed.] Peter Gelb was asked repeatedly about that information, and he refused to tell us. We learned about it in the Times.

I really wish communication with the company would be much different than it is. I don’t know that would have really changed anything. Certainly what the gala earned is a drop in the bucket. But just in this time, it doesn’t feel good. Morale is pretty low.

Your wife Nancy Wu is associate Concertmaster. That means you’re losing two incomes…
Yes, true. But we’re also in a good position because we’ve had two incomes. We have savings, and we’re also receiving two unemployment checks. It puts us in a better position. But losing the extra benefit now will really cut our earnings, and I imagine lots of people are going to be in trouble.

Read on here.



  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Either the MET as an institution is saved, or they write checks to all the union members within the organization and spend their endowment to appease labor.

    Then there is no job for anybody in a year or two.

    Unfortunately, these are the hard choices that an Intendant has to make.

    Like this fellow said, the couple has had years of triple digit salaries (times two) which means that they should have plenty of savings, a home with equity (that they can use for a loan), and unemployment insurance along with PPP money.

    Let’s all put on our Big Boy Pants here and realize that many of the best musical institutions will have to make hard choices with regards to survival rather than the easy way out by spending years of endowment savings that may never come back.

    • anon says:

      It’s possible to understand the financial reality of the Met’s situation and still expect them to give the simple, common courtesy to their musicians of notifying them in advance regarding employment status, before it’s published in the national press.

      Would you want to find out your employer isn’t bringing you back to work for another six months from the NY Times or from your employer themselves?

      • Tiredofitall says:

        Correct. When Peter first assumed the job, he wanted all-staff “town halls”. He insisted that they would be held every month to foster communication (a slap to Joe Volpe, who, in his own way, communicated much better and with more honesty). These meetings were obligatory and HR even took attendance. After two of these meetings, they ceased because employees asked real questions about real issues. Peter probably wanted the dog-and-pony shows (“MAGA” type) he gives to the board, where NO questions are asked. Little substance there and lots of obfuscation.

        • DAVID says:

          Such “town-hall” meetings, while typically presenting themselves under the guise of transparency, open communication and some sort of chimerical unity between management and employees, often turn out to be the very opposite of what they claim to accomplish on the surface. They usually are nothing but the embodiment of management tactics which would best be described as “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The goal, obviously, is not to communicate, nor to take any input seriously (one would have to be rather naive to believe that), but rather to diplomatically groom employees into a submissive stance in order to extract drastic concessions from them in a less painful fashion. This is why such meetings, invariably, end up focusing on financials. It should come as no surprise then that such meetings might be discontinued when they fail to fulfill their intended objective, since asking those hard and uncomfortable questions which undermine management’s argumentation is rarely conducive to their real purpose.

        • facts says:

          What you’re saying is (“Hillary and Obama” type) Tiredofitall.

          Gelb, Ziff along with the board and the entire MET are Democrats dear.

          It is solely their leadership on display.

          Nobody can specifically prove otherwise…

          • Tiredofitall says:

            I wasn’t making any political reference to Trump or Republicans with “MAGA type” meetings, just the “rah-rah, let’s Make the Met Great Again” hollow rhetoric from Gelb at board meetings. Hollow as in MAGA hollow.

            Point in fact, knowing all of Met board, I would venture to guess that 75% are republican, whether they currently support DT or not.

    • John Kelly says:

      Dear Sir Avery Fisher Hall: I am sure Mr. Mesh appreciates your financial planning suggestions but they are arrogant and “easy to say.” Just because a couple has two incomes in NYC doesn’t mean they are like the IMF and can just sustain unemployment for many months. Maybe they rent? They don’t get PPP money, only unemployment. It is far from “OK”.
      These musicians are part of a great virtuoso orchestra that delivers great performances night after night. Schlamperei doesn’t exist in this orchestra in my many years of attending. NYC is an expensive place to live. Even more so if you happen to have children or other responsibilities. These musicians deserve at least the respect to not be finding out about their circumstances in the paper….or on Twitter. The fish rots from the head. I think many Met goers understand that. The Met will be back. This too shall pass. The “new normal” will be just like the old normal for opera goers………..

      • DAVID says:

        Respect is generally not something on the agenda of most managements nowadays, who rather tend to view their musicians as disposable cattle which can easily be replaced, possibly at even cheaper rates. The PPP comment was indeed sadly misinformed, since it applies only to companies under 500 employees (though amazingly, several major chains in the USA found a way to qualify for it, before they retracted themselves when they realized the disastrous PR fallout that would ensue if they didn’t). In fact, it is well known that 200K is simply not enough to live decently in Manhattan, where the cost of living is simply exorbitant. It’s quite stunning to see people who essentially make a merely decent wage compared to their cost of living be admonished for their failure to be better financially prepared when major companies are getting bailed out because it so happens that they cannot financially withstand a 3 month interruption in business. Asking musicians to perform for free for a benefit gala, after their wages have already been scrapped, and not even having the courtesy of informing them of their employment status is truly the height of callousness and cynicism, but it is not at all surprising — it’s perfectly in keeping with most music managements nowadays whose ultimate mission is not the preservation of an art form, but rather to safeguard their sacrosanct bottom line.

        • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

          “In fact, it is well known that 200K is simply not enough to live decently in Manhattan, where the cost of living is simply exorbitant.”

          How much is your Barissta at Starbucks making when you get your latte?

          Some of you “artists” live in a spoiled world with little relation to the reality of what normal working class people deal with.

          • DAVID says:

            Sorry, but your post doesn’t seem to be coming from a perspective capable of truly comprehending the “reality of what normal working class people deal with” — quite to the contrary, in fact. If you’re suggesting that world-class musicians who are at the very top of their field and who have perfected their skill for several decades should be compensated at a level comparable to someone who undergoes training for several weeks (not that there’s actually anything wrong with being a barista), then I guess I can understand your utter contempt for “spoiled artists” and your sympathetic stance towards management. You clearly have very little understanding of the kind of artistry it takes to be part of an orchestra such as the MET.

      • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

        Please stand corrected

        It’s Sir David Geffen-Hall.

        Avery gave his money, but it was given back after I gave my money and had the name changed.

        Hopefully no one will come after me and have management changer their minds.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      “…spend their endowment to appease labor”?? When times were better for the company (although they were never better financially under Gelb) he raided every legally available fund in the endowment. The cupboard is bare and has been for years.

      Big Boy Pants?

    • REPULSED by The MET! says:

      Not to mention the precedent this has set for young singers, musicians and other highly creative types in school…

      “You’re worthless”…The MET

    • HugoPreuss says:

      Right. Who needs an orchestra or musicians or singers as long as “the MET as an institution is saved”. I just wonder what they will put on stage once all these pesky “union members” are gone with the wind?

  • Save the MET says:

    Gelb is truly a Homer Simpson – Voldemort hybrid; malevolent stupidity.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Piquant imagery, but I’d save it for someone who lives in a prominent residence a few hours by train south of New York City…

  • anon says:

    From what I understand, the management of solo artists and conductors were again not officially notified. Given this has happened for both the cancellation of the 2019-202 season, and this fall, I’m left to believe these communication oversights were completely intentional. What a cruel way to treat the people directly responsible for creating the art the Met claims to support.

    • John Kelly says:

      Intentional or not they are inexcusable for sure.

    • Lowly Worker Bee says:

      They soloists and their managers were sent emails but only a few minutes before the announcement went out. Many of us saw the announcement before we saw the email. I’m sure the idea was wait until the last possible moment to keep the email from leaking to the press before the announcement.

    • Jimbo says:

      And to schmooze the players and singers into giving a poorly organised and technically atrocious online Gala which the Gelb grinned badly and embarrassingly and during which the egotistical MD spent his time tweeting crap to his twatterti about his home furnishings! Then! The Met treats artists AND it’s own staff by announcing on social media thr cancellation of the fall season without informing anyone! At a human level it’s unkind, at a professional level it’s a disgraceful abandonment of basic managerial principles. But then with all the f@cking Bella Figura and smiles both Gelb and the Met are still in post, still earning and still laughing all the way to their banks.

  • I’m sorry to see people in this kind of trouble. I’ve seen a number of announcements on Facebook of members of major orchestras selling things like studio apartments near their concert halls and extra instruments. American musicians are suffering even at the top.

    Some numbers: I think the two pay checks even for rank and file players at the Met would come to close to $400,000 per year. In the above case, one is a principle and the other a concertmaster, so the sum is likely much higher. And yet, the USA ranks 39th in the world for opera performances per capita, behind every European country except impoverished Portugal.

    This is a manifestation of the American system for funding the arts by the wealthy. Very expensive, luxury arts institutions are concentrated in financial centers where the wealthy live while the rest of the country is neglected. Another manifestation of this is the half a billion dollar fund raising campaign of the LA Phil, the only full time orchestra in a metro area of 15 million people. If the rich fund the arts, they will above all service themselves and neglect the rest while being careful to maintain some lightly funded alibi programs.

    • jay says:

      What nonsense to always compare……whether 30th. or 39th. means nothing except that not
      as many USA residents care for the trappings
      of opera as do their european counterparts for
      a host of reasons ,the main being social standing.
      Todays wealthy have learned that subsidizing the
      opera is not a prerequisite to being “seen”
      or having a fulfilling life. Years past the old Met was for some”the social scene” the present Met is not.
      For many the closest to opera was the dreadful
      3 tenors schtick.No one should be expected to fund
      any form of entertainment because they are wealthy,

    • Larry W says:

      Correction. Mr. Mesh is associate principal bass. The Met is an association without basic principles.

    • fflambeau says:

      “This is a manifestation of the American system for funding the arts by the wealthy. Very expensive, luxury arts institutions are concentrated in financial centers where the wealthy live while the rest of the country is neglected.”

      Is it really so different in Europe, William? You yourself note poor Portugal is at the bottom of the list, and my guess is that ultra wealthy Gemany and perhaps Switzerland is at the top.

  • Nannetta says:

    I can confirm that singers were 100% not notified ahead of time or given any kind of heads up. I was contracted to sing in one of the cancelled productions and found out online. Completely blindsided. An email came from them almost four hours after it was already all over the internet. The lack of integrity, basic courtesy, and respect to artists is astounding.

  • Arthur G. Miller says:

    I liken musicians at this level akin to highly acclaimed physicians and surgeons, world class athletes, esteemed scientists, artists, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Joan Baez, Martha Argerich, Maria Callas, Arthur Rubinstein ,etc. They deserve every penny they’ve earned. They contribute to the welfare and quality of life for countless millions. Aside from the money, they should be treated with the ultimate respect. That seems missing here, unless there’s more to the story. In the particular case of these two players, I do miss a degree of relative tragedy compared to so many others—their finances seem secure, and their futures bright, perhaps with another fine orchestra.

  • Former MET enthusiast says:

    The MET has proven itself to be NO BETTER than Big Corporations or the 1% !!!!!!

    The board of the MET is saying to its most valued assets (contracted or otherwise):


    Who cares about your plebeian lives vs our luxurious status aka “white privilege”?

    No wonder “opera is dying”?!?! It’s emanating from within!

  • fflambeau says:

    One look at Peter Gelb on the Met telecasts indicates he wants and needs to be the center of attention. Not good. On the other hand, he has done a wonderful job in keeping his institution growing and alive.

  • Hypocrite says:

    David, if you make $200,000 a year there is no excuse for not saving. Maybe that means you can’t afford to live in Manhattan because the cost of living is above what you can afford. I make far less than that and have saved plenty.

    The bottom line is that these opera stars who are going broke after only 2 months of cancellations were living exorbitant lifestyles that were beyond their means. This does not, however, excuse Gelb’s behavior. To let them find out through the media is unacceptable.

    • reality says:

      Beyond “Greedy Gelb”, singers are freelancers and are not paid a set, scaled fee at say every Tier 1, 2, 3 opera house…in the USA.

      It’s always different and the work is not steady so monthly income can fluctuate or be nill depending on a season and frankly ‘who likes you’.

      That’s why the reasonable concept of savings is elusive for many of us until you’re lucky enough to have a conductor or house favor you or somehow reach star status.

      That’s why status (in all fields) dictates the most important variables: money and power…talent is debatable particularly when one charts the last 20-30 years of ‘stars’.

      One’s housing, food, education, etc. is up to them but NYC and close areas are unbearably expensive even for the rich who have been leaving for low-tax states in DROVES under Cuomo. As he said last month “WE HAVE NO MONEEEEEYYYY”!

  • Una says:

    The New York Times or the Times?

  • Pamela Brown says:

    This is terrible. It must be Minnegeddon…

  • DrummerBoy says:

    Not everybody in the orchestra lives in the city…

    And the company has never been good with transparency – Gelb has just made things worse.