Concertmasters get richer

Concertmasters get richer


norman lebrecht

July 02, 2020

The Drew McManus survey of concertmaster earnings in the US for 2017/18 show that all the top ten are now earning over $300,000, and the top five are earning around twice as much. Cleveland’s William Preucil used to brag that he was the highest paid in America, but in this final year before his toppling over sexual harrassment claims he was displaced by the New York Philharmonic’s Frank Huang.

This was Huang’s inaugural season and he’s already earning more than his predecessor Glenn Dicterow.

Go figure.

1 New York Philharmonic: $687,955
2 Cleveland Orchestra: $634,277
3 San Francisco Symphony: $594,522
4 Chicago Symphony: $565,670
5 Los Angeles Philharmonic: $547,061
6 Boston Symphony: $497,444
7 Philadelphia Orchestra: $452,543
8 National Symphony: $422,543
9 Baltimore Symphony: $311,108
10 Cincinnati Symphony: $308,346


  • Concertgoer says:

    Here are the largest organizations by gross receipts ($ million) from the same Forms 990, all 2017, except Detroit:

    — Boston Symphony Orchestra Inc. (1918): 276.5
    — Los Angeles Philharmonic Assoc. (1934): 194.4
    — Chicago Symphony Orchestra Assoc. (1890): 163.7
    — Philharmonic Symphony Soc. of N.Y. Inc. (1853): 149.1
    — San Francisco Symphony (sic; 1910): 136.3
    — Cleveland Orchestra (Musical Arts Assoc.; 1925): 125.6
    — Detroit Symphony Orchestra Inc. (1951): 90.1 (for 2018)
    — Pittsburgh Symphony Inc. (1935): 83.4
    — Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1894): 80.9
    — Philadelphia Orchestra Assoc. (1903): 57.4

    • Save the MET says:

      The dates provided are not the founding dates of the orchestras, but the filing years of their articles of incorporation. The BSO was actually founded in 1881, Los Angeles Philharmonic 1919, the CSO was “founded” in 1891, a year after their articles of incorporation were filed, etc. etc.

  • Orchestra player says:

    Frankly I find those reports quite tacky. Despite what all the nay-sayers (what’s their achievement ?) go on and on about, they don’t seem to realise the level of talent required to become Principal Conductor, or Concertmaster (let alone member) of a major orchestra such as the ones listed. They are just as worthy of big salaries as tv presenters, actors, footballers etc.
    This culture of envy and constant sniping at people who are just at the very top of their field is so predictable and tedious.

    • Anonymous says:

      Our British pay is a joke after looking at those eye watering salaries!

      • A pianist says:

        Yes it is. Bring on the brain drain gloats this American.

      • Jaspers John says:

        That is sad, but our cost of living is probably higher. The Philadelphia Orchestra sometimes does 4 or more different programs in one week.

    • annnon says:

      What I find tacky is orchestra musicians going on strike and crying to the public for support.

      By all means, go on strike, demand higher pay and benefits, all the more power to you, but don’t cry poverty and expect the public to write letters to the board on your behalf to plead your cause.

      Like “big salary tv presenters, actors, footballers”, behave like one: go get a better offer from a competitor and negotiate on your own, and if you can’t, it means that there is no market for your talent.

      • Mick the Knife says:

        Concertmaster salaries are negotiated. Orchestras that are unstable financially see many musicians leaving for more stable orchestras and doing just what you say. But that is no solution because orchestras try to build a sound, a cohesiveness, and an identity that is impossible with the endless coming and going of players each year. Another things is that the support structure is completely different between all of these other jobs and the orchestra musician in the US. You can watch a 2 hour concert of uninterrupted beauty. But you watch TV or sports and it becomes apparent, unless you are really quite dense, that the true purpose is to market BS products to you. The entertainment is the filler between commercials. The result is plenty of financial resources. Rich people and corporations, and to some extent, small donors keep the orchestras going and offer commercial-free sponsorship. The orchestras have to ask for money. Unless you have sat on stage and done their job, you really have no clue what it takes. Don’t attack the good guys; the highly skilled orchestra players. But desk jockeys and people who sit safely in a cubicle somewhere 9-5 doing grunt work often like to do that.

      • Not so fast says:

        “go get a better offer from a competitor and negotiate on your own, and if you can’t, it means that there is no market for your talent”

        Easy to say, but really not practical as orchestral musicians bargain collectively. You have a point to an extent for those players who negotiate individually.

      • Bruce says:

        “[G]o get a better offer from a competitor and negotiate on your own, and if you can’t, it means that there is no market for your talent.”

        The topic of this article is these guys who have done exactly that and shown that there is a market for their talent.

        You might as well be complaining about welfare recipients having fancy cell phones, for all your rant has to do with the topic.

    • PHF says:

      “They are just as worthy of big salaries as tv presenters, actors, footballers etc.” Actually, those deserve minimum wage for their “great” and “relevant” contribution to society. Concertmasters should never earn more than any other section principal. Equity in duties, equity in payment. And no, concertmasters do not have more responsibilities than any other section principal since the establishment of the conductor as the God of universe.

      • Sashimi says:

        Quite dense aren’t you..? I would love to see a principal bass or viola (not even gonna comment on the likes of “principal” tuba, percussion and other positions like “solo” contrabassoon, who don’t play two thirds of the season) take on a solo of the size of Heldenleben, or even for fun I’d love to see any principal 2nd from any major orchestra to take on Zarathustra. I can assure the result would be quite disastrous. Oh and there’s always the “oh today wasn’t his best day… if you only heard Dicterow play that or when Silverstein was the cm, that was something else..” You know why principal second job feels like sitting in a Caribbean compared to being a CM? Because when something goes wrong, either no one notices or it is very easy to throw the “responsibility” on the CM. The CM doesn’t have a choice, he/she has to take the responsibility.

        • Enquiring Mind says:

          Can they blame the conductor?

          • Bruce says:

            ^ Not after everyone has spent so much time talking about how unimportant (and also bad) the conductor is.

        • Peter San Diego says:

          Concertmasters are in that position due to their superior skills — instrumental, musical and interpersonal (usually). But to say that a principal 2nd essaying the violin solos in Zarathustra would be “disastrous” is just silly. The better orchestras these days have many violinists capable of performing the solos more than adequately.

          • Save the MET says:

            Some are there for political reasons and are not necessarily the best fiddlers in the orchestra.

          • Sashimi says:

            The “many violinists capable of performing the solos more than adequately” can maybe do it for a year or two after they auditioned. You ever wonder why when a big orchestra snaps up a young talented violinist that many have expected to reach the sky, they go into the section or any title chair except the first stand in the first, you often never hear of him/her again and they spend the rest of their life there? Because you adjust to your environment. You stop being exposed to the pressure of delivering “solo” like performances because you cannot play like that in the section, especially if you want to get tenure, you often don’t have any outside opportunities to play solo recitals etc and slowly get into the habit that if you make a mistake while playing in a section, no one cares, they all do it, it doesn’t matter because 15 others will cover you. You ever saw a principal second win a CM job? I haven’t. Simply because the pressure on you is significantly lower, you play WAY easier parts and when you want to raise your game to take a CM audition, you suddenly realize you can’t. You have been there for too long and completely forgot how to actually play like a soloist because you haven’t done it for years. So yes, when principal second should take on a Zarathustra, they would very likely choke or deliver an absolutely uninteresting performance where the focus was to just get through it without breaking your nose, and believe me, it is WAAAAAY too easy to break your nose in a piece like Zarathustra. Why are most of the new CMs people who held another CM job in a smaller orchestra, or maybe 2nd chairs from another major orchestra or people that have no previous orchestra experience but their solo careers didn’t turn out as planned so they turned to orchestra? Because they are used to playing under that kind of pressure.

    • sam says:

      tv presenters, actors, footballers don’t get tenure, they get a year-to-year contract, and if a younger better hotter guy comes along, bye bye

    • IntBaritone says:

      Talent is not, nor should it be, the main factor in pay. Certainly to get to this level it takes oodles of talent. But the concert master (and any performer, sports player, actor, etc) should be paid in line with the value they create for the organization. Major sports stars and actors bring people to the arena/movie theater. Do concert masters? Maybe for a few audience members, but not for the average Joe. If the brand of the concert master is greater than the brand of the orchestra then the fee should go up. If not, it should go the other way.

      Regardless, these are sizable sums, but capitalism is what it is and concert masters are decidedly not sports stars.

    • SG says:

      To imply concertmasters are more talented and work harder than many principal woodwind and brass players is completely ignorant. They play solos all the time and have high pressure jobs…they just happen to not play violin. The disparity in pay is absolutely not justified, especially in these days of underpaid, overworked musicians!

    • Jaspers John says:

      Baloney. At least one concertmaster is not qualified to be more than a third-chair player, says an orchestra musician. Getting hired is rarely just a matter of talent.

  • mary says:

    The fat years make up for the lean years (of pandemics). But still a good living, no matter how you look at it, even if at a fraction of union base.

    Top 10 orchestra musicians are fine, they’re all still getting a paycheck (for doing nothing).

  • Fiddlist says:

    Geez that doesn’t make sense regarding Huang. Is it possible it was higher in first season because of a signing bonus or something like that?

    Huang is great, but immediately jumping ahead of players like Barantschik, Chalifour and Chen, who have been at it for decades, seems just wrong. Certainly disturbingly greedy.

    Can safely presume all these salaries will go down in 2021 though.

    • Brian says:

      The cost of living in New York City is such that $687K doesn’t get you quite as much when compared with Cleveland or Philadelphia. Same with San Francisco – a very expensive housing market.

      That said, it’s harder to comment on Huang’s worth compared with other members of the orchestra, or what other non-playing responsibilities he has (i.e. heading committees, doing outreach, etc.).

    • DAVID says:

      Having been a concertmaster for decades has nothing to do with it, it’s the level of playing that does. Are you an expert on this? Please educate yourself a little more before making uninformed statements. Frankly, given Huang’s caliber and given the fact that he is concertmaster for one of the very top orchestras in the world, he should actually be paid more.

      • Anon says:

        Looks like you’re the one who needs the education David.

        • DAVID says:

          Really? Are you a violinist? Either you are not, or are simply bothered by the fact that a young violinist can outperform players decades older than s/he is.

    • Bill says:

      It is extremely likely that this number is high because of one-time compensation for relocation expenses, etc. The IRS filings used to compile these reports report total compensation for the year. Such compensation numbers are also frequently high for someone’s final year as they cash out accrued vacation etc. (I’m not necessarily referring to orchestral compensation here; Drew is not the only one making such reports!)

    • M2N2K says:

      Not only in 2021: most if not all of these salaries already went down considerably in 2020.

  • DorothyT says:

    Frank Huang is an Alan Gilbert legacy.

    • Freddynyc says:

      Interesting how both happened to luck out with their coveted positions because no one else more talented and qualified was available……

      • M2N2K says:

        Nothing can be more fair than getting any position “because no one else more talented and qualified was available”.

  • Hedda Lettuce says:

    But what about the MET Orchestra concertmasters?

  • In Germany, which has far more orchestras per capita than the USA, all orchestra musicians in the country are paid according to a uniform scale with small bonuses paid according to the cost of living in various regions. There are no specially negotiated contracts. And yet they produce orchestras fully equal or better in quality than US orchestras. In fact, I doubt there is any US orchestra that match the Berlin Phil, or the top German radio orchestras in technical precision, range of repertoire, number of recordings, size of audiences, educational programs, and performances of new music.

    I also think of the salary war Philadelphia had with Dallas to poach their first trumpet. Philly ended up paying him around $300k. Dallas then hired Ryan Anthony who was one of the world’s finest trumpeters, and considerably more recognized and active, for what I suspect was a considerably smaller price.

    These salaries are especially an outrage when the average salary of the members of ROPA orchestras (the organization that represents our regional orchestras) is around $13k per year.

    The problem is systemic. If we fund the arts by donations from the wealthy, the financial centers where they live will have luxury orchestras while the rest of the country is neglected. We only need to look to Europe to see the practical realities and effectiveness of their far better system of funding and administering the arts.

    • A Pianist says:

      Pop quiz William, how many German orchestras have closed in the last 20 years? Berlin is indeed classical paradise but the rest of the country, it is not the paradise you seem to think.

      • Orchestra player says:

        W.O. think?

      • Nonsense. There were a number of closings in the 90s in about the first three to five years after the wall came down. East Germany had the highest per capita ratio of orchestras in the world and it was in some respects excessive so they were closed. And there were orchestras very close to each other but separated by the wall that were merged. After that orchestra closings have been rare. German orchestras employ around 9500 musicians and that number has remained stable. The DOV (the German musicians’ union) has graphs that show the timeline of the closings which confirms what I’m saying.

        The confusion about this comes from reactionary Americans opposed to public arts funding, who falsely try to discredit Europe’s public funding systems. In many respects these Americans don’t know what they’re talking about, and are sometimes plain liars promoting false ideologies.

        • The latest numbers in German:

          Insgesamt gibt es 129 Berufsorchester mit 9.766 Planstellen (Stand Januar 2020).
          Davon sind:

          110 staatliche, städtische, öffentlich finanzierte Orchester mit 8.510 Planstellen

          8 öffentlich finanzierte Kammerorchester mit 134 Planstellen

          11 Rundfunkorchester (ohne Tanzorchester, BigBands) mit 1.122 Planstellen

          A list of all of these 129 orchestras owned and operated by the government are here:

          In the USA, this would come to about 2.3 full time orchestras with health insurance, pensions, and excellent job security for every state in the nation. And in Germany, they are spread out over the whole county, and not just concentrated in places where the rich live.

          And during the current pandemic, every musician has continued to be paid.

        • G.G says:

          william osborne

          November 13, 2013

          A slight correction. The orchestra in Stuttgart is called the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart. The orchestra being eliminated by the merger is the Sinfonieorchester des Südwestrundfunks which is based in Baden-Baden and Freiburg. In English, the SWR Symphony Orchestra based in Baden-Baden and Freiburg is being merged with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. I suppose the names are a bit moot.

          Excellent point about the list only containing 4 women. Maybe such orchestral patriarchy explains why at least half the public in Germany doesn’t care so much about the closing… All the same, it should be opposed and orchestras encouraged to become a bit more modern in many different ways.

      • Another orchestra player says:

        If there’s a country in Europe with a a lot of professional orchestras and fair conditions that’s definitely Germany. Come on, you have Frankfurt, Hamburg, Dresden, Leipzig, Munich, Cologne, Stuttgart, Bremen, Hannover… not to mention Nuremberg, Essen, Hof, Bamberg, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Friburg, Plus the insane amount of other ensembles, festivals, etc etc…

    • Bso fan says:

      BS. Berlin is an amazing ensemble, but they aren’t great when it comes to Adams and Copland and other American composers. Orchestras have different strengths. But if you are to suggest that Boston doesn’t rival Berlin, for instance, then you are completely and utterly full of, “it”.

      • Doubtful says:

        As someone who has listened to BSO live many times and even sat on stage, I unfortunately have to disagree with your Boston rivals Berlin statement…
        And to your point about American composers, what is the ratio of that music to the traditional European composers? If that’s taken as the point of comparison, one could even argue that German orchestras simply do better by playing their strengths in Germanic music more than American music is played in any given season.

  • CA says:

    A great service to the field would be to publish typical/average salary ranges, by orchestra size/budget, for administrative staff. There’s next to no transparency in this and one can get only scant data from the League of American Orchestras’ report which is available only to insiders “with a need to know.” If we can relatively easily do our own research to discover base pay for rank and file musicians, then we should be able to demand same for the staff who do the administrative legwork behind the scenes to support and to enable the musicians to do their wonderful jobs. Is this not a fair request, if we are aiming for better transparency and a more level playing field?

  • MacroV says:

    With concertmasters you’re looking at people who could have decent soloist careers, so you have to compete against that. And given the cost of living in New York, Boston, or San Francisco, it’s not surprising their salaries are that high; Cleveland is the outlier given its relatively low cost of living, though I suspect Preucil’s successor won’t rank as high.

    I do wonder why these orchestras don’t go with a 2 or even 3-concertmaster system as is the norm in Europe (in orchestras that aren’t really any busier).

    BTW, this wasn’t Frank Huang’s first season; it was his third.

    • Ken says:

      Yes, but the figures are from 2017/18, which was his first season. Close reading is a lost skill.

    • Jay says:

      Would you actually spend a buck to hear Huang
      as soloist??!! I know I wouldn’t

    • Axl says:

      As European I’m always thinking that why US orchestras (except MET) doesn’t have at least two concertmaster or even more. E.g. Vienna Phil and BRSO has 4, Gewandhaus and Berlin Phil has 3 and lots of orchestras with two CM’s.
      And actually many orchestras in here we have system of two 1st concertmasters and two 2nd concertmasters which is simple with less hierarchy and so on. And same system continues in other string sections also.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    OMG, we are nowhere near that here!!!

  • Dallas has two concert masters who split the season.

    I wonder where they would place if they were added together.

  • Dwayne Allen, TE New England Patriots says:

    I mean like Belichick makes all the calls, so that Tom Brady guy shouldn’t be paid any more than that backup tight end, right?

  • Novagerio says:

    Next series: try F.C.Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester U and Bayern München, shall we? Who’s the most expensive Midfielder vs Striker?
    I mean, they do have patrons don’t they? What we call donors (?!) …