The highest paid maestro of them all

The highest paid maestro of them all


norman lebrecht

July 01, 2020

Drew McManus has reached phase 2 of his annual survey of US orchestral wage bills, as posted in their tax returns.

The tax year is 2017/18 and this is the league table for maestro remuneration:

1 Chicago Symphony: $3,527,730
2 San Francisco Symphony: $2,203,185
3 Los Angeles Philharmonic: $2,130,895
4 Dallas Symphony: $1,894,129
5 Cleveland Orchestra: $1,698,759
6 New York Philharmonic: $1,660,299
7 Philadelphia Orchestra: $1,380,667
8 Boston Symphony: $1,199,866
9 Saint Louis Symphony: $1,020,638
10 Baltimore Symphony: $926,562

In personal terms that reads:
1 Muti
2 Tilson Thomas
3 Dudamel
4 Van Zweden
5 Welser-Möst
6 Alan Gilbert
7 Yannick
8 Nelsons
9 Robertson
10 Alsop

Riccardo Muti was the big winner with a 29.86 percent wage hike, posted as $2,264,240 in payments as an independent contractor and $1,263,490 as an employee.

He delivers

Dudamel broke the $2 million barrier for the first time. In Cleveland, FW-M won a 28 percent increase.

More details on Drew’s site here.


  • Nik says:

    “But watch Van Zweden taking two pay packets from Dallas and NY: he’s not far behind.”
    Actually if you add up Dallas and New York he exceeds Chicago.

  • Big surprise for me. I thought that the excellent and prestigous orchestra of Boston had more money for Nelsons.

    • Gustavo says:

      They have the Leipzig joint venture to boost Nelson’s overall income.

      Muti is all about prestige, hair styles, golden Rolexes and invitations to Vienna. As a rule, he has to be the most expensive.

      Fat cat Nelsons is getting there.

      Wonder what Valery gets in Munich?

  • Hermann the German says:

    The publishing of this list right now is almost cynical, considering that the orchestras havent been playing for almost four months.

  • Gustavo says:

    Better be a king-size pizza the maestro is delivering.

  • Morgan says:

    Contrast this with Frans Bruggen who insisted he be paid no more than the musicians in the orchestra:

  • CA says:

    How can one be both an independent contractor and an employee at the same time?

    • MacroV says:

      Most likely as Music Director he’s a salaried employee. As a conductor he’s an independent contractor.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      My guess: One is the salary as Music Director and the other compensation is fees for concerts as an independent contractor. There must be tax implications and also agent commissions causing the split. The salary is filed on form 1040, the concert fees on form 1099. Not an expert, just guessing.

    • Antony Walker says:

      Often a Music Director salary will be paid in regular amounts monthly and counted as W2 income (employee), and performance fees (usually not earned every month) will be counted as 1099 income (independent contractor). Each state in the US has slightly different rules about this, which can be annoyingly confusing.

    • Matchew says:

      The other likely scenario is that he has formed a separate LLC that receives payments on his behalf. So he might receive the W2 income directly to him, and the 1099 income may be paid to his LLC, which then makes distributions to him. MTT had a similar set up, if I recall from reviewing 990s.

      • Jaspers John says:

        Or his pay could go to a private foundation, of which he is the beneficiary, thus avoiding taxes altogether?

  • PHF says:

    Another one from the series “How to make real money with music”: don’t do music, put other people to do for you and just stamp your name on it. Way to go, guys.

  • MacroV says:

    It’s all very interesting and numbers are impressive, but it doesn’t provide sufficient detail. As basic salary those are significant figures. But if they are paid as contractors, then they would include Social Security, Medicare, pension contributions that they would have to cover themselves.

    BTW, in 2017-18 the Philharmonic was without a music director (JvanZ took over in 2018-19). So who was getting that money?

    • tweettweet says:

      Also if you take into accout all those other elements you mention, their remunerations are massive. Especially when you realise they are also making money as guest conductors.

  • anon says:

    Van Zweden’s first season as MD of the NY Phil was 18-19, corresponding with the 2018-2019 fiscal year. This would have been Gilbert’s last season of earnings.

  • Gustavo says:

    That’s what I call a mutimillionaire.

  • The View from America says:

    Some of these compensation figures are obscene, considering the music directors in question …

  • Alphonse says:

    I will never- ever- understand the Yannick hype. A total mystery to me. He’s laughing all the way to the bank. And before anyone tries to lecture me as though I were some sort of outsider or amateur, please remember that I am a professional orchestral musician.

  • Gustavo says:

    No need to discuss the obvious gender bias.

  • MacroV says:

    I know Drew doesn’t have access to the data, but how does this compare to what conductors of top European or Asian orchestras are making? Did Sir Simon earn more in Berlin, Jansons at the BRSO, or JvanZ in Hong Kong (I can’t imagine he’d go there for less-than-great money)? I don’t even know who was conducting in Japan at the time, but they were probably making good money. What’s Long Yu earning between his various Chinese orchestras?

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    I just hope his pizza is better than his boring interpretations.

    • Gustavo says:

      Pizza quatro stagioni – Vivaldi

      Pizza spinaci – Verdi

      Pizza quatro formaggi – Brahms, Schumann

      Pizza Magharita – Haydn, Satie

      Pizza diavolo – Paganini, Liszt

      Pizza frutti di mare – Britten, Debussy


  • jack says:

    What any board member of an American corporation who is involved in CEO compensation can tell you (as well as any agent representing a sports figure), is that what you are willing to pay is directly related to the amount of money that the person in question is (assumed to be) bringing in. It is only tangentially related to any substantive ability.

  • Amanda B Reckonedwith says:

    I love how Yannick makes $1.38 M whilst the musicians were forced by Alison the Vulgarian to give up their pensions!! Nice!!

  • RM says:

    I have played for Muti and he’s worth every penny, especially compared to his predecessor’s salary.

    You wouldn’t know unless you were there – even during the pandemic which he has also sacrificed to.

  • M2N2K says:

    It was a weird world two years ago when MTT was making more than either FWM or YNS (for their primary jobs, that is).

  • Jaspers John says:

    Aha, Welser-Moest is neither getting the most nor the least.

  • Gustavo says:

    Welser is not Möst expensive.

  • Tom Phillips says:

    Sounds about right. He is certainly the finest conductor in the U.S. and one of the very best in the world.