Just in: Boston Symphony musicians take 37% pay cut

Just in: Boston Symphony musicians take 37% pay cut


norman lebrecht

September 11, 2020

The BSO has just put out this statement:

In response to COVID-19-related revenue loss of $35 million, a compensation reduction averaging 37% in the first year of the contract; increases in compensation over the course of the agreement will occur as the BSO redevelops sustainable revenue, as clearly defined in the terms of the new contract….

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s new labor agreement reflects our collective understanding of the major challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating financial losses due to the cancellation of the BSO’s performance and event schedule, March-November. By addressing these challenges on the compensation level, as well as in several other areas, the BSO’s new labor agreement acknowledges the part the musicians are playing in the overall cost-saving measures to ensure the Boston Symphony Orchestra emerges from the pandemic as a vibrant and essential institution for its loyal music community. It was especially gratifying to come to an agreement on the importance of redefining official services beyond rehearsals and concerts during this time of hiatus from live performances and beyond. In a departure from the standard labor agreement subjects, management and musicians worked enthusiastically together on the creation of the BSO Resident Fellowship Program for young musicians of color—a program that we hope will inspire much needed optimism as we continue to look toward better times and toward expanding the BSO’s vision of its future offerings.




  • Skippy says:

    Major educational initiative ahead, sounds like. Excellent.

  • V. Lind says:

    37% is a massive cut. I can only assume that the BSO musicians are among the best-paid in the country so may not feel this in supporting day-to-day living costs.

    • Anon says:

      I think it’s 37% average cut per musician, but they are receiving 75% base pay. I could be wrong, but that’s what the numbers appear to be based on the limited info I see.
      Anyone in the know, feel free to correct me.

  • Skippy says:

    From the article linked below:

    “Also part of the new agreement is the creation of a BSO Resident Fellowship Program, a one- to two-year program intended to help train early-career orchestra musicians of color from historically underrepresented communities. Fellows will study with BSO musicians and perform with the orchestra and Boston Pops in their Symphony Hall seasons in Boston, as well as participate as a fellow in the BSO’s summer music academy, Tanglewood Music Center.“

    This strikes me as a Solomonic solution to the diversity dilemma: Apprentices of color cycling through the orchestra as part if training program that would groom them to becoming fully qualified candidates in blind auditions. So you get the immediate on stage “splash of color” the quota enthusiasts demand (without compromising the orchestral audition process while, more importantly, you lay the groundwork for their eventual inclusion in the ranks of tenured professionals without the stigma of special accommodation. Brilliant.


    • fflambeau says:

      Actually, this kind of program has been very successful elsewhere (see Detroit Sympony, for instance.) It’s a good idea. There is a racial problem in classical music and this is a good way of addressing it without any loss of quality at all.

  • SMH says:

    BSO Resident Fellowship Program: all regular substitute musicians lose their employment.

    • Skippy says:

      I hadn’t thought of that. You’re probably right.

      • Michael says:

        He’s not right, the fellows will be there in addition to the subs, never instead of them.

        • Skippy says:

          So…more players on stage, you’re saying? Hmmm…not saying you’re wrong, of course–all I have to go on is what I read–but that does seem like a bit of a stretch. It would increase the orchestra’s personnel costs in addition to the costs incurred by the fellowship program itself. The BSO strikes me as a carefully-run operation. Would its front office really go for that?

          • Michael says:

            I’m not wrong – I’ve read the actual agreement, not the article. The funding for the new program is independent of the regular budget. No more than one fellow per section, and orchestra members may be rotated off to accommodate numbers- but not at the expense of subs.

        • Gerry Landow says:

          So when a piece calls for an extra percussionist, are you saying that an extra player will be hired IN ADDITION to any fellows? If you believe this you must be a Trumper.

    • Steve Oakanetsy says:

      It’s a veiled way to cut personnel costs. The fellows will not be paid union scale including pension, etc. The BSO employs a whole addition “Pops” to play tours and the Esplanade . These musicians are feeelancers who are all facing economic ruin, as they have not had income in 8 months and it will be many more before they can work. The BSO has offered them, many of whom have played for the BSO for decades, NOTHING. They are all screwed…

      • Player says:

        This will sound harsh, but all freelancers are screwed. New York, L.A., everywhere. Anyone who doesn’t work under a collective bargaining agreement. That’s why our industry is so tough and most of our parents told us not to pursue music. It’s sad, but orchestras don’t have any obligation to subs, and the subs know that.

        Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight for the U.S. No government plan, no strategy, except lying and denial.

        • Artie says:

          The BSO is a little different. They bill the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra as “America’s Orchestra”. They are a regular group of non-tenured musicians, not some pickup group. I personally know members who have been in this orchestra for over 20 years

      • Michael says:

        This is not the case. The fellows will be paid full scale (no pension of course), and will not be replacing any substitutes.

    • Westfan says:

      I believe the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has a similar fellowship program for minorities, I don’t know all the details but they have been doing it for a while. And they certainly still use subs. People get sick, take time off, stuff happens. Of course Covid has changed things, to put it mildly.

      • M2N2K says:

        Yes, Detroit Symphony was probably the first, and soon after them a couple of other major US orchestras started similar programs. Welcome to to the club, BSO! It is inevitable that availability of the fellows reduces the number of opportunities for substitutes and other extra players to work and earn a little bit of honest income. Anyone who says otherwise does not know the reality of the situation.

  • Dave says:

    They will never make up that pay loss again.

    • fflambeau says:

      I believe the BSO is the richest in America: it has a huge endowment and a terrific base in a major city. Never is a long time.

      • MWnyc says:

        The Boston Symphony has the largest endowment; the Los Angeles Philharmonic has the largest yearly income (because it owns the Hollywood Bowl).

  • EM says:

    “Under the plan, no player shall receive less than $120,000, and many will continue to benefit from seniority bumpups and overscale compensation” (BMint)

    With millions of people out of work, losing jobs that will never come back, relying on dismal unemployment payments and losing their homes….I am not crying for these players that are still being paid very well for not doing much of anything. On top of that, most have students that are paying them a pretty penny to have Zoom lessons. None of this is their fault, but this should be on the page as good news–they keep their jobs. I feel the pain of the unemployed freelance musicians and the furloughed orchestra musicians that aren’t so lucky.

  • fflambeau says:

    A lot left out here:

    1) It’s a 3 year deal agreed to by the musician’s union that takes into account zero earnings for the orchestra this year as the schedule has been scrapped;
    2) BSO musician average salary in 2016: $132,000; last year over $160,000;
    3) $35 million loss in ticket sales due to covid;
    4) future pay raises linked to revenue;
    5) “Under the new contract, the BSO’s 92 full-time musicians will earn a minimum of $120,000 in the first year, down from the previous base salary of $162,000. But principal players, such as leaders of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion sections, can earn anywhere from two to four times the minimum union salary.”

  • sev says:

    Oh my. They are going to have to survive on something like $75,000/year. I feel so bad. How would anyone support themselves on anything like that….oh, wait.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      That is not a very large salary in a city like Boston which – while not at the levels of NYC and San Francisco – is a very expensive place to live. Certainly not for a well-educated professional which all BSO musicians are, many of them having large student loans and debts. Your sarcasm reeks of both philistinism and cluelessness.

  • Marge O. says:

    How’s volpes doing? Getting almost a million per year, with tons of benies including cars, accomodations etc…https://nonprofitlight.com/ma/boston/boston-symphony-orchestra-inc

    A big joke, most will be a-ok including the musicians, as the vast majority come from wealthy families, trust funders, and not middle class/lower middle class families.

    • Marge O. says:

      Please find 1 or 2 lower middle class/working/middle class recent (last 10, 15 years) orchestral additions?! Good luck bostoners.

  • Marge O. says:

    Most recent US-ian classical musicians came from money. So not really feeling ‘bad’ for them. Most have few to any 6 figure student loans, never had to work FT/PT during high school, uni, etc…had lessons from the best etc…not something a middle class/lower class kid can do. Most BSO-ers coming from laddy dah families. Old money, trust funders. wealthy parents/families, are as common in Mass as they’re are clam rolls.