Met latest: Musicians are devastated

Met latest: Musicians are devastated


norman lebrecht

September 24, 2020

A statement by the musicians of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra who have not receoved pay for six months:

After being furloughed without pay for six months, we are concerned for our members and their families as they navigate what will now be over a year without economic support from the Met. Furthermore, we are devastated that the Met has not found ways to engage the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra during this closure – especially when the Met Stars series shows that there is a possibility for collaboration.
Many orchestras across the country are performing in adapted ways, continuing to connect to their valued audience members and communities. Simply stating that labor costs must be cut is not a solution or plan for the future; especially in light of the fact that no labor costs have been paid by the Met over the last six months.
Great artistic institutions cannot cut their way to success. This leadership approach only further jeopardizes the Met’s credibility and artistic integrity with our audiences. With the Met at risk of artistic failure, we will insist on a contract that preserves the world-class status of the Met Orchestra so that when we are able to reopen, our audiences will be able to experience performances at the level that they expect and deserve.


  • Bone says:

    “Insist on a contract…”
    Yeah, this is the time to be intractable

    • Will says:

      Intractable? These people have accepted the necessity of an extended unpaid furlough with grace and selflessness. However, it is increasingly clear that their management does not consider their well-being a priority.

      • DAVID says:

        Indeed. To be blunt, management does not give a single f**k about their well-being. It’s truly shameful, given how difficult and cutthroat the competition to get a job at the Met really is. These musicians are among the very best in the entire planet, but that doesn’t matter, because in the eyes of boards and managements, they are the equivalent of hired help. Not to mention the fact that there is, on a purely human level, not even the slightest notion of loyalty or recognition. This pandemic is providing a true bonanza for many major houses and managements, all across the US, to finally obtain what they’ve been eyeing for a while: an Uberized, “shared economy” model of musicians being hired on a per-service, ad hoc basis, at the lowest cost possible and with as few benefits as possible — ideally, none at all. This is the reality couched between the lines of the many PR releases of managements attempting to justify their stances by invoking economic difficulty, when in fact the administration often seems immune from sharing in the sacrifice, because they actually view themselves as more significant than the actual people providing the standards of excellence audiences have come to expect and enjoy. The saddest thing in all of this is that it threatens the very notion of a career in music and will probably force many talented musicians to reconsider the viability of embarking on such path. And ironically, it will eventually spell the end of these houses as well, when musical standards decline to such a degree that audiences begin to vote with their feet. When fiscal viability becomes the exclusive vision and mission for a musical organization at the expense of artistic standards, it eventually loses its very financial footing when its now dumbed-down and merely average product fails to attract and retain a faithful audience base. A four-star restaurant cannot survive for very long by cutting costs and switching its menu to fast-food fare.

        • Gregory See says:

          Bravo…very true and well put.

        • Bruce says:

          ” A four-star restaurant cannot survive for very long by cutting costs and switching its menu to fast-food fare.”

          Very true. But if the owner wants to turn it into a fast-food joint, then this is exactly the way to go about it.

          And then the complainers (Bone et al) can complain about how fast food is no good, and the workers are paid too much.

          • Excellent point Bruce! says:

            All the Met needs to do is to stop its discriminatory “selection” and audition practices by simply diluting its casts!! It would create DIVERSITY instead of having a “snobby” caliber of singers indeed.

            They’re awfully entitled, aren’t they??

            They overcharge on everything from boxes to food and drink for receiving so many tax breaks as it is.

            Great idea for a business already DEAD IN THE WATER and wreaking of WHITE PRIVILEGE.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          You all bellowed that Trump hadn’t done enough. Now you can get a little glimpse of the TRUE opportunity cost of saving your older people with existing medical conditions and those in aged care. Most people with an IQ higher than room temperature always knew what would happen if the world economy shut down to save baby boomers!!

          This will also have longer term implications in the form of resentment from succeeding generations denied a livelihood and economic prosperity.

          There are more fates worse than death.

          • Helen Wynn says:

            YuK! If officials like Cuomo had paid attention to the aged in homes and got them help, they wouldnt have had to die. I guess it is true—this Chinese developed and spread killer virus is really the Boomer to save the world from paying benefits promised to old farts.

          • anon says:

            It is not an either or proposition that we can only save the Met or only save the lives of people like my parents. What a grotesque sentiment- shame on you.

          • Max Raimi says:

            Nonsense. Actually, countries that had a rational approach to COVID–effective shutdowns, mandatory masks, etc.–now have a far lower incidence of COVID and are starting to find public performances feasible again. BTW, “IQ higher than room temperature” is a bit hoary by now. You really need to upgrade your ad hominem attacks.

      • Let them eat cake.. says:

        The MET has proved themselves to be quite the predictable, greedy little dictatorship.

        They will likely continue to ignore those whose livelihoods have depended upon them and keep talking about themselves as if they are martyrs.

        Not sure why those in the operatic community would expect any “better” behavior than they have gotten for all of their dedication considering their history??

        Oh well; just find another job and more affordable place to live like everyone else.

      • Erin Lampert says:

        Actually they were forced into their position of being unpaid. Accept would denote a choice of at least two options.

        By the way, how are all of the players and singers supporting themselves now??

    • Brettermeier says:



  • annon says:

    “the Met has not found ways to engage the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra … especially in light of the fact that no labor costs have been paid by the Met”

    But do union rules and the labor contract allow for paying ONLY those orchestra members who play, and ONLY for the times that they play?

    I suspect under current rules, it’s all or nothing: either the WHOLE orchestra is paid at FULL time, or the entire orchestra must be furloughed.

    The kind of flexible remuneration that allows for minimizing labor costs just to those musicians who are called back for part time work appears to be impossible.

    And then the union rules for the stagehands kick in: if you call back the orchestra, then you must call back stage crew.

    The unions negotiated those rules, they now must live with their consequences.


      No worries people!!

      Be secure in the fact that your votes all these years will assure your aide in your time of need.

      Why panic when these singers, musicians and staff elected:
      NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio,
      NY Governor Andrew Cuomo,
      NY Atty Gen Letitia James,
      NY Senator Chuck Schumer,
      USA House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

      No way they will allow you to go broke and have to move or change professions!!

      You have the best and brightest on YOUR SIDE unlike the other dummies…RIGHT?!?!?!

      Clearly YOU have all the support you need so keep calm. Help is on the way with the new legislation of course!

    • Johns33 says:

      Yes, not that easy when you drill down on it. And in all of this, even if the orch members rotate on a gig basis, where is the met supposed to get the money to pay all for this. ticket sales as is dont cover it. You need not only an orch, but stage hands, and security and ushers, and staff an HR dept, and publicity and I’m sure I forgot other things necessary even for a minimal experience. And then do it how many times? In November? And if you do 6 performances and manage to pay the talent , that’s still will not be enough.

  • PierGiorgio Maffei says:

    I wonder how many of Peter Gelb’s cronies from Sony Records that he put on the Met staff will go “over a year without economic support from the Met”.

  • Germany has 133 orchestras and 83 opera houses, all full time, owned and operated by the government. Not one musician has been laid off or had their salary reduced. In addition, the government allocated $50 billion to support the culture industries during the pandemic.

    The USA has one full time opera house, the Met, and it has cancelled 1.5 years of work and will not pay the musicians during that period. The USA has only two cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year.

    Time for the USA to consider social democracy.

    • Jon Eiche says:

      We’re well on our way to National Socialism. Does that count?

      • Social democracy is used by every country in Europe, Japan, and the Commonwealth, but Americans are so brainwashed they denounce it with knee jerk trivialities like this. Hence our problems with funding the arts among many other things.

    • inaustria says:

      Employees of the State Theaters in Austria (Staats-, Volks-, and Burgtheater) were on “Kurzarbeit” for 2 months, receiving 80% of their saleries. A luxury compared to free-lancers and especially to colleagues in America, but definitely felt by those on a tight budget.

      • I’ve learned since my post that some of the German state theaters are paying 90%–way better than the 0% the Met folks are getting.

        German free lancers got some payments from the $50 billion fund I mentioned, but they aren’t nearly as fortunate as the people with permanent contracts in orchestras and opera houses.

    • Eugene Haight says:

      Simply flee to Germany and claim asylum then…

      Should people go become legal citizens or just walk about as illegal aliens?? Which is better?

      Somebody needs to help artists since Democrats are helpless and making no effort to support their “educated” voting base.

      Has ANY Dem addressed this yet?!?!

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Uh, no. Do you really think that in these woke times that opera or symphony will be on anyone’s list of important things? Not a chance in hell.

      • Jenny Chan says:

        I concur.

        However the arts “should” be not only brought up by the leftists in government (DeBlasio, Cuomo, Schumer…) but they’re too fixated on hating a single person they’re jealous of…President Trump!

        Democrats have let their states and cities ROT with the stench of ANTIFA, BLM, UWS junkies & sex offenders let loose on intimidated Libs, relaxed criminal codes, etc. as a perverted bludgeon against Trump.

        Think about what they have done to THEMSELVES in the name of Trump ENVY. Cuomo is flailing around trying to suck off any limousine liberal to “come back to NYC, I’ll cook”!!! Come back to WHAT?!?! BLM/ANTIFA riots, high crime, closed venues, shops and restaurants and sky high “hate the rich” property and personal income taxes?!?! Sure, as they huddle in the Hamptons if not already fled to Florida or Texas.

        The ocean of money NYC is used to has dried up significantly under mentally ill SJW Democrats. The economy is stagnant and the rich have been abandoning the state along with anyone who works for a living who’s tired of communist policies.

        I used to love NY as well but nobody’s dumb enough to visit or move there with the riots, high crime and unstable leadership now. Just wait until landlords start unloading apartments due to NO INCOME and values/taxes take a hit! It’s sad to see the self destruction of a once revered city.

    • fflambeau says:

      Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas. L.A. (6 productions at least), Atlanta (9 productions), Michigan Opera (Detroit), Opera Philadelphia, Boston Lyric Opera all have opera companies with extensive productions. While it is true that almost all have cancelled Fall productions or reimagined their schedules significantly, many have operas scheduled for the spring and after. Lots of colleges have robust opera programs too. Many smaller cities than those listed also have opera companies (examples include):
      Cincinatti (celebrating is 100th year, by the way with 5 operas including 2 world premiers in its summer program alone; Seattle,Madison, Phoenix, Milwaukee). I’m not sure what you mean by “one full-time opera house”.

      • By full time, I mean houses that perform all year round and/or pay their musicians full time, year-round salaries. The Met is the only US house in that category. The next two largest houses, San Francisco and Chicago, only have half year seasons. In fact, Chicago is now no longer even among the top 100 cities for opera performances per year. It ranks 125.

        The Met only has a 7 month season, but it squeeze’s a full year’s number of performances in that time period and uses the summer to rehearse new productions. It normally pays its musicians 12 month salaries.

    • Helen Wynn says:

      This isn’t Europe and we cant even take care of our homeless. And now we have to pay billions for the looters, burners and cop killers who are roaming our streets all in the name of what should be social justice.

  • drummerman says:

    From today’s NY Times, about how the shutdown has affected performers in the city: “Frank Huang, 42, is the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. He lost a large part of his income when the Philharmonic’s musicians all agreed to accept the same reduced pay (about $2,000 a week). He has put off purchasing a car and some items for his daughter, born in May, and has been more frugal at the grocery store…”

    I was never very good at math but I think $2,000 per week equals $104,000 per year. Certainly not as much as Mr. Huang would be making as concertmaster but, still, a lot of money, especially considering that the Philharmonic has no income.

    • Couperin says:

      What they don’t tell us are his mortgage payments!

      • David K. Nelson says:

        Or if/how much he borrowed to acquire his violin(s) and bow(s). People’s financial obligations tend to closely track their income, or what they expect their income to be.

    • John says:

      In 2017/18, the New York Philharmonic concertmaster made close to $690,000, just from the Philharmonic. He likely also made additional income from other performances and from teaching. Yes, $104,000 is a decent income, but it’s a pretty breathtaking reduction from what he used to make.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        If a person earns $690,000 annually, even in NYC, and doesn’t plan for emergencies, you can’t really cry for them. That’s a lot even by our standards in NYC.

      • Don says:

        First of all this article is a LIE. He only was making a reduction from his normal 13K per WEEK to the 2K per week for a matter of two short months. NOW he is back to making a meager 6K per WEEK. Pathetic that anybody actually feels sorry for him. Not having to do any work whatsoever and still raking in 6K (4k more than his peers in the orchestra) while doing literally nothing for months is something that should not be publicized. He’s the most well off of almost all orchestral musicians in the country.

      • maestrom says:

        NY Times is wrong

    • Frontdesk says:

      It’s a lot more than London orchestral musicians are being paid, which is precisely zero. RPO, LPO, LSO, Philharmonia…. (Exemption ENO, ROH, BBC, as contract orchestras) These are horrific times but cannot believe a house such as The Met, can be refused any help! America doesn’t rate culture very much, does it?

      • Simply use the available resources! says:

        The met can help themselves.

        For one, Gelb just raised several million dollars with his emergency gala. WHO GOT THAT?

        The met also holds numerous domestic and foreign stocks gifted to them along with corporate donations, estate bequeathments and large donor gifts. TIME TO TAKE CARE OF THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE THE HOUSE WORK IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!!!

    • drummerman says:

      Was just trying to show how another NYC music organization is treating its musicians.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      Not very much in New York City and the surrounding region which you would know if you actually lived here.

    • Shattered!!!!!! says:

      We all GRIEVE for this man’s white privilege loss of income.

      …Asians and Jews get tossed into the white basket anyway.

    • Don Giovanni says:

      Do you know how much living in NYC costs? And its not like they said “oh CoVID – here, we reduce the rent by 80%”.
      Maybe that will change in the coming years with more unused office space and the housing market in NYC collapsing but not yet.

  • Johnson says:

    I know there has been a lot of talk and discussion recently on this site about changing careers and some musicians regretting their choice of career.

    The way I see musicians is the same way that I see professional golfers. Just to get to a high level requires skill, dedication, talent, and focus that most people can’t do. Similar to professional golfers, it is difficult survive outside of being at the top of your field. For classical music, this is even more apparent because the demand for classical music is so low.

    One of the reasons for this may be because people can also do this activity for fun. You are essentially getting paid to do something that other people for fun. While you may not be able to be Tiger Woods, you can still play and enjoy golf. On the flip side, not many lawyers review contracts for fun or do plumbers work on plumbing for fun. Please note that I am not saying that being a musician is easy. It takes years and years of dedication and hard work. Rather I am saying that people play musical instruments for fun.

    Let’s face it, even before COVID, musicians as a whole haven’t been doing well. I have musicians in my extended family (both in a big orchestra and scrambling to make a living teaching newbie students). While I think there is place for classical musicians, I think there should be more focus for students in music school to have a backup plan in the event that they are not able to make a living being a musician (similar to football or basketball players. Whether this means going pre-med, learning programing, accounting… etc. Schools need to treat classical music similar to how they treat their athletes and do a better of job preparing their musicians for life in case music doesn’t work out.

    I realize that it is not a secret that people don’t go into music for the money. However, this is incredibly important to have backup plans because many times kids/young adults think they are ok with making 30k a year when they are 18 and mommy and daddy are paying the bills, but when they get out in the real world and hit their 30s and want to raise a family, they realize that their needs and wants have changed. They can’t have the same luxuries they grew up with or are struggling compared to friends who are “less talented” in fields such as law or medicine. At least with additional training or backup careers in mind, they could consider going to law school, med school, or whatever other career that may pay the practical bills.

    • Anonymous says:

      And this is just the sort of comment which musicians have lived with most of their lives! Funny I make more than your average lawyer, doctor, pharmacist, banker here in the UK, but I’m “just” a musician.

      • Johnson says:

        Yes I’m not saying that you can’t make more. I’m saying that the odds are against you. Sure you may make more than the avg doctor being a musician but perhaps we may want to compare a top 1/3 violinist vs a top 1/3 doctor and see who comes out on top.

        The point of my comment isn’t to say that you shouldn’t love music or you shouldn’t do music. I’m just stating that perhaps it may be wise to consider other career options and a backup plan when doing music.

        • Anon says:

          I’m a professional orchestral musician, and I went to a university. Everybody I know who double-majored or “picked up” a minor either quit music, or never reached the level required to win a job. To win an audition for a full time orchestra requires complete dedication, and there is no time or finances left to pursue a backup career.

      • William Evans says:

        I’m sure we’d all be fascinated to know your identity. I don’t think many UK musicians can match the salary of a GP (£90k), for example.

    • A Pianist says:

      Sound advice. Although at least being a golfer you know somewhat where you stand, you have a score and a ranking. With music like with theater, you can go on dreaming your break is coming for years into decades. And there is a whole industry of private teachers and coaches, second shelf-degree programs, et cetera, that will tell you want to hear in order to make money off you. It’s treacherous.

  • Bob says:

    So let me get this straight. Little Jimmie, whose sexual “tendencies” toward young males has been WELL KNOWN FOR YEARS to MET management, New Yorkers and just about anyone else (we knew about it here in the mid-west THIRTY YEARS AGO), little Jimmie gets fired and walks away with no less than $3,500,000 to boot (that we KNOW of). And everyone thinks that was ok, because, well, we have to respect his sexuality for what it is and not say anything negative about his being a predator, because he is an “artist.” And now Gelb can’t pay his current musicians anything? These inequities should be the ones people are complaining and demonstrating about. Peter Gelb must go.

    • mary says:

      There is only one James Levine. There have been, what, 25 principal clarinets, just to take an example, during the same time at the Met? When any one of the Met musicians, as fine as they may be, contribute as much to the Met as James Levine has, then they too can walk away with $3.5 million.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      Yet another person who thinks Gelb is a singular force making all his decisions in a vacuum. Perhaps educate yourself about non-profit governance before you spout off. The first ones to go should be the Board leadership. Also, stop imagining that Levine’s pay-out and the musicians’ salaries come out of the same pot of money. Do you know anything about liability insurance? Lastly, please show us where it’s been stated that “everyone” thinks Levine’s actions are “ok.” That’s a ridiculous statement.

    • Bill says:

      Not much to do with respecting his sexuality for what it is, or his being an artist, all about settling the lawsuit and holding down the potential losses. The lawyers who said “you should settle this” couldn’t care less about whether he’s a great conductor or a total moron, a predator or a guiding light, etc. Pay some now, or roll the dice, pay a bunch more in litigation costs and potentially get hit with a big judgment. Not something for which they could just decide “we don’t need to spend money on that any longer” unlike some of the cuts they are making now.

  • mary says:

    Econ 101 for Met musicians:
    Lesson 1. Supply and Demand.

    If you think you are worth so much, then why haven’t you quit and gotten another position at another orchestra that pays you as much as you think you are worth?

    Because there is no demand for your talent.

    Yes, it comes as a shock to you to hear that there is no demand for your talent, but it is simple economics: there is an oversupply of musicians as talented and more talented than you, and they hold the positions that you want, namely, in this economy, any paying position. If there was a demand for you, you’d already have gotten that job.

    But you already knew that. That’s why you haven’t quit your job, even though it is paying you nothing. Because you can’t get a better deal in today’s market.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I think it’s extremely admirable and generous for these people to surrender their careers and economic security to save the baby boomer cohort. This is what Christ himself would have done!! And if Trump had done more about Covid-19 yet more people would have been able to sacrifice everything.

  • Don Giovanni says:

    Why can the MET nort accomplish what Vienna has done? Or Berlin etc. As stated on this web page – the entirety of Central Park is there. Other parks and venues. Be imaginative and not as Gelb shows here in the biggest way UNimaginative (as nice as they streamed concerts are – they are falling back on plan B or C). The audience would help the Met but this…

  • Don Giovanni says:

    The MET is basically throwing away their asset – great musicians. Will there still be a Met with the same status as it was before? I doubt it. Which is sad as it was one of the main items keeping me in NY

  • Max Raimi says:

    But thank goodness they found the millions to pay off Levine.

  • Sylvia Danburg Volpe says:

    You all should have married a Volpe like I did. My husband PJ has not lost one day of work since this pandemic started. Him and Mat Rubin the real head of the electric department and a full crew have been working on capital projects including the new motor control room on the roof. This pandemic could not have come at a better time it allowed the Met to shut down and not have to pay their employees a dime. I recall reading in an earlier post written by Virginia Longo a few years back around the time that some of the union contracts were to expire. She predicted that the Met would lockout all of their union employees and
    start working on the 60 million dollar capital improvement project headed up by Jeff Mace. Fortunately for Peter Gelb this never happened. I do have a hunch that Peter sold his soul to the Devil like the previous General Manager did.
    He might have agreed to have the Opera Faust performed 24/7 ??????? We will never know.

    • Renata Tebaldi says:

      You are obviously NOT Sylvia. I know Sylvia and she would never write such an ugly comment.

    • La Stupenda says:

      You seem to be amused with yourself but this is serious slander. I think you should be facing a big lawsuit. I hope so!!

      • Mignon Dunn says:

        I hope so too!!! Norman, I think you should expose the identity of “ Sylvia Danburg Volpe” and allow them to be prosecuted!!