Met concertmaster joins German orchestra for shutdown

Met concertmaster joins German orchestra for shutdown


norman lebrecht

November 14, 2020

The joint concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera, Benjamin Bowman, has found alternative employment. Bowman has made this disclosure on social media:

I emptied my Met locker the other day. If that wasn’t difficult enough, I then walked outside with my suitcase and saw this “Met Stars” poster at Lincoln Center, featuring 100% NON-Met musicians. Struck me as quite insensitive and insulting. It was a profoundly emotional moment for me.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Very recently, I was offered a contract to lead a fine German orchestra for several months.

After 8 months of borrowing and draining my savings accounts, I will finally be able to start to rebuilding. The cost: I leave my family tomorrow, for an unknown period of time. I’m elated and devastated at the same time.
Back to our situation here in the USA though:

In a country that doesn’t support the arts very well, it is imperative that management values what it is “selling”, and that we seek empathetic leadership with sincere vision – both artistic and economical. Our lives – Met lives – are being majorly impacted by this, every day. A third of our orchestra has already had to leave the NYC area — and that’s not to speak of myriad other challenges we are all facing everyday, with no end in sight.

I hope that this world-class orchestra returns to work one day with a respectable contract and a dignified outlook. The Met musicians certainly deserve this, and the international community too.

Sadly, healthcare plus $0 isn’t enough to retain much talent these days. We need advocacy on all levels, urgently. The future of our culture depends on it.

See also: Peter Gelb says he must cut wages


  • El says:

    Dang. And this is coming from someone who makes at least $300k a year before. What a weird world to be in.

    • Greg says:

      That’s why it hurts more for people like him. We never had any money to begin with…

    • says:

      you understand nothing. shut up.

    • Liam says:

      Why the hell, Dear Dong, should he not make 300k a year for doing a job that it takes more talent to do than it does to run your mouth and much more training than it does to sit back and, well I was going to say live off Daddy’s Trust Fund but , people who make remarks like that generally are the dean of intellectual thought at Walmart and not making anywhere near 300k but ( do two buts make a butt) nonetheless think it patriotic to support those who are making staggering amounts of money, amounts it would be difficult for you to calculate and believe that The Don is the greatest man since P.T. Barnum. Next time you listen to Die Dreigroschenoper, think of these humbly submitted for your consideration observation (!please insert hyphens).

    • Harpist says:

      Do you know how much an apartment let alone rent costs in NYC? If no please better do not comment further and be rediculous…

  • Anon says:

    Which German orchestra?

    • JohnB says:

      I’m pretty sure it’s Munich Philharmonic.

      • Valery says:

        Huh where you get that from?

      • Heifetz63 says:

        No, it’s the Staatsorchester Stuttgart, the house orchestra of the State Opera Stuttgart. Chiefconductor ( i.e. Generalmusikdirektor) is Cornelius Meister who gave his debut at the Metropolitan Opera New York in 2019. So he will know Mr. Bowman.

        • JohnB says:

          Yes, you’re right, he’s replacing Elena Graf who’s on maternity leave.

          But Mr. Bowman should still consider the job as concert master of the Munich Philharmonic, they’re desparately searching since Sreten Krstič left there in May 2019. And they pay their musicians!

    • BruceB says:

      One that pays its musicians.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    In the U.S., where government support of the arts is all but nonexistent, it comes down to the donors — not only of the Met, but of any performing arts organization — expressing their commitment to the art form via their pocketbooks. The stock market has done well during the pandemic, so most of the major-donor class should not be hurting so badly that they cannot step up. And in some cities, with some organizations, they have been doing just that, mitigating the damage if not fully preventing it. Why not at the Met?

    • Eli says:

      Because there is the pressure to give to BLM issues right now rather than “old white music.” Not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s life and things change. The met will have to innovate and adapt to the changing world…I believe that they have a leadership that will be able to do this, at least try.

      • The Man of Many Talents (not Peter Gelb) says:

        Peter Gelb needs to go away from the Met. Period.

      • E Rand says:

        Precisely correct. Those foaming at the mouth for the “government” (i.e.taxpayers) to fund “the arts” have forgotten that the arts they are talking about are not the arts the government has any incentive to fund. They, mostly demoncraps, have voted for politicians and policies that see Mozart and Beethoven as white supremacist evils that must be purged from our culture. Gov funding for the arts will go to graffiti “artists” and cardi b’s WAP, or other purveyors of western decline. Be careful what you wish for.

      • Seth Taylor says:

        Fact is, the discrimination already began at the box office, where ticket prices – high by necessity – excluded everyone who didn’t have an above-median income.

    • BruceB says:

      It is quite common for orchestra managements to focus their attention — and their donors’ attention — on financial needs for maintaining the institution and the building itself, and play down the situation of the musicians, in preparation for cutting back expenses. If the current collective bargaining agreement is due for renegotiation, or renegotiation is needed because of the shutdown, it’s unlikely that Gelb et al. are telling their donors “our musicians need money.” They’re talking talk that money people understand — “we need to maintain the financial health of the organization” and suchlike.

      For those of you who remember the Minnesota Orchestra lockout of 2012, there were e-mails leaked to the public that showed just such a plan: focus on raising money for a renovation of the hall and specifically avoid mentioning the musicians, then when the musicians come to the table for negotiations, tell them there’s no money and they’ll have to accept drastic cuts. My orchestra’s management followed a similar playbook that year (focus fundraising completely on the newly renovated theater, ignore the upcoming contract negotiation, supporters unaware of any problems with the musicians until the labor dispute became public), and they were pretty successful with it.

      On another note, even among music lovers there is a pretty common sentiment, not hidden very far below the surface (if at all), that musicians are overpaid. Before anyone jumps on the high salaries of the biggest orchestras, let me say that the sentiment is present in cities with smaller orchestras too. There was a vocal contingent among our supporters (not sure how large, but quite vocal) that thought $17k per year was a ridiculously lavish sum to pay people for doing something their children did for fun after school.

      • Marilyn Coyne says:

        Oh and baseball and football people do as children but it’s ok for them to make 32 million a year but hey not musicians.
        If you are a musician Bruce sorry you did not win a better job that pays more money.
        Peter Gelb is union busting all the Unions at the Met. The Met job and others that rich white politicians attend when they want a night out. The government lack of funding for the arts is a very sad statement of all culture in the US. If you are going to work for every perfect note and spend 12 hours a day on your musical job at the Met you deserve to make more than let’s say the Boise Symphony. 3,000 people 7 shows a week at the Met. 3 concerts a year compared is not a very comparable work situation.

    • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

      The Bravo remark was supposed to go with your comment, not Eli’s, which draws inevitably one of the two obsessions of America into the discussion:racism and sex. Speaking as one who was beaten by the police and the victim of the corrupt American legal system, BLM has nothing to do with getting paid for contracted work.

  • Izzy Bigman says:

    These are the top musicians in the world. They compete among an INTERNATIONAL group of highly trained artists for one spot. Furthermore, all auditions are BLIND! There is no workplace that I know of with such excruciatingly honest standards for excellence. These musicians deserve more than they were making in the first place, given the high costs of living in NYC- and they should be embraced by management so that there will be an orchestra when the pandemic subsides. Fuck you Gelb. These are the people that make the music to take the audiences mind off of your awful artistic vision and thin lips. You’re a disgrace, and like tRump are afraid to back down and admit you were and are wrong. Have a nice day.

    • Skippy says:

      How I miss the thumbs up function. I would certainly give that a “thumbs up.”

    • Bar says:

      Izzy’s got it exactly right! As a former symphony orchestra player I’ve had to deal with managers like this. Gelb is simply an arrogant dilettante who was appointed to the position because he comes from a wealthy family who used their influence to get him the job. It’s disgusting to see what he’s done to the Met, especially the musicians of the orchestra. As an additional insult, he puts a picture of non-met orchestra musicians in front of the house where the public can see it.
      The Met needs to clean house…Gelb first!!

      • Thomas Silverbörg says:

        Don’t know WHAT Gelb will do now. He hocked the family silver already. I don’t imagine he’ll make much standing under a streetlamp.

  • Uri Golomb says:

    If Biden would want to increase support for the NEA in light of such problems (I’m just speculating, I have no idea if that’s on his agenda), would he be able to do it? Or would that to be hamstrung by the Republicans in the Senate? In any case, even if he tries — and succeeds — I’m guessing it would only go a small way towards alleviating the problem.

  • anon says:

    The short-term interests of Met musicians are not aligned with the long-term interests of the Met. Whereas the Board wants to ensure that the Met is still around in a 100 years, the musicians would be perfectly happy if they got paid in full now and the Met disappeared right after each one of them finds another job in Europe.

    Do you see Gelb taking a temporary gig in Germany? The captain stays with the ship, whether it goes down or not.

  • Martin Carpenter says:

    Has the thumbs up/down tool gone from the new-look SD ?
    Not appearing on my screen.

    Also can’t see the tickbox to save email address

  • George says:

    Welcome to Germany!
    Even though it must be such a difficult time for you, I hope you will enjoy living in our country and hopefully perform many times. Hope the orchestra is based in a nice city and that these months will also leave you with many wonderful memories and new friends!

  • Sheila Novitz says:

    I have no worthwhile comment, but would like to acknowledge how insulated each country seems to be from the problems in other countries. I knew none of this about the US, and reading it makes me infinitely sad. In Australia we seem to be more fortunate with regard to orchestral musicians and the orchestras themselves – i.e., right now. Don’t know how it will be once we have fully recovered from Covid. I send good wishes and strong hopes for the future to all US musicians. And to the deeply respected Norman Lebrecht.

  • Karl says:

    Seriously? Mr. Bowman just wrote an article in Strad magazine about “Finding the Perfect bow” regarding his Tourte, which is somewhere in the range of a few hundred thousand dollars for what amounts to a stick with hair. There are thousands of musicians out of work in Germany chewing their fingers waiting for this pandemic to end. Whichever orchestra is offering an American/Canadian a position, even temporarily, isn’t respecting their musicians capricious situations. Further more, he is abandoning his colleagues at The Met in their time of need for arts advocacy. We don’t see the other concertmaster David Chan jumping ship, writing whining articles and ‘abandoning his family’ in this pandemic. It’s a sad situation for everyone, especially Mr. Bowman, but let’s save the pity for people in real need. He’s watching out for himself, not music or culture.

  • Sarah says:

    Karl, I’m sure he bought that bow pre-pandemic and it was an investment in his craft (and we know nothing about how he did it – did he borrow? Is he still paying it down? Is it now for sale??). I don’t think this can be construed as abandoning his fellow Met musicians… he’s speaking out, giving a voice to the circumstances. He has a family, kids… who can sustain a living for a year and a half without income!? He is married to someone in the business too, I believe. This is likely the strongest support he can offer…. what a mess!

  • Stephanie says:

    As a Met Musician, I can report with confidence that his wife volunteers her professional efforts to our orchestra’s cause full time – the family is invested in us. No abandonment feelings here.