Barenboim blasts the Met for starving out its musicians

Barenboim blasts the Met for starving out its musicians


norman lebrecht

December 17, 2020

In an interview with the Times newspaper, ostensibly to discuss his lost 1970 Beethoven films, the Berlin conductor has this to say:

‘… in the United States the situation is horrific. Look at the Metropolitan Opera’s wonderful orchestra. It hasn’t been paid since March. How can all the rich people who put so much money into new productions not support the musicians who have given so much pleasure over so many years.’

Say what you like about Brenboim, he knows what’s going on and tells it as it is.


  • Tony says:

    DB is speaking from a position of great security – money in the bank.

    In common with many top maestros before Covid his concert fee was probably favorably comparable with night’s earnings of the entire orchestra he was conducting.

    One cannot help wondering whether disparities like these can be perpetuated in the Covid and post-Covid era. Revenue from streaming and reduced audience sizes won’t raise that scale of money.

    • Maria says:

      So he has money in the bank, a lot of which he has put into projects like his EW Divan Orchestra, and he won’t be around for many more years and, in my opinion, the place will be the poorer. You possibly make it sound as if he’s then not allowed to have an opinion on such a situation as he has money.

      • ian parkes says:

        divan orchestra is sponsored by spainish tax payer money not his money

      • Benny Kedem says:

        The primal idea behind the Divan project was to create professional contacts between Israeli/Jewish and Arab musicians. Hence it was heavily sponsored by organizations and governments. 20 years passed since this project was created and it has nothing to do with it’s original aim. DB created for himself a vast financial venture and he enjoys the (false) image of one who cares for the contact between the people and the peace process.

    • Novagerio says:

      Barenboim is talking as a big time international authority, saying what Yannick whould be saying.
      The “rich people” don’t give a monkeys a** if there is a real band or a tape playing in the background.
      It’s like the sinking of the Titanic; the band kept playing, except that in this case there’s no band, because the Titanic has already sunk long ago.

      • Tom says:

        The pitiful psychological infantilism of America’s Billionaires:

        ‘Look, I gave 300 million dollars out of “My” 60 Billion. See, I am a good person… see my philanthropy (actually done out of vanity, not out of love) balances out a system which allows the few to consolidate entire sectors of a nations economy.’

        Look, We got trillions in socialist bailouts for our stocks. But when you 99% get bailouts it’s socialism!

        Bow down everyone to your new monarchs. Know your place! It’s time to return to the rich patrons gated communities and to be employed in neo-courts!

        • Donor CHANGES Needed says:

          It’s also time for other races to chip in! Let the diverse crew of donors who bought and control the Bidens, Obamas and Clintons take care of the funding from now on.

          Libs keep putting Whites down yet flail around and beg endlessly for their money. Glad they shut off the faucet! #BLM can “Bankroll La Met” using all their stolen funds and looted goods from those poor business owners.

          More donor diversity should be a new “requirement” in the US to respect diversity expectations.

  • Bratsche brat says:


  • He’s right. And it is a national disgrace how America’s choruses, orchestras, chamber groups, opera companies, freelancers, halls and theaters are simply left to cope or collapse. Just the break in performing is doing massive damage to ensemble. Not one of the fifty state governments has responded adequately, from what I have seen. As for “all the rich people,” in Barenboim’s phrase, the fact is that money is supplied from the Wallace Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, Microsoft and others to dissect the arts with respect to demographics but not to give to keep them going. What is needed is emergency money, not the analysis and sniping we saw in yesterday’s tracking study, and firm, unified, public, loud declarations from the serene heads of Chamber Music America, Chorus America, Opera America and the League of American Orchestras about consequences and a timeline. Otherwise how are the politicians and the grant bodies supposed to learn what to do?

    • Amos says:

      The response should NOT be either or but keep in mind that since the COVID crisis began in January tens of millions of Americans are food-deprived daily and face eviction from homes and apartments. It has taken 3 months to get Republicans in Congress to approve a 2nd stimulus that assists citizens facing despair, consisting of $600, rather than the well-connected who received the lion’s share of the first relief package. Should the arts be supported in America absolutely and perhaps recovering ~10% of the trillion-dollar tax break the rich received would be a good start for the rest of us.

  • Gustavo says:

    “he knows what’s going on and tells it as it is.”

    I thought he was in constant denial.

  • Pete kurian says:

    It’s almost a national embarrassment that the people of New York with all the wealth they have cannot chip in to support the great members of one of the leading orchestras in the world. I’ve watched the met productions numerous times
    And also listened to their productions on the radio.
    It’s a national treasure just like Vienna philharmonic is to Austria and Berlin philharmonic to maestro Barenboihm And Germany.
    .My best wishes to the met .

  • Met Supporter says:

    I hope Yannick is paying attention.

  • sam says:

    Rich Americans ARE giving during the pandemic:

    – Bill Gates gave $300 million to improve detection, isolation and treatment efforts, vaccine research and public health
    – Bezos gave $100 million to Feeding America
    – Zuckerberg gave $100 million to various Covid related health and small business intiatives

    Oh, Barenboim wants a special fund just for Met musicians because they gave the billionaire class so much pleasure in the past.

    OK. Sure. Who am I to judge the moral priority of the charity of billionaires?

    Afterall, while it might sound like a lot, Bezos and Zuckerberg giving $100 million, in fact, as a percentage of their overall wealth, their $100 million is equivalent to the average American giving $90!

    So, yes, moral priority and personal aesthetics aside, billionaires could give 100 times more, which would help a lot of little people while not putting a dent in the wallets of the donors one bit.

    (Alas, the billionaire class is not known to attend operas or symphonies, but aside from that…)

    • Martin Carpenter says:

      >>The “rich people” don’t give a monkeys a** if there is a real band or a tape playing in the background.

      Fair point

      • Peter San Diego says:

        Actually, that’s painting with a very broad brush, indeed. There are “rich people” (I’m not one of them, but I know several) who care very deeply indeed about the art form, and who also have depth of knowledge about it. They’re likely a minority of the donor class, but they’re a significant fraction of it.

        As for the Met, are there publicly available, quantitative data on donations during the pandemic?

    • John Kelly says:

      The Met Orchestra also gave a great deal of pleasure to people paying $10 for standing room or $30 in the best seats for sound upstairs…………….hardly the “billionaire class”, unless you become a billionaire by saving money on your tickets………..

    • Hedley Lamarr says:

      It’s hard to wrap our heads around just how more than a million a billion is. Here’s a start: In a million seconds it will be December 30. In a billion seconds, it will be the year 2052.

      • John Kelly says:

        Is that a UK billion? A US Billion is a thousand million…………….”The old UK meaning of a billion was a million million, or one followed by twelve noughts (1,000,000,000,000). The USA meaning of a billion is a thousand million, or one followed by nine noughts (1,000,000,000).”

        • Stephen Owades says:

          A “US billion” (1,000,000,000) seconds is almost 32 years, while a million (1,000,000) seconds is about 11.5 days, so Hedley Lamarr figuring is correct.

    • Bill says:

      Odd, I see Gordon Getty at the opera and the symphony.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Dear Sam,
      People saying that
      $ 100 million = $ 90
      is a good example of relativism gone mad.

    • college educated, non-binary says:

      You’ve just called out Leftists!

    • William says:

      It’s true that the far-left Democrats you cited gave money (earned via CAPITALISM btw) directly to organizations who they use in order to make money. They also used the IRS tax codes to greatly minimize their tax burden.

      Maybe these white males voted Trump to “keep the rich getting richer”.

      What minorities give at this exceedingly high level?

  • Joel Stein says:

    Add in McKenzie Scott and her 4 billion dollar donation spree.

    • sam says:


      She has vowed to give away the entirety of her personal fortune, and she has decided to give that fortune away to colleges serving the poor, minorities, rural areas, etc., and she just gave $60 million to two schools in the City University of New York system, including one in Manhattan.

      Should she give to operas and orchestras instead, and to Met musicians in particular? (Even a $4 billion personal fortune has limits, and $1 to the Met would have been $1 less to Manhattan Community College.)

      Are black poor students in Harlem in greater need than erstwhile white middle class professionals who once earned a base salary of $160,000?

      • Bill says:

        Her fortune is much greater than $4 billion — she’s given away $4 billion this year, and has more money than she started with, thanks to the appreciation of her Amazon stock.

      • Paul Goldstein says:

        Thank God for white people!

        Sadly all other races don’t help even though they should.

        Whatever would all these organizations do without without Whites?

    • Enquiring Mind says:

      That money went pretty much only to HBCBUs.Easy come easy go when you are a billionaire with unearned money.

      • Peter San Diego says:

        The majority of her donations — to 384 different organizations in her latest tranche of $4.1 billion — has gone to organizations directly assisting those in need during the pandemic, including the YMCA, food banks, Meals on Wheels, etc.

    • Tim Dorfmann says:

      Ahh yes! How laughable it was to see this cheating Democrat uber-capitalist pig Jeff Bezos get what he deserved by his ex-wife.

      Amazon and the Washington Post among the slew of of Bezos’ companies are just liberal fronts that pay almost zero in federal taxes. Glad Makenzie left that scumbag after he hooked up with slut.

      Unfortunately for the greedy artsy folks she gave money to charities that will actually use the funds for people in need and not a sham organization like the arrogant met or nyp. Their snide ways have turned off today’s youth who hate the arts crowd along with anything too white.

      Techies hate selfish Lincoln Center types who have refused to help their artists like singers and dancers so why care now?

      Hungry and newly poor people due to the pandemic will instead benefit which is wonderful!

  • Met fan says:

    Hey Yannick! This is what support looks like. Do you even realize how foolish you appear in your public videos of ‘support and love’ for the MET? Get your merde together little fella.

  • Che triste! says:

    Odd that he lays no blame on the true culprit PETER GELB. The wealthy have been giving for 15 years and GELB has cried poverty no matter how many times he has been bailed out by his faithful donors. There is money in the coffers, but GELB is not sharing.

    • Anon says:

      You think Gelb was the one who made the decision to stop paying the employees? You think he was the one who made the decision to play hardball in negotiations?
      Or perhaps this was decided by board members, using Gelb as their mouthpiece and as a pinata for those who disagree?
      Anyone care to opine?

      • NotToneDeaf says:

        Spot on, Anon. It’s incredible how many people on this site don’t understand the basics about how non-profits are run. They’re now going to say that Gelb has convinced the Board regarding these various decisions. Bullshit. These boards (especially the Met Board) are made up of some of the most powerful business leaders and wealthiest power brokers in America. They didn’t get to where they are by listening to a Peter Gelb management-type and nodding and shrugging their shoulders. They have no interest in helping out the “working class” members of the orchestra, chorus and stage crew. Second point: Could someone please explain to me why you think Gelb has all this money laying around that he refuses to spend? What do you think he gets out of that? Are you so clueless that you think non-profit CEOs walk away with a portion of the “earnings?” Please, someone enlighten me on this and support your constant bitching about Gelb. (Or any other CEO working for an arts organization who’s having labor and financial issues and has to make difficult decisions.)

        • Tiredofitall says:

          I can only speak from my knowledge of the Met, and its board members have always checked their brains at the boardroom door, regardless of their success in business–or in marriage or a good inheritance. Great wealth does not guarantee wisdom in nonprofit management matters.

          Regarding Peter Gelb, he has managed to hoodwink the board for over 12 years. His management style is akin to a Ponzi scheme. Sadly, the pandemic has laid bare his lack of skills and his only solution at this late date is to go after those who actually make the art.

          That is not to say to say the entire Met operation should not be scaled back (union salaries and work rules, not to mention the elephant in the room, the cost of new productions not suited to a repertory house.)
          Sadly, it should have been done gradually over the past several years.

          Post-pandemic, a total re-set is called for under different leadership and with more transparency.

          There is still hope.

        • Mehr Moreson says:

          Lack of transparency and communication are often indicators of something untoward.
          In the case of Gelb, a famously anti-opera opera GM, the advocacy is always clearly adverse to the best interest of the organization. He is truly the only one who can advocate for the artform when the big money is on the line.
          Any GM has a voice. Gelb has a voice, don’t be naive. If he is merely mouthpiece, he should be fired.
          Should an individual in Gelb’s position somehow convey even a momentary illusion of support or comprehension of the talent he is meant to promote, he/she would throw a necessary punch in the board room. The survival of such a fine institution should seem enough to warrant even a little friction – perhaps even an education for the super wealthy board members. How else are they ever going to understand what’s at stake?

        • Humanity over Art says:

          Dropping singers and not paying the chorus, orchestra, crew, etc is all that matters.

          Nobody cares about what bots like you think about vapid, prestige obsessed board members or people like Gelb who chose to leverage somebody else’s pain as they “expect” donations all for their wants only.

          Real people have been financially annihilated and consistently ignored since March! Only they count!!!!

        • NP says:

          You mean the profligate spending by Gelb on so many of his new productions? His multi-million dollar salary? The fact that he was quoted as saying that the Met does not need a world-class orchestra (and surely a world-class chorus)?

  • Pedro says:

    One of the best things I have heard at the MET was its orchestra conducted by Barenboim in Tristan.

  • CA says:

    Thankfully, about time someone came out and said this. Bravo to Barenboim!

  • Save the MET says:

    HEY YANNICK! Are you watching??? Learn something about how to comport yourself off the podium!

  • Tony Valve says:

    These guys are soooo overpaid. I worked a broadcast with DB conducting and he is impossible to follow. Most of us in the control room are professional musicians and well as television production professionals, we know what we’re talking about. Solo pianists who conduct have ZERO CONTEXT about how to lead an orchestra. They’ve never played in one, they don’t study their peers, and orchestra members won’t give a conductor notes. We’ve worked with the top bands in the world and sometimes you just ask a member, “How do follow this guy?” “It ain’t easy,” is the usual answer. I’ve seen a band follow their 2d flutist (because everyone can see them) when a prominent guest conductor was of no help. Backstage I told her, “Great job!” while I beat a quick four-pattern. She turned bright red.

    Many conductors develop bad habits because their home bands know them so well. When they guest, they don’t go to more basic and universal gestures or never had that capacity in the first place.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      Not sure who you are talking about but I have played for Barenboim and I think he is one of the best. Unbelievable memory and clear to follow. You need to get your facts straight.

    • Musician says:

      You’re missing the point. He’s impossible to follow, but is spot on regarding this issue. Peter Gelb is a disgrace.

    • Dohr Dehrson says:

      Overpaid? Shall we open a discussion about equivalent talent in the sports world? In the business world? Give me a break.

    • Bill says:

      Maybe there’s a reason you are in the control room instead of on stage playing. DB doesn’t look particularly difficult to follow. He’s been conducting for half a century or so, he’s not just a solo pianist trying to be cool leading from the piano.

  • hanshopf says:

    I am sorry to say so, but musicians in big US orchestras are in general grossly overpaid in international comparison. They should still be well off for some time to come. And maybe in the future costs can go back down to what can be considered normal standards. If I‘d be a billionaire, I‘d think twice about giving money to these partially corrupted institutions.

    • Derr Dehrson says:

      Please consider studying the expenses incurred by a NYC/USA resident vs whichever international environment you are citing. There are many complex reasons things are different in different places.

    • Yolanda says:

      Handhopf, I would love to see your data for your claim. Talk is cheap.

    • Pucinella says:

      What do you base it on that big US orchestra musicians are grossly overpaid? Shouldn’t you factor in the cost of living in the big cities such as NY city, Chicago, San Francisco etc.
      Most of the pay goes right
      into the mortgage or rent.

      • hanshopf says:

        You are right, costs of living in New York are higher than in Berlin. But Berlin orchestras draw bigger audience numbers in a much smaller city. So one could argue that they are more successfull in what they are doing. My point is that wages cannot be decoupled from the results of one‘s work. And taken these results into account, I don‘t see a base for these wages far above international norms.

    • mikhado says:

      “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to open ones mouth and remove all doubt.”

  • EMore says:

    Wake up, everyone! Rich people do not help people–they help themselves. Whether it be to boost their own wallets or egos. They want tax breaks and their name on a program. If the US government can bail out the post office for billions yet cannot fathom giving out small checks to families in need, boost unemployment, or heck….give a rats fanny about us….It’s all the same game. The rich politicians don’t want to help anyone but themselves and their friends. It is pathetic and what is happening to musicians is pathetic. Heck, this whole year has been a pathetic shown of selfishness.

  • Plush says:

    Besides most big name orchestra players are also full professors teaching at a college.

    • Former Met musician says:

      That is completely untrue!! Only the principal players and a handful of section players ever get those teaching jobs!! The rest of us are completely disregarded. Moreover, most of these jobs are merely adjunct positions. They pay pennies.

    • New York Musician says:

      Absolutely incorrect.

  • Musician says:

    The little putz it exactly right on this.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    But a frightened and fearful populace – fuelled by politicians – cannot afford concerts or anything else. They must run for their lives and are looking to be ‘saved’.

    Quickly, everybody: over here!!!

  • Mark Stenroos says:

    The rich people provide funding for the Met, but they have no say in how that money is spent. Those decisions are made by the house administration. Even donors who underwrite entire productions have no say in how their donations are spent, even though they will of course receive a notice in the program thanking them for their gift.

    • Anon says:

      Mark Stenroos,
      There are major donors (who are not board members), and there are board members (who may also be major donors).
      Are you saying that board members are not at all involved and all these decisions are made internally?

    • Tom Phillips says:

      There’s no reason that they should influence the productions, casting, conductor etc. There are very few donors that know much of anything about the art form, though they certainly are not shy about communicating their preferences. When they DO get their way, this inevitably results in such things as the endless round of predictable and unimaginative Zeffirelli and Otto Schenk productions that dominated the Met stage in the 80s and 90s.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Pretty much on point. Occasionally there are major donors who put major stings on their gifts (mostly for personal benefits like special access, etc.), but essentially the money is spent as the MD wants.

  • Gustavo says:

    All this talk about music being relevant to the system.

    Especially Beethoven is expression of an inner rebellion against any formalistic system.

    But Beethoven knew very well how to play the aristocratic system.

  • E. Humperdinck says:

    The sad truth is that 99% of the people in the US could care less about orchestral music.