Breaking: NY Phil players sign on for just 75% of their salary

Breaking: NY Phil players sign on for just 75% of their salary


norman lebrecht

December 07, 2020

The New York Philharmonic and its musicians have just signed a brave new four-year deal up to September 20, 2024.

Under the deal, musicians will continue to be paid 75% of minimum scale to the end of the 2023 fiscal year. In the 2024 fiscal year, total compensation will increase to 80% for the first six months and 90% thereafter. The musicians have also included all their former media rights in the package.

NY Phil president Deborah Borda sais: ‘COVID-19 has reshaped the entire ecology of society and the performing arts are no exception. These were challenging negotiations but, in the end, musicians, management, and Board came together to reach an agreement that will lead to
recovery. The new contract is a critical step toward building a sustainable pathway forward and to preserving our beloved institution for a bright future. The participation, the dedication, of the Philharmonic musicians in creatively and pragmatically helping to shape this agreement is something I will never forget. They have my admiration and deepest thanks.’

By contrast, musicians at the Met have just entered their ninth month without pay.

The New York Times has the best headline: New York Philharmonic Musicians Agree to Years of Pandemic Pay Cuts 


  • Orchestra player says:

    This is not 75% of the salary, but 75% of the base salary. Which, for some players with high overscale, means up to 70% reduction in salary for 4 years. A terrible deal….

    • Martin Carpenter says:

      BooHoo, their base salary is very high.

      • SMH says:

        Base salary for the NY PHil is $153,504 per year. If you think that’s too high you’re an idiot.

        • violafan says:

          Martin said it is “very” high. Not “too” high.

          And yes, that is plenty of income to live comfortably while millions of Americans wait in lines to get food and survive on unemployment.

          Save your crocodile tears. The NY Phil musicians will be fine.

          • Fred Funk says:

            No, that isn’t a good income for musicians paying for real estate in the commuting area. Particularly if they have a family. Several of them have side ventures just to support a decent household budget.

            Crunch the numbers for a 30 yr mortgage, utilities, kid’s college fund, and FOOD.

            Think about most of these major orchestras having more administrative positions, than musicians.

            Combine that with inefficient government, a whacked tax structure (thanks Trump!), and life ISN’T fair. 16+ trillion in a good economy that is hardly taxed. But let’s complain about high wages for orchestral musicians. Get real, and quit complaining about poor life choices.

            It could be worse, like playing in an Army Band.


          • Freddynyc says:

            Finding a real job in the meantime may help a bit……

          • violafan says:

            Hey Fred,

            If you’re upset about a six figure salary not going far enough for a family and college funds etc, you’re going to be REALLY upset when you find out what the majority of Americans are getting paid.

            *Clutches pearls* somebody think of the rich people during this pandemic! Sacre bleu!

        • Occamsrazor says:

          Smh, I’m happy to fit your definition of an idiot. Looking at the ongoing communist revolution in America I’m getting more and more idiotic every day. I think that by next week I’ll degenerate to such level that I’ll forget how in 1918 millions of Russian aristocrats were happy to catch rats and mice to grill, using their libraries as fuel. I have to remind people about this before the onset of total idiocy scheduled for next week.

        • JoshW says:

          It’s “too high” when the market can’t begin to support it. The days of self-entitled musicians are over. There’s been talk for decades of a needed economic reset in the industry. Well, here it is.

          • JJC says:

            All the while the mayor’s wife lets $800 million disappear without a trace. Is that also a part of your ‘reset’?

          • David says:

            Do you even like classical music? What are you doing on this site? Or are you just so bitter about your own life that you cannot even wish the best for artists whose work you consume?

        • William Safford says:

          Taken out of context, a base salary of $153,504 sounds exceedingly generous.

          If that orchestra were in, say, Birmingham, Alabama, it would be a generous salary.

          Alas, living expenses in New York City are very high. Many NY Phil musicians already live outside the city because of the costs of living in there. Transportation costs are high. Basically, all costs in NYC are high.

          This is without touching on the incidental costs of being a classical musician. Many musicians have mortgages on their instruments, because they are often more expensive than their houses. There are ancillary costs: instrument repair and upkeep, supplies, etc.

          Just look at what has happened with the Met Orchestra: one third of them have moved away. I wonder how much longer it will be before the Met orchestra effectively ceases to exist. I’m glad that the NY Phil has not gone that route.

      • Freddynyc says:

        A 75% cut and still basically doing nothing still puts them way ahead……

    • SMH says:

      High overscale salaries: principal oboe, cello, flute etc., are always subject to negotiations in any event…. including this one. Right? Contractual overscale in orchestras like the NY Phil usually isn’t all that high.

    • Bill says:

      A terrible deal when they are working, perhaps. A terrible deal when they are not? A lot of people would be eager to suffer such “deprivation” if the alternative is the 100% reduction in salary many are enjoying.

    • TubaMinimum says:

      I’m having trouble parsing what happens to overscale in this deal. The two articles (NY Times, ABC) I can find mention provisions for increasing overscale over time or if the financial outlook changes:

      “The deal includes increasing percentages of overscale payments, bonuses if the philharmonic exceeds financial projections and a provision allowing up to 10 Sunday performances per season, concerts that previously had been prohibited.”

      It’s not 100% clear, but that seems to suggest overscale payments will exist for the orchestra at present in some reduced capacity. I don’t think that means your principles are going from $400k to $114.

    • JoshW says:

      Why don’t you tell that to the thousands of musicians who aren’t earning a single penny? Read the room and maybe look around at some of your colleagues.

      • Kendrick says:

        They have already had Bill DeBlasio, Andrew Cuomo, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi in their corner all this time.

        Soon enough our new President Joe Biden will help all of the artists.

        That’s a whole mess of white Democrats; ain’t it??

    • A. Kashkari says:

      Deborah sure is exercising her white privilege whilst retaining her own fat paycheck.

      Also, who cares about the Met leeches anymore?? Tired of their inappropriate antics months ago. They need to pack up their belongings and push off to Europe if they want to play. Cuomo abandoned the lot of the Met 9 months ago so stop crying about it already and just leave NYC!

      • Farewell Met... says:

        The Metropolitan Opera is being dismantled gradually before our eyes while the singers have no voice and no freedom of choice.

        Lincoln Center has become a symbol of financial entropy.

        What happened to the caliber of men who built NYC? Why can’t the “man-children” in charge of the city and state pull themselves together and save the city from the ruin befalling the UWS and UES?

        Apparently the powers that be are embracing a “Final Solution” of sorts to simply allow the city, it’s residents and entire economy to implode as they lie flaccidly. Glad I don’t live under leadership like that. So sad for the performers.

    • Freddynyc says:

      I meant 25% – apologies….

  • Couperin says:

    Maybe the principal players will actually perform now instead of half-assing their jobs while demanding even higher pay.. there aren’t enough knees to kneel on these days!

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:


    So they will get a guarantee of 75% minimum scale for staying home while the Pandemic runs its course?

    I’m very surprised that management offered a long term contract with all the uncertainty but obviously the board approved it so there you go.

    • NYMike says:

      Starting 1/21, they will be required to stream performances in some tiered fashion. So staying home, but actually working.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    I think that everyone should be paid the same when not working. Is there such a thing as “principal” when not working? Aren’t the utility 4th and principal trumpet doing the same job now, which is not performing or rehearsing?

    • Deville's Advocate says:

      At first you might think so, but…different salaries would lead to wildly unequal cuts. Does it make sense for someone who has a higher salary and a proportionally more expensive life to take a massive cut while another player just takes 25%? Food for thought.

  • Concertgoer says:

    Please stop showing publicity shots of this person.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    ‘COVID-19 has reshaped the entire ecology of society and the performing arts are no exception’

    Just one of the very very many opportunity costs of Covid-19 and the belief that somebody else is going to pay to protect your health!! Didn’t see that coming!!! Not.

    • True North says:

      Same old nonsense. How tiresome you are.

    • William Safford says:

      Yet another example of American exceptionalism in a bad way: the fact that it, alone among industrialized nations, continues to refuse to implement universal health insurance/health care.

      To add insult to injury: the Orange Enemy of the People has a case before the Supreme Court right now that, if successful, will nullify Obamacare, thus eviscerating the health insurance of millions of Americans in the middle of a pandemic.

      In addition, the federal government has done an inadequate job of supporting individuals and small businesses directly affected by COVID. The stock market soars higher and higher, but small businesses are closing and going bankrupt, and millions of individuals and families have to wait on long lines for free food from private charities.

      • Marge O. says:

        “America was a gigantic mistake”–Sigmund Freud.

      • Paul Mirga says:

        The Democrats (specifically Nancy and Chick) fucked things up for everyone.

        They’re letting their own districts languish to create “uncertainty” and inflict pain in order to induce misguided hatred for the right and President Trump. Old tactic which never fails to gaslight the Left into a blind, criminal rage…

        Dumb lefties got what they deserved!

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    It looks like the Met musicians (and other unions) better jump on the bandwagon before things get worse and their offer goes away. They’re not going to be able to rely on their colleague orchestras for support anymore.

    • Jessica Davis says:

      The NYP has already screwed all musicians in NYC with this deal for years to come. It is atrocious.

      • JoshW says:

        Right, because NYC freelancers always quote the Philharmonic rates when they’re negotiating their salaries to play a bar mitzvah in Jersey.

  • sam says:

    To all you gripers, it’s not your money, so why does it bother you so?

    It’s all private money, not one socialist red cent from you the tax payer, so if they want to spend it on paying the equivalent of $115K annual unemployment benefits to their non-working employees, it’s their money to spend.

    On the contrary, the musicians will have to pay income tax on their salary, which does go to the government, whereas if they were unemployed and unpaid, they’d be getting state funded unemployment benefits or welfare.

    So in fact, they are net contributors to the government coffers. Not to mention they then are able to contribute to the economy: paying big banks interest on their mortgages, enriching Bezos by shopping at Amazon and allowing Amazon to hire more cheap labor at their warehouses, etc, etc.

    It’s really a redistribution of wealth from the 1% down to the 10% trickling all the way down to the US Treasury.

    Hurray for capitalism.

    • sam says:

      On an income of $115,000 in New York City, a married couple pays, right off the top, a total of $30,000 in federal, state, local income tax.

      Society as a whole is better off.

    • William Safford says:

      Considering the massive redistributions of wealth from the bottom 99% up to the 1% (and, really, the 1% of the 1%), there should be a complete overhaul of how things work in the U.S. It is long overdue.

      • Jeremy Apperson says:

        You people don’t know how to create good paying jobs that pay enough to align with the housing market.

        What’s your degree in, if you have one?

    • Dave T says:

      “Private money” and private labor. Is that why these negotiations are usually carried on in public, in the media, on Slipped Disc? If they were truly private we plebeians would never hear a word about them, nor salaries, nor budgets, etc.

      • TubaMinimum says:

        I mean I know what every actor is making for their latest film and what every player is making on my favorite sports team. So publicity for private salaries does not mean they are not in fact private.

        However, orchestra salaries are a combination of ticket sales and charitable donations (probably at a 40/60 split for someone like the NY Phil). In my mind, people who make charitable donations should know how the organizations they support use that money, which is why 501c3s do have to make these things public. If people feel their contributions are being used responsibly and in a way they support, great. If not, stories like this one can be data points for them in deciding who they contribute to in the future.

  • Mr. Knowitall says:

    What the SD synopsys says is not what the New York Times article says. The NYT reports that the deal is that base salary will be cut by 25 percent NOT that musicians who make more than base salary will earn just 75 percent of base salary. The article does say that during the covid-layoff, everyone is receiving 75 percent of base.

  • Phil says:

    No mention so far in comments about the hard work from an early age and the required talent to get to a top orchestra – plus the daily work required to keep their skills in top form. Finally, one of the most stressful occupations there is.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Ms. Borda has brokered a solution, presumably with the unanimous agreement of the union, during an unforeseen time. Yes, there is a lot of pain involved, but without this drastic intervention there might not be a future for the orchestra.

    It is encouraging to walk by Lincoln Center where it seems that all of Geffen Hall is finally receiving a make-over, a smart use of this down-time. When the orchestra does return, the obstacle of the hall will hopefully be remedied and within a few years, the coffers and the acoustics will be restored.

    It says a lot for all involved – the musicians, management, and the board – that they saw past the darkness of the moment and found a solution.

    (Much as I admire Ms. Borda and lovely as that photo is, she has now been back with the NYPhil for a few years and it is time to deep-six the (old) publicity shot of her at Disney Hall…perhaps feature the musicians for a change?)

  • Alviano says:

    Did Deborah Borda take a cut too?

  • Noah Transparency says:

    The ego, weakness and cowardice of the committee head holds complete responsibility for this deal.
    He took anything offered to him and offered no support or solidarity for cutting a better deal by the use of leverage. (800 million dollar concert hall anyone??!!!!)

    He will go down in history as the person who pushed the first domino in the now pending decline of our greatest arts institutions starting with his colleagues at the met.

    • Robert Livingston III says:

      While this is a little harsh, I think it’s likely true inexperience and unwillingness to hold the line had much to do with these musicians being completely taken advantage of in this particular case.
      Attending opening night of a likely mask-less vaccinated audience in a rapidly approaching one billion dollar new hall in 2022 juxtaposed with musicians on stage some of who have taken more than a 50 percent pay cut they will likely never be able to recover seems vulgar in many ways.
      The hall is the priority here. It has been fastracked and the cuts have now been made.
      I will be there opening night 2022 but I am not sure how good I will feel about it.

      • sarah says:

        There is most certainly a hidden story with these negotiations.
        Rumor has it many backdoor deals were done while little information was given to the musicians and the local union along the way.

        • NotToneDeaf says:

          Isn’t that, then, the fault of the local and the musicians for not demanding more involvement and accountability?

        • NYMike says:

          There were regular Zoom meetings with the entire orchestra as well as daily meetings with members of its orch. comm. sometimes taking hours.

    • NYMike says:

      And of course, you know personally the Orch. Committee’s negotiating chair and the rest of its personnel. If you did, you’d know that what you’ve stated here is pure nonsense.

  • Ishee Bigmn says:

    For clarity- the NYP is spending $550 million to improve the acoustics of David Geffen Hall. When they are done, the players will be compensated at a rate similar to their base scale in the 80s and 90s- you know, when everyone was fine with the acoustics. ‍♂️

  • David K. Nelson says:

    IF the Philharmonic exists in 2023 ….