Yannick: The situation of musicians at the Met is unacceptable

Yannick: The situation of musicians at the Met is unacceptable


norman lebrecht

January 07, 2021

The music director has spoken to a Quebec newspaper about the plight of Metropolitan Opera orchestra and chorus musicians who have not been paid by Peter Gelb since March.

For the avoidance of misunderstanding, we present his words in the original French:

C’est inacceptable et douloureux qu’un chœur et un orchestre de ce calibre soient sans paie depuis mars », a-t-il déclaré dans le quotidien québécois Le Devoir. « Je l’ai dit : je ne crois qu’au dialogue. Il est difficile présentement [sic]. Ce qui m’importe, c’est que les gens continuent de se parler dans l’institution. Le dialogue est trop lent. Je ne peux pas y croire. À Philadelphie, on s’en tire, on y arrive. Le Met va y arriver comme les autres. Mais cela me montre une fois encore que, sans filet social gouvernemental, tout cela est beaucoup trop fragile. C’est le triste constat du miroir que la pandémie nous a envoyé. »

In summary: He believes in dialogue. Wants both side to keep talking. Philadelphia is managing better.

Without a government social security net, the Met musicians ‘unacceptable and sad’ situation is simply too fragile.



  • anonymaus says:

    What top American orchestra/opera musicians lack in social safety net, they more than make up for in their salary, which easily quadruples that of their peers in Canada and Europe, so if Met musicians are suffering financially now, it’s because they didn’t save for a rainy day before.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Not too many people have a 10-month rainy day fund. Factor in the number of musician families… that’s even more challenging. Also, the cost of living in NYC is very, very high…. that’s something to consider too. How would you do with all income lost for this period?

    • RM says:

      ‘What top American orchestra/opera musicians lack in a social safety net, they more than make up for in their salary, which easily quadruples that of their peers in Canada and Europe…”


      AMERICAN orchestras don’t have the societal support that the European social democracies have. AMERICAN orchestras don’t have a social safety net anywhere near comparable to the countries you mention.

      You are generalizing and provide nothing but platitudes.

    • Gordon says:

      Sad but true. I know someone who worked at the Met who was earning a good $190 000/year, and even though he lived in an apartment uptown for only $1800/month with roommates, he saved nothing because he was eating out all the time, buying the latest bows, shopping for the latest clothes etc.

      If you don’t learn how to save with a $30 000/salary, good luck with a large one. Musicians need a personal finance course at conservatories.

    • Fred says:

      You clearly haven’t a clue what housing and living costs are in the New York Metropolitan area. Housing costs in NY and then surrounding areas are completely outrageous, even in the worst neighborhoods. Given the Mets’s extremely busy schedule, living an hour or two away from Lincoln Center is not practical, unless you want to die driving in the endless New York traffic. Someone with a family living frugally and responsibly with some savings on a decent salary can only last so long without an income. Put on top of that, even those with decent health insurance still have co pays and deductibles plus prescription drug costs, which are the joys of the American health care system.

    • Novagerio says:

      Anonymous: So, you think well-paid musicians in the US don’t pay taxes, ay?….

    • Ex-musician says:

      Like they could have accurately foreseen a worldwide pandemic that would leave them thoroughly unemployed for at least an entire year? You are an asshole.

    • fflambeau says:

      Can you say the same for the Met, that they failed to “save for a rainy day”? Your position is nonsensical.

      • Karl says:

        The Met had an endowment valued at $284 million with annual expenses of about $300 million. People are supposed to have a year’s worth of savings.

        • Pastore says:

          It is generally accepted that endowments should be twice as big as the budget. It is only in the last 10 years or so the the budget of the Met is actually smaller than its budget.

        • fflambeau says:

          Even an endowment of $300 million only produces $18 million at the standard rate of 6%. That’s not much.

  • Fernandel says:

    “The right of every musician to lounge in bathrobe is inalienable”.

  • Araragi says:

    Philadelphia (and other U.S. houses) may be managing better because they may have had a stronger balance sheet. It’s hard to make any statement about how well or poorly the Met is handling the situation without seeing its financials and analyzing its solvency. If that is the issue, one could still criticize the Met for failing to be be as financially prepared as other houses to weather such a storm.

    • SMH says:

      IMO the Philadelphia Orchestra is a small organization compared to the Met. Managing to pay an ensemble of 80-100 people is much easier than the Met trying to pay the orchestra, chorus, stagehands, costume dept. etc. Can’t pay one group and not the others….

    • Nick2 says:

      The Met’s insolvency? Memories are indeed short. It is less than 7 years since Gelb announced to his company that he would need 16% cuts in pay. Without these the Met would be bankrupt within a few years. During Gelb’s tenure the Endowment had dropped from $345 million to $253 million, thanks to Gelb having drawn down very substantial amounts to fund his increasingly expensive annual operations. In fiscal 2013 the drawdown was $21 million.

      After a very public acrimonious battle with unions and staff, Gelb eventually climbed down and settled for far less than the 16% cuts he claimed were absolutely vital. Actual cuts were little more than 7%. Part of his negotiation had been that he and the Board would spearhead a new $600 million fund raising campaign of which $300 million would go to topping up the endowment. A few months later, Gelb announced the results for previous fiscal year – a deficit of $22 million, the largest in 30 years and claimed to be due to a fall off in the amount provided by donors. Coupled with a falling box office that has continued virtually every year since, the Met’s finances will surely be in a parlous state.

      One question that the Met must surely answer is how effective has been its $600 million fund raising campaign launched in 2014. The answer, I expect, is pretty poor. One of the most regular mega rich donors who had given many tens of millions and been a member of the Executive Board, Mercedes Bass, refused to lead the campaign. Hence, I further expect, its inability to weather the present covid19 storm. The next question will be: hope many regular patrons and regular donors will continue to cough up cash once the Met reopens? The future for that House looks bleak.

    • Nick2 says:

      Apologies. My earlier post should have started “The Met’s solvency?”

    • Philly Filly says:

      Short memory syndrome again here by many, including YNS and the Philly orchestra management. The Philly orchestra is only in a good position due to the work of the much maligned Alison Vulgamore! Without her passionate work in keeping the orchestra alive Philly orchestra wouldn’t be around and Yannick (who Vulgamore brought to the orchestra and hasn’t heard from him for years) wouldn’t be in his job!

    • Karl says:

      Philadelphia declared bankruptcy back in 2011. To emerge they cut 10 musicians and the rest took a 15% wage reduction. They learned their lesson then.

  • caranome says:

    “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words! Is that all you blighters can do??! –Eliza Doolittle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WbRyU8uuNk

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s not just words. Yannick is backing it up with action. He’s matching up to $50k of donations to the met orchestra and chorus. That’s true leadership!

      • LMFAO says:

        Your idea of “true leadership” is a mere DONOR a la “Silver Circle member”.

        He’s not DOING anything as a PAID, active member of the Met! He’s their token gay in place of Levine.

        It should be clear to you by now why those singers, players and the like have turned their backs on the Met. They’re leaving NYC and the profession.

        No money no loyalty!
        – The unvarnished truth hurts.

        • Barry Guerrero says:

          . . . and because of moronic statements like yours – thank for you flying your true colors, by the way – Yannick N-S. should walk away from The Met as well.

  • jack says:

    “Without a government social security net, the Met musicians ‘unacceptable and sad’ situation is simply too fragile.”
    There is, actually, a “government social security net” in the US, it’s called “unemployment insurance.” It does not fully replace employed compensation (it is not designed to do so). It is supposed to be a stopgap measure, and the employing institutions are required to pay into it to cover circumstances such as these. If the Met musicians are ineligible for this coverage, I would like to know why. If they are eligible, are receiving it, and are complaining that is it not nearly enough to cover their life style; then welcome to the fate of a lot of American workers.

  • cara257 says:

    To late selfish Yannick.
    You have had your chance 6 months ago. Apologize seriously.
    Then maybe we can have a dialogue.
    And…go inside and think about your manipulative nature, all your calculations to be on the right side.

  • John M. says:

    It took decades for Met musicians to be paid a living wage and then what they were worth . Peter Gelb, in a good will gesture should resign as he has been a constant arbiter of ill will and bad taste.

  • operafan says:

    He should have been more proactive from the start and this statement accomplishes nothing but assuage his own guilt. After being shamed, it makes us want to know how to say this in French: way too little, months too late. He’s lost the respect of “his” musicians.

  • JussiB says:

    Of course it’s unacceptable to have the musicians going broke and their music director sipping champagne in bed of his luxury high-rise.

  • fflambeau says:

    Maybe Yannick should consider threatening to resign.

  • Sharon says:

    I don’t want to take work away from the stage hands and others involved in production but if the Met was not so concerned about having the coolest bling,such as drones, holograms, hundreds of jugglers, etc it might have more money for the musicians

    • JoshW says:

      I guess you’re talking about the 16 jugglers that appeared in one of the Met productions that actually sold out and has warranted a revival? Yeah, we all know about the exorbitant fees that jugglers command. Thanks for your helpful suggestion.

    • Maestro5151 says:

      You were going for the “jugular” with that comment.

  • Peter says:

    Wow… So bravely speaking up, trying to protect them… after 8 months…

  • NYCer says:


  • NotToneDeaf says:

    He sounds like the Republican members of Congress who are now suddenly oh-so-appalled by Trump’s behavior. Way too little, way too late.

    • Nick2 says:

      Even if he had not realised speaking out and making a donation was all but demanded of him far earlier, his management Askonas Holt should have insisted he made a statement. But they didn’t. No doubt they didn’t care.

  • JussiB says:

    Seriously, they should re-hire James Levine and make the Met great again.

  • Johnny Cazzone says:

    Peter Gelb does not pay the employees of the Met, nor does he unilaterally decide whether employees who are not performing any work are paid. The Met as an organization does. The concept that anyone should be paid for NOT working (other than through unemployment insurance) is an amusing one, as applied to some of the highest-paid employees in the arts. Gelb (who is not being paid either) is trying to see that the Met as an institution survives. Can the Met’s “poor” employees say the same? Yannick seems to want the sort of government support for the arts prevalent in Europe. Good luck with that. He will get a lot of support for government support of the Met’s high-paid employees when low-paid employees (to say nothing of gig workers) are barely scraping by.