Exclusive: Peter Gelb makes an offer to his unpaid orchestra

Exclusive: Peter Gelb makes an offer to his unpaid orchestra


norman lebrecht

February 04, 2021

We’ve received an exchange of letters between the Met general manager to the orchestra musicians. Gelb is offering ‘bridge pay’ to the musicians. The only condition is that the union begins ‘good faith negotiations’ on a drastic pay cut.

The union president Adam Krauthammer has rejected this offer out of hand – just as Gelb will have expected him to do. He tells Gelb: ‘We refuse to take the bait and be treated like pawns or to fight each other in a race to the bottom.’

You read these documents only on Slipped Disc, which is based in England. No journalist in New York, least of all the lazy Times, is digging into the scandal of the Met’s refusal to pay its musicians for almost a year.

Here’s the state of play.

Letter 1: Gelb to Musicians:

Dear Members of the Orchestra,

I would like to make sure that you are fully aware of our offer to provide bridge pay during the health crisis. We first made a proposal to the Orchestra Committee in the final week of December for an initial period of eight weeks, with the only requirement being that your Committee begin good faith negotiations. We have now entered into such an arrangement with the Chorus and the other full-time Met employees represented by AGMA. The agreement with AGMA commences next week.

Under the plan, we are paying chorus members $1,543 per week, in one of two ways. For those employees who are not receiving unemployment benefits because they already have other sources of income, we are paying the full $1,543 per week. For those employees who are receiving unemployment payments (including stimulus payments), under a SUB plan consistent with IRS regulations, we are paying the difference between $1,543 and whatever amount of unemployment insurance that they are receiving. At the end of the eight-week period, our hope is that we will have achieved a new CBA that will include bridge pay for the duration of the health crisis. In the event that we haven’t reached an agreement, but believe that good progress has been made, we will keep paying the bridge payments while we continue to negotiate.

Instead of agreeing to our offer, your Committee has insisted upon receiving larger payments. This would not be fair to the AGMA members, who have not only agreed to our offer, but did so first. In the interest of fairness, we believe it should be the same amount of $1,543 for both the Orchestra and the Chorus. Our offer to provide this kind of financial assistance, with no requirement other than to negotiate in good faith, is without a down side. It will provide some immediate relief, and hopefully it will also open the possibility of reaching a long-term agreement that will provide continuing payments.

Although your Committee has chosen not to accept our offer, it remains available should the Committee wish to reconsider.

I understand that there are enormous feelings of frustration and desperation during this unprecedented health and economic disaster. But please be assured that we will continue to pay for your health coverage for the duration of the pandemic.  And ever since the late summer, we have stated that we would be willing to try to raise the funds to make bridge payments, as part of long-term deals that are so necessary to the future survival of the Met and the long-term security of your jobs.

Meanwhile, we would like to begin paying you. Let’s start working together to find a path forward, so that we are ready to perform again once the health crisis is over.

Best wishes,


Letter 2: Union to Gelb:

Dear Peter,

This is a response to the e-mail you sent on Feb. 1 to the entire MET Orchestra. Please note the entire orchestra has been copied on this response.

Your e-mail was a cheap attempt to create division, and it was an absurdly desperate attempt to break our ranks. You of all people should know that you aren’t allowed to negotiate any terms and conditions of employment behind the backs of the musicians’ official collective bargaining agent. The goal that you and your large negotiating team have stated many times is to get to a deal as bargaining partners in good faith. I can assure you that going around the orchestra’s elected committee will not help you achieve this goal.

I would say that I’m surprised by your behavior — but sadly I’m not. You seem to be set on continuing the same pattern of bad faith bargaining you started this summer while dangling bridge pay directly to furloughed workers in exchange for gutting their CBA’s. That effort to use the pandemic as an opportunity to extort major concessions has been a failure.

Furthermore, we reject your bid to divide and conquer the various arts workers at the Met. We’re aware that the chorus has accepted your eight-week bridge pay offer. The structure of this plan simply doesn’t work for us, not only because it offers our group a significantly lower percentage of our base salaries than the chorus – which it, in fact, does – but because it doesn’t give fair compensation to our members.

As you know, we countered your proposal with a creative solution that is equitable for the entire orchestra and would still offer you significant savings on your weekly salary obligations. You rejected our offer outright, saying “we can’t do different plans for different unions.”

It’s nonsensical for the Met to state this when the unions are not contingent on each other. Each union represents a group that brings unique elements to the opera; therefore each group requires different treatment.

Moreover, the Met has already demonstrated its willingness to treat different units differently bylocking out our stagehand colleagues and failing to offer them a similar “bridge-pay agreement.”

We refuse to take the bait and be treated like pawns or to fight each other in a race to the bottom. No matter what desperate attempt you make, the orchestra will not be divided. We are one union.

It’s a mark of shame that the MET Orchestra remains the only major orchestra in the U.S. that has not been paid since the start of the pandemic. The Met musicians are among a small group of the most elite performers in the world. That fact must be respected both artistically and economically.

Finally, do yourself a favor. Stop negotiating in the press and stop negotiating illegally through e-mail blasts to the orchestra. We remain ready to negotiate a fair deal and have made a good faith proposal back in November that you have yet to respond to. Rather than engaging in these silly back-and-forth tactics like e-mailing the orchestra and bypassing the committee, let’s focus on getting to a better future for all of us.

Sincerely yours,


Adam Krauthamer

President & Executive Director
Associated Musicians of Greater New York
Local 802, AFM




  • Save the MET says:

    It really is time to make a change at the Metropolitan Opera. He’s past the time of a house guests visit and a basket of aging fresh fish. The place needs a fresh perspective at the top. Someone talented who understands the art form and really cares. They are out there.

  • V.Lind says:

    All this is very unclear to me. The orchestra is not playing. How much does it expect to be paid? Are they not receiving the sort of government assistance that most civilised countries are offering people who have been thrown out of work by the pandemic?

    On the other hand, it looks as if Gelb is behaving in a way that can only be described as exploitative. The Met should be negotiating any issues, financial and otherwise, with appointed representatives of its various artists’ and staff groups.

    And to link pandemic support to future negotiations is despicable, and ought to be illegal under any decent labour relations legislation.

    • T. Erickson says:

      What were you expecting he do besides revert to type after all these years?

    • David says:

      1) every other major US orchestra has been paid during the pandemic, so to the contrary, the met situation begs the question why are they different. In the US, most orchestral funding comes from donations as opposed to ticket sales, which is why this is possible. The met may rely more on ticket revenue than other organizations, however.
      2) nope, no federal assistance at this point. Unemployment expired.

    • KH says:

      No government support to the institution nor to the musicians. Only unemployment, whoch is a small fraction of their regular pay.

    • Kendall says:

      “On the other hand, it looks as if Gelb is behaving in a way that can only be described as exploitative.“

      Gelb has officially turned the Met into the Auschwitz of opera!

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    I have long ago concluded that one wants to shut down the Met. I can see no other explanation.

    • BruceB says:

      ^ Or at least turn it into a small regional company, where all the employees are part-time.

      As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words; looking at his actions, it’s difficult to see what else he could be trying to accomplish.

  • A.L. says:

    And in the meantime Gelb has the gall to slobber all over the long on the tooth and Vladimir Putin apologist AN, she of a voice in tatters besides being an interpretive zero. There lie the man’s loyalties.

  • Sisko24 says:

    Mr. Lebrecht, you are quite correct to note the NY Times has not covered this story. I think laziness is just one reason. The other is that they are undoubtedly aware of what happened at the Cleveland Plain Dealer when one of their long-time classical music critics was accused of being too critical of that orchestra’s music director. The Cleveland Orchestra made known their displeasure, (flexed their muscles) and that critic was demoted, despite all protestations to the contrary by the newspaper. The NY Times critics would appear to be cowed by the atmosphere of intimidation those actions engendered within the critic’s community and journalism profession. I think most critics forget they aren’t just there to say how well or not something was performed, but also to know and report back on the background of that same industry. Just as a good political reporter not only tells what got passed, but how, what implications there are and so on, a classical music reporter (critic) must also tell of the labor, management, financial and other background of the opera company, orchestra, ballet troupe. Otherwise, they are simply gossipers or perhaps worse, a kibitzer.

    • Anon says:

      Well, Mr. Lebrecht doesn’t seem to fear The Gelb at all

      • Larry D says:

        I suspect the feeling is mutual.

        • Save the MET says:

          Gelb lives in a world of paranoia. He has his lawyers follow all negative press and then they decide whether to send cease and desist letters. I’ve seen ones sent out by Gelb’s lawyer toadies. At this point, his actions will likely have consequence at the box office when the opera returns. Additionally they will have to rebuild the orchestra as some have retired, some have moved and taken other jobs, some have no interest working for him again. I would venture perhaps 30% 40% return of their own volition when all is said and done. As I’ve said before, it is time to turn a page on the uneducated, feckless GM of the Met. It is the only way they can return to a semblance of normalcy.

    • KH says:

      “a classical music reporter (critic) must also tell of the labor, management, financial and other background of the opera company, orchestra, ballet troupe”

      They are not qualified to do so. Music reporters and critics working at NYTimes are failed musicians, failed writers, failed journalists, or all of the three. A topic such as labor dispute between the orchestra and the management requires a real journalist, not some opinion influencer.

      • Michael Cooper is a very fine reporter.

      • V.Lind says:

        I do not accept that critics are failed anything, but I do agree that critics of performances are not necessarily qualified to discuss labour disputes, company finances and management and the like.

        Criticism is a legitimate form, and serious critics will be well-schooled or very experienced in the subject they are covering. As such, music critics may well learn enough to advise labour reporters or finance reporters on aspects of their particular field. The odd one may well know how to do both the reviewing and the reporting.

        I do not know enough of the individuals at the NYT to comment on them. I do know that Peter Gelb’s association with the paper through his father is just about life-long, so they probably treat him with kid gloves, or not at all.

      • WILLIAM S Gross says:

        The Music Critic of the Dallas Morning News reported on Jaap van Zweden abuses within the Dallas Symphony. Stuff that included violating contract agreements on disciplining staff etc.

        The article did enough to cause the DSO Management to take the charges seriously and bring about some changes.

    • Builder says:

      The NYT won’t cover it because of Peter Gelb’s fathers long career with the NYT.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      How ridiculous. 1) The situation in Cleveland had to do with a critic giving consistently bad reviews when the Music Director was on the podium. It had nothing to do with publishing unflattering reporting. 2) Understanding the nuances of a non-profit’s financials and of its 100+ pages of its labor agreement(s) takes a lot investigative reporting. Critics and reporters are not the same thing. 3) Just as Gelb reports to the Board, the arts critics of the NYTimes (along with every other newspaper and magazine) report to an editor who assigns, approves and vetos stories. You perhaps are not aware that the Times’ advertising (i.e., income) is, not surprisingly, at its very lowest and the Arts & Leisure section of the paper is often no more than six pages on a regular basis these days. In addition, the arts coverage is heavily skewed towards “stay at home” types of news. So perhaps, for starters, place the blame where it belongs in your next ill-informed diatribe.

    • Bill says:

      The only thing the Times fears is criticism from the Republican Party and Fox News of being too elite, and as such, they continue to devote their resources to interviewing bereaved Trump supporters in small Midwest diners.

    • JussiB says:

      Fyi music critics are generally not permitted to contact artists or go backstage on ethical grounds. So reporting behind the scene goings-on is another journalist’s job.

      IMO Anthony Tommasini is an excellent NYT writer and critic.

      • Musician says:

        Tommasini doesn’t have a clue. His recent articles about the audition process in particular and “woke at all costs” approach is laughable.

    • SVM says:

      That an arts organisation can intimidate local journalists into silence demonstrates that the model of giving free perks and exclusive behind-the-scenes access to critics is corrupt. Critics should pay their own way (and claim for the ticket as a business expense to be covered by the individual or organisation commissioning the critic), just like the rest of the audience.

    • Otto says:

      Peter Gelb’s father was Arthur Gelb, who wrote theater criticism for the NY Times and was also its managing editor. There is clearly a “gentlemen’s agreement” not to come down very hard on Peter. Another reason for the paper’s silence is that arts coverage had been cut way back, even BEFORE Covid. Good for Norman for noticing!

  • sam says:

    1) The union fell right into Gelb’s trap, by refusing to negotiate, Gelb can now claim the moral high ground.

    2) ” the scandal of the Met’s refusal to pay its musicians”

    How is it a scandal if it is totally legal, totally out in the open, totally ignored by the public, totally the same experience of every other unemployed New Yorker?

    It ain’t a scandal unless the public is scandalized, and the public has their own far graver problems.

    • Larry D says:

      New Yorkers have always been more scandalized by Jeff Bezos than Peter Gelb. Only Brits seem to be getting their knickers in a twist over this.

      • V.Lind says:

        That does not speak well of the level of interest in the arts in New York. They SHOULD be interested in this if they are interested in the Met, whatever their opinion of the matter.

  • SMH says:

    The NYT also failed to cover YNS’s excellent letter to Pres. Biden advocating for an arts cabinet secretary. The letter should have been a rallying cry for all arts organizations and journalists in America. The NYT was conspiculously silent. IMO their music “Arts” coverage is more concerned with acting as pr agents for hip hop and other such genres. Shame.

    • Larry D says:

      There we have it, straight from the mouth of Margaret Dumont: “hip hop and such other genres! Hmmpf!”

    • Tiredofitall says:

      You have to realize, YNS is not the player (power-wise) in NY that he or the Met may believe. Talented, perhaps, but he lacks an authoritative voice. His letter to the Whitehouse was no doubt dutifully filed…

  • WILLIAM S Gross says:

    I count Dallas Texas as a lucky city in this regard. The management took an aggressive stand this year, we will have performances. They are doing with much reduced orchestra on stage and wide separation between musicians as well as limited audience size. They asked the member of the orchestra to take a 10% pay cut while senior management took a 25% cut. Now just need to get enough people vaccinated to get back to regular season.

  • Monsoon says:

    The NY Times covered this in a December 17, 2020 article:

    “Nowhere is the tension between labor and management more acute than at the Metropolitan Opera, the largest performing arts organization in the nation. Its artists and other workers, many of whom have been furloughed without pay since April, are resisting an offer by management to begin receiving reduced wages of up to $1,500 a week again in exchange for long-term pay cuts and changes in work rules. After failing to reach an agreement with its stagehands, the company locked them out last week, shortly before more were scheduled to return to work to begin building sets for next season.

    “Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, wants to cut the pay of workers by 30 percent, and restore only half of those cuts when box office revenues recover. He hopes to achieve most of the cuts by changing work rules.”

    The Times is pretty explicit that Gelb is trying to use the $1,500/week payments to lock in long-term pay cuts.

    • againstbigotry says:

      But the $1500 weekly payments the NYT has described is different from the above. The above is simply guaranteeing musicians $1500+ a week of salary (subtract up to $504/week if you are eligible to max out NY’s unemployment insurance, plus anything the federal government may have added as part of stimulus talks to state unemployment) for a minimum of eight weeks, if BOTH parties agree to come to the negotiating table to work with each other in good faith to determine future contracts. That’s essentially guaranteeing payment to union members IN ORDER TO work out future contracts. If the orchestral union deems it better to risk getting zero compensation (outside of their sizable healthcare costs) until opening night (which I doubt will be in September 2021, as they’re currently planning), they’re essentially locking in their own losses to be significantly greater than management’s discussed cuts of 15-30%.

  • Business trumps Art says:

    We should all stand in absolute awe of Gelb’s genius at this critical hour!

    Pitting each group against their own members in the spirit of identity politics in order to fully exploit them at their weakest moments is brilliance.

    These plebeians Gelb lords over need to accept that they clearly are not as special as they once believed. The new US government administration hasn’t lifted a finger to help. They are all at Gelb’s utter mercy.

    Nothing will ever change with Peter in charge. He has a new personal contract and Ann Ziff’s full backing to attest to the Met’s narration and dictation of their position.

  • Alviano says:

    Gelb is practicing good, old-fashioned American union-busting. He is surely backed 100% by the Board.
    How many recall reading of the salaries of these orchestra members? Gelb is going to cut them down and those of everyone else in the house too. Otherwise the Met cannot continue–at least as Gelb and the Board want it to.
    Nothing here is pretty, and it will only get uglier.

  • Pastore says:

    The sad fact is that pretty much everyone, including high level management, involved in classical music will see his/her wages decrease in the coming years due to a declining audience and donors, large and small, shifting to
    other causes.

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    Does no one appreciate the irony of the Union berating Gelb for negotiating in the press – as a member of the Union leaks this information to the press?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      It was not leaked by the union, but nice try.

      • Tiredofitall says:


      • BruceB says:

        I understood NotToneDeaf’s comment to meant that this likely came from a musician in the orchestra, who would of course be a member of the union — not from the union itself. That’s how I read it, anyway.

        (FWIW, I disagree that it’s ironic. Once one side starts breaking the rules, the other side is under no obligation to keep following them.)

        • NotToneDeaf says:

          Thank you for actually reading my comment. (Although I must disagree with your parenthetical. It’s a typical tactic in these situations for the musicians to leak details of negotiations. They think it’s going to garner sympathy from the public – and sometimes it works – but it’s doubtful it will be effective in the middle of a pandemic with an organization that’s posting nine-figure deficits.)

      • NotToneDeaf says:

        I said “member of the Union” and I am aware of precisely which musician leaked to you, but nice try.

  • JussiB says:

    Why say “Dear Peter” if you’re going to be nasty in your letter? $1543 PER WEEK is a lot of money I would grab it.

  • Vendetta!! says:

    Someone hurt his feelings when he was a coffee boy many years ago. He has made it his business to dismantle the Met ever since and Bubbles helped to make it happen.

  • Horst says:

    Give us our Geld back, Gelb !

  • Skippy says:

    Just watch: The Boston Symphony will be the last orchestra left standing. They are husbanding their considerable financial and artistic resources rather brilliantly through this mess. What a contrast to the Met.

  • Jack_Ewing says:

    I can’t think of a crowd more deserving of union busting and financial ruin than the trillionaire money-hungry crybabies trolling the Metropolitan Opera for cash they haven’t earned. The same crowd that cheered Cuomo when he got an Emmy for closing down their theaters and destroying their livelihoods in opera are now flooding the Met Facebook page trying to make Gelb the great villain. Not Cuomo.

    Florida has a greater population than New York, way less Covid deaths, our governor reopened the state 4 months ago and we have no covid restrictions. I attended a superb, sold-out opera premiere in Miami Saturday night. The theater observed all CDC guidelines. A smart leader quarantines the sick, not the healthy. These self-entitled musicians who are collecting state & federal unemployment benefits like everyone else do not need another paycheck, they need a reality check. They’re not more special than other New Yorkers.

  • Sharon says:

    $1543 a week is over $77000 a year (before taxes). While not enough to support a family in New York City and not a tremendous amount for even a single young person paying Manhattan rents and repaying heavy student loans it is probably better than more than 60% of New Yorkers earn–for doing nothing! Is the deal that other US orchestras have as generous?
    Isn’t something better than nothing? Part of the negotiations could be a demand that after a year after the Met resumes performances the Orchestra can return for a better deal. Many qualified musicians would be very grateful to work for this.

  • Sharon says:

    On a related note New York State governor Cuomo wants to be congratulated on how he added $30 million to the annual New York State budget for the arts. $30 million would cover the Met’s expenses if it were back in operation (with all workers receiving their usual salaries) for less than 2 months. It might cover the expenses of 3 Broadway theaters

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Say what you will, $1,543 per week is nothing to sneeze at when you’re just trying to survive in the N.Y. Metropolitan area . . . or did the musicians save some of their loot after all?

  • Dave T says:

    I don’t know, $80K a year plus another $15K for health insurance for doing no work whatsoever sounds like a pretty good deal. Yes, at the end of all this they’ll have to take a 15% pay cut, but all that free money this year should help ease their excruciating pain, unless of course they leave it on the table like it sounds that they want to do.

    Or they can go Plan B, which is to turn back the clock to 1996 when opera was, you know, valued.

  • Egobone says:

    Gelb needs to cultivate an eager pro management/anti union orchestra committee like the New York Philharmonic has that takes just about an offer they are tossed even in the face of building a new hall.

  • James Weiss says:

    Of course you won’t read about this in the New York Times. I talked to Tommasini more than 20 years ago about Levine’s “boy problem.” He knew all about it but wouldn’t write about it. Total cover-up.

    • Sharon says:

      Levine might now be very grateful to no longer be at the Met dealing with all the shennanigans which would leave him caught in the very uncomfortable position, even as an artistic director emeritus, of having to support Gelb and the board publically (and there appears to have been times Levine lied through his teeth supporting Gelbs’ decisions publically when he was actually very opposed, like the decision to make Levine emeritus when Gelb did) while trying to lead the entire pay derived artistic staff .

      Yeah, he had a huge amount of angst when he was fired but look at what he was saved from! He probably would have agreed to work without salary like Gelb had he been allowed to stay. If the Met becomes a regional opera company or even goes under entirely Levine would undoubtedly have gone down with the ship!

      Instead, just in time, he was able to take the 3 million he was offered and run off . He is undoubtedly thinking that what Gelb is going through, and the criticism and rancor Gelb is facing now, both from the staff and the public, is poetic justice. Whatever one may think of the justice of Levine’s downfall, and those who have followed this blog for the last couple of years certainly know how ambivalent I was about his situation, this is certainly a case of he who laughs last laughs best.

      When things open up, the opera that will be written about Levine should also include the post Covid agonies of Gelb.

  • The fix is in says:

    Anybody that finds themselves wondering why the Times has never been critical of Gelb need look no further than the internet. The answer is simple, professional courtesy. Google Arthur Gelb.

    Much like his one hit wonder with the Titanic soundtrack on Sony Classical before he ran them Into an iceburg, it appears he has defied the odds and is making the same fatal error twice at the helm if a completely different ship.

  • PoorMusician says:

    1500$/week is almost twice what I make playing in a Germany category A orchestra.
    And apparentely those 1500$ would be a “drastic reduction”…

    So how much does a MET musician actually make?

    • Bill says:

      How does the cost of living in NYC compare with where you live? That’s part of the reason for the high pay.

      If you’re unhappy that Met Opera musicians might make $1500/week, you’d really be unhappy to know the actual number! The data I found is several years old, but the entry-level pay was at least $130,000 per year.


    Dear Mr. Krauthamer. We are all in serious financial stress right now and most without a profession and/or a union to fight for us. By you taking such a hardnose stand you are not understanding the obligation of a union. Your job as leader is to stop, look, listen and evaluate for the longer term. You are very shortsighted, Mr. Krauthamer, and you are forgetting that sometimes you need to understand how to win a battle in order to ultimately win the war. I’m glad i’m not in your union, as you seem to want to flex your own muscle and ego and not really see the longer picture for your members. I hope they revolt against your leadership. Mr. Gelb is right and is looking out for the entire MET. For the ultimate survival of the entire MET. DON’T YOU CARE?