Vienna Phil jumps into Met dispute

Vienna Phil jumps into Met dispute


norman lebrecht

February 26, 2021

The VPO have issued an open letter criticising the Metropolitan Opera management for not cherishing its musicians.


Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world is watching. 30% of the members of the MET Orchestra can no longer sustain a living in New York City due to being faced with no salary from the Metropolitan Opera since April 1, 2020. This number will likely climb higher as the crisis continues. The Met’s global reputation and the cultural landscape of New York City would be devastated by the loss of artists of this calibre – this orchestra hosts some of the best players in the world. These musicians have a cultural and economic impact beyond that of bringing great opera to the world; they are teachers and mentors too. They contribute to the communities they live in by inspiring people in all areas and stages of life.

The members of the orchestra need more advocacy from their management and support from the Government. There should be more attention on this cultural devastation before it is too late. We as colleagues and friends from the Vienna Philharmonic hope that the Metropolitan Opera can find ways to adapt and include their house musicians in their programming efforts going forward.

Daniel Froschauer
Vorstand der Wiener Philharmoniker



  • Tiredofitall says:

    Perfect photo to illustrate the only priority of the Gelb era…perhaps the final era of the Met.

  • MET FAN says:

    The world is indeed watching you Gelb…
    And Yannick, NO ONE will forget your utterly spineless lack of action during this. Congrats, you the Ted Cruz of classical music.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Nezet-Seguin should walk. He doesn’t need The Met, nor your lack of understanding that he has no business being involved in labor negotiations.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Sounds like bullying and threats to me. Standard behaviour of the modern Left.

    • Musician. says:

      Actually, Yannick Nezet-Seguin sponsored a fundraiser of up to $50k to support the Met Orchestra musicians and chorus members last month.

    • Symphony Man says:

      Yannick is only interested in himself. His coterie of fans on the Twittersphere (he so adores and populates endlessly with crap) love him for his superficiality and pizzazz. He will tramp on anyone on the way up and he has used fake compliments delivered with a smile while back stabbing others to convince managements that he’s the real deal. The Emperor truly has no clothes. Unless of course you count the huge expensive wardrobe of tacky suits and jackets made from fabrics that look like wallpaper or something shot on a safari by Trump’s kids.
      He smooched and blew smoke with the Met orchestra and won them over by giving them an onstage bow on opening night of the tackiest Disneyfied La Traviata that’s ever disgraced the stage of The Met… that orchestra now know they’ve been hustled and duped like others before them.

      • Cynical Bystander says:

        No more pussyfooting about. Just come right out with it and say you just don’t like him. You’ll feel the better for it.

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        . . . as I said, he (Nezet-Seguin) should walk. Who needs such unappreciative nonsense.

  • Bing says:

    Ouch! The Met board must be cringing in embarrassment.

  • Günther Kraus says:

    Talk is cheap. Are members of the Vienna Phil, who have been paid throughout the pandemic, willing to send financial help to their New York colleagues?

    • Tamino says:

      Why should they. Vienna Phil is rich in artistic merits, not in money. Their salaries are a fraction of what the Met‘s orchestra were. Obviously Vienna can help, where THEIR strength lies, in reputation.
      It‘s up to the obscenely rich in the US to cough up the – for their standards petty – money to support the arts.
      Each crisis reveals true character. The US is not a country that can be a role model for anyone anymore.
      That was the case in the past, when the global mindset in exploiting new resources behind the horizon. Now we need a different mindset, one of global human collaboration. And the US is unable to adapt to the new realities and thus will go down. (the MET desaster showcasing a small example) Let‘s hope not with a big bang by their mighty military.

    • WPh says:

      Yes, many of us did.

  • Save the MET says:

    The Metropolitan Opera is on a road to disaster. It was obvious Gelb forgot that what gets presented by the Company comes before all else before he hired a “Diversity Director”.

    1. A good percentage of the orchestra has left for good, or retired. Before this is over, many more will leave as they cannot afford to live in the NY area any longer. They were a crack orchestra which many people took for granted. If one remembers back to the 1970’s and 1980’s, bad sounds could be heard from time to time out of that pit, especially the brass. Prior to the pandemic, they could play circles around the NY Philharmonic on any given day. You could have some pretty lackluster singers on the stage and a crap production, but the orchestra was always brilliant. Now they will have to start a massive audition process and then they need to work together awhile before they are up to former standards.
    2. Stagehands will leave NYC as well. As other stages start firing up around the country and they can get jobs elsewhere, they will be gone as well. The MET is a unique stage which requires people who have been around the place for years to operate properly.
    3. The chorus is in the same boat. Crack chorus, just like the orchestra and many have left. Norman posted about the death of one recently. Cobbling together a chorus that operates at pre-pandemic levels will not be easy.

    Union negotiations aside, the MET has fallen apart already. Gelb is not a strong leader, has wasted massive amounts of money during his tenure and robbed Peter to pay Paul. (Pension Fund raid which still has not been paid back.) He ruined their retail operation which has never been as profitable as it was initially. He threw an art gallery in the front of the house with crap art and paid a big salary for the manager. He blew money hiring the most expensive company in town to change the MET font. A font which was identified for decades. His crap productions are so bad that they have to be replaced many years sooner than their predecessors at great expense. His last Ring Cycle which is fortunately leaving was millions over budget due to his ineptitude in planning. Many, many other examples.

    At this point the Metropolitan Opera Board, many who are sitting on more cash than they and their families can spend in one lifetime should be ponying up to pay for the orchestra, chorus and stage hands to survive during the pandemic. They need a General Manager who is a fundraiser, not someone who when you shake his hand makes you feel like you are greeting the local undertaker. The General Manager’s responsibility in a time of crisis is to be the fundraiser in chief. I don’t get that vibe from Gelb. Both my terrestrial and cyber mailboxes are devoid of mailings from the MET. I don’t see him on local morning shows asking for the public’s help. He’s just not that sort of person. He’s not gregarious, he’s not a Max Bialystock going to “little old lady land”. He’s not charismatic, in fact he is devoid of charisma. Ever heard him speak in public, he does not ooze charm. Even Schyler Chapin, who was not a great businessperson could charm the wealthy into writing checks. (I saw him in action.) It is time to set Gelb free to pursue other options; not sure what those might be, he’s never been terribly good at anything that he was ired to accomplish, but something else.

    • DH says:

      It is time for the Met Opera Board to finally do their duty to maintain and preserve the future of the Metropolitan Opera. The duty of care, loyalty and obedience have been neglected by their choice of director and their negligence to provide foresight, oversight and insight in his decisions. They have been reckless with fiduciary responsibility. After the last contract negotiations in 2014, they have continued to allow extravagant spending.

      In his excellent article A FIGHT AT THE OPERA published in the March 23, 2015 issue of The New Yorker, James B. Stewart paints the story of the hiring of Peter Gelb, an enthusiastic entertainment promoter with no operating experience and a board willing to acquiesce to his whims. In detail Stewart describes the 2014 labor negotiations with all the strife and the financial mismanagement of previous years. Since that article, expenses have continued to be extravagant, revenues diminished, and withdrawals from the endowment excessive, resulting in yet again a credit downgrade by Moody in March 2020 before the pandemic.

      As the orchestra has been without pay, Peter Gelb promotes the next season with six new productions “packed with artistic highlights just waiting to burst forth on our stage.” A responsible board would stop these new productions, saving the 30-40 million dollars to help pay costs and employees. As nightly live streams which encourage donations have continued for the last ten months, the orchestra has not been informed about the revenue raised nor where it has been spent.

      Prior to the pandemic, other opera houses across the world were thriving with attendance numbers similar to the 92% held by the Met the year Peter Gelb began his tenure. Attendance by subscription and ticket sales have steadily declined during his tenure with the pre-pandemic houses only partially filled by tickets sold on every Discount Ticket platform. Yes, classical music audiences tend to be older, just as board members tend to be older, when they have the time and the means to purchase tickets, subscriptions and give donations. These experienced audiences want quality not just “a new production, new singers and how they can excite” as Gelb has been quoted.

      The Metropolitan Opera has not been willing to make a short-term crises plan without first nullifying previous contracts that stipulate the number of performances and rehearsals for basic salary that was established in 1980, and health and pension benefits which have been updated in later contracts. There would be no possibility of ever achieving the status again of a top quality major orchestra. From his first contract agreements when the Met was financially secure, Director Peter Gelb has begrudged the cost of union labor. He should not try to use the pandemic as an opportunity to rescue his previous poor financial management.

  • Manuela Hoelterhoff says:

    In the meanwhile, could the Vienna Phil “find ways to adapt and include” a few more female musicians? There are maybe 20 at most since the revolutionary arrival of the gowned harpist in 1997.

    • Fred says:

      And the number of female musicians is increasing quicker and quicker, fortunately. Whataboutism is often a weak argument.

    • BruceB says:

      To add to Fred’s point: you can’t just fire men and hire women. You have to wait for the men to retire (or do something to get fired, which is rare). And then a woman has to win the job: it would do no one any favors to hire someone substandard, which is what the chauvinists are claiming already happens.

    • says:

      Good sentiment. Wrong thread.

  • Karl says:

    I wonder why this is only coming from Vienna and not US organizations. I remember many small to medium sized opera companies going under during the 2008 economic crisis. I never imagined that the MET could die, but now….

  • JoshW says:

    This would actually mean something if the members of that organization actually made some kind of monetary contribution. Talk is cheap.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    My views on Gelb and the MET are not widely shared here but with only 6 months before the scheduled re-opening and with the Vaccine rollout now offering at least some glimmer of hope of a return to some semblance of ‘normal’, whatever that now means, it is surely time for all interested parties to use what little time is still available to get ready for that opening. But it is apparent that it is Gelb, and presumably the Board v the various labour groups all of whom seem intent on scoring points off one another. More heat than light it seems.

    The first thing is the position of Gelb needs to be clarified. The consensus seems to be that he is more the problem than the solution and only the Board can resolve this. If the House is to re-open and his handling of the last 12 months stands in the way of this then this needs to be confronted because it is paramount that the seemingly soured labour relations dragging on for much longer will jeopardise it happening. Time for Ziff, Bass and the rest to put their mouths where their money is. And maybe time that independently of Covid and its impact on the MET that they also look to the actual viability of a house that is now too large to support a dwindling and ageing audience with a revenue base that does not cover its cost base and where increasing the revenue via ticket prices adversely impacts the attendance whilst controlling the costs inflames already poor labour relations.

    If the MET re-opens the temptation will be to get back to business as usual but the current crisis is only an extention of existing underlying tensions within an institution that has preferred business as usual for too long and where that business model is now severely compromised, if not quite past the point of no return.

    • Save the MET says:

      The current course the MET is on is akin to the Titanic and the Hindenburg. The Seniors who largely bought the tickets and gave donations are onto other things. They will not be filling the seats. Gelb’s productions which have been generally panned do not have legs and have to be replaced t great expense in short order. They do not have the legs of the Zefferelli, Moshinsky and Schenk productions and the three are all gone. Gelb can’t keep putting up projection sets, as people don’t come to the MET to see those. They come for big, brash and beautiful sets. You can go see the projections elsewhere for less money. The orchestra and chorus will not be of the same quality when they reopen as so many have left, retired, or passed away from the virus. Gelb has been an inept leader since day 1, never should have had the job. He should have been hired as a videographer, the only thing in his wheelhouse when he was given the job. He was a failed record executive. I know many people at Sony who worked with, under and above him, there was a reason he was let go with the merger, it was incompetence. One of his secretaries threw hot coffee at him on the way out the door. I have spoken with her and heard her tell the tale verbatim. He was a creature created and promoted by Ronald Wilford, Levine’s manager. He had no experience running a large organization and had a big ego supported by Wilford and his father ensured he got favorable press in the Times. Folks this is a college drop-out. Almost every person that works at the MET in the pit, chorus and administration are more accomplished academically than he. There is no reason for him to linger one day more in that job. They need someone with a vision who is a successful businessperson and can fund raise like a pro and will leave the production end to a professional who is experienced in the area. He’s been in over his head from day 1.

  • Joh says:

    Yannick Nezet-Seguin is a scam

  • sam says:

    so how big is the check that the Vienna Philharmonic is sending along with the statement?

    thought so.

  • Bone says:

    When an orchestra that engaged with Nazis can find a reason to criticize you, there is definitely a problem.

    • Save the MET says:

      They are the finest orchestra in the world. That view is widely held by the experts. They also play in the pit of the Staatsoper every night, so they have a genuine point of view. At this point, I’d stay away from the Nazi issue, it is long since past and they have made amends for it. The Vienna Philharmonic today is not the Vienna Philharmonic of 1938.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I love the Vienna Phil. But let’s not forget that they are a self governed offshoot of the Wiener Staatsoper Orchester – very heavily state subsidized. They’re also not paid nearly as highly as their N.Y. counterparts. The last I checked, good-old “Wien, Wien, nur du allein” was not THAT cheap of city to live in either.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Not so expensive. Several studies of the most expensive cities in the world place it around Dallas – about in 54th place. Despite this, it is generally voted “most liveable” year after year.

  • Amos says:

    Given the history of the self-governing VPO it is the height of arrogance to weigh in on what any other musical organization is or isn’t doing. Until very recently the misogyny and racism exhibited by this body was second to none. Perhaps they should demonstrate a more enlightened approach within their own ranks before pontificating to others. Did I forget to mention the anti-semitism they demonstrated on more than one occasion to LB; in one famous incident reportedly extolling his approach to Schumann and dismissing his own symphonies as “Jew music”.

    • Save the MET says:

      LB had a long and fruitful relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic which he maintained throughout his life. His most important relationship outside of hie relationship with the New York Philharmonic. The evidence is on a large number of videos with the joy he displays conducting the orchestra. If he were offended he would have walked away.

      • Amos says:

        I think your suggestion that since a conductor is associated with an orchestra for an extended period of time means they would have walked if offended is not true in general and specially not true wrt LB. First, the incident I mentioned wasn’t the only time the VPO exhibited similar behavior. I’ve read that on another occasion when he ran over the allotted rehearsal time a similar remark was made, loud enough for him to hear it, but he opted to ignore it and carried on. When LB chose to leave the NYPO he supposedly wanted to prove that he could be as successful in Europe as he was in the US and concentrated his efforts on the LSO, RCO and VPO. Supposedly, at the time Europe also offered him the opportunity to live his lifestyle more openly than the US did. Another famous example of a conductor who put up with rebukes from an orchestra was HvK. For whatever reason he decided that recording and touring with the Philharmonia was advantageous to his career. When they were touring in the US, I believe it was Detroit, he refused to take a curtain call because of protests outside the hall regarding his WWII activities. As I recall it was the orchestra’s concertmaster who told him to his face and in front of the orchestra something to the effect that “he hadn’t fought against your lot in the war to have you insult our allies”. HvK said nothing and continued the tour and recording with them until it didn’t suit his needs.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Much more important in the USA to appoint a ‘trans’ medical adviser and attendant boondoggles/gravy train.

    • Amos says:

      I doubt if that trans physician/cabinet appointee would hesitate to provide service to anyone regardless of their political views. Didn’t I see photos of you in DC on January 6th marching with one of your WWII-era flags?

  • Novagerio says:

    Gut gesagt Herr Froschauer!

  • Jane says:

    Brilliant. If the Met’s appalling treatment of their musicians is greeted with silence, is that not akin to acquiescence?

  • Tuna says:

    Honestly it’s none of their business.

  • Gustav says:

    I couldn’t care less for people that regularly got paid $100k annually and are somehow still in financial trouble now.
    I highly doubt they are as meaningful as they like to think they are. I am a professional classical musician and the MET means absolutely nothing to me. If they stop existing or even never existed, nothing would change in my 50+ years of life, 30+ years of a career, interest or influence in classical music. I can only imagine how much less they matter to others. Self-important nonsense. We are not essential, no matter how man times you repeat that and keep trying to explain how we ‘feed the soul and inspire the heart…’ and all that nonsense. Face reality, please.

    • A real musician says:

      I would LOVE to know which ensembles you grace with your enlightened presence….

    • JR says:

      Just an observation on living in New York. Back in the 1970’s at one of Donald Trump’s bankruptcy trials, he convinced the judge that he needed the courts to award him an allowance of $500,000 a month (yes, this amount is true) because he could not live on anything less. He got it, too. I wonder how much he would be awarded now?

    • Violinist says:

      Wow Gustav, you’re the life of the party! Debby Downer has nothing on you! I can only imagine how inspiring your concerts must be. Do you charm the ladies by saying, “feed the soul and inspire the heart is all crap?” Why did you become a musician in the first place? I’m a recently retired musician from a very famous orchestra. I consider my job as the most honorable profession in the world. I’m so very grateful to have had that opportunity.
      Yes, I was well paid for what I did [I was among the best in the world after all] but to tell you the truth I would have done it for no pay. Some of us have a burning passion to make music and others are jaded cynics.

      • JR says:

        I completely agree with you, as I am also a professional musician. As one is told on how to find a career: “hone your passion, then figure out how to get paid for it.”

  • Monsoon says:

    So I have no problem saying something unpopular here:

    The median household income in New York, NY is ~$64,000. 18 percent of the residents are in poverty (in the United States, the poverty threshold for a family of four, including two children, is $26,200). Yes, NYC is such an expensive place that a $150,000 salary doesn’t go all that far because housing is so damn expensive — I lived in Manhattan for several years, I know first hand how brutal the rents are — but the orchestra members are still in an extremely privileged position compared to the majority of New Yorkers. In fact, a $150k salary puts an individual in the 89th percent decile in the New York metro area.

    Making it sound like the musicians are on the brink of destitution is a losing tactic for the orchestra, and reveals just how out of touch the orchestra is with the people of NYC.

    A better message from the orchestra would be to acknowledge an unprecedented crisis, and say that management is attempting to balance the books of the organization on the backs of the workers, as if it is a corporation. The musicians are ready to make a sacrifice to help save the institution, but so should the board. The board members are among the wealthiest people in NYC; they need to step up. Where’s the parity? And the musicians should push Gelb to be more frugal with new productions for the next several years or just eliminate them. Just a few days ago, Gelb announced a new production of the Ring. If the the Schenk production wasn’t saved in storage, then maybe the Met just needs to wait to do the Ring again until it’s on a more stable footing, and in general, take advantage of the fact that it has a huge repertoire of productions.

    • guest says:

      You absolutely nailed it re: the take of the union members.

      This is nothing more or less than a typical labor dispute. The unions are trying to play hardball while complaining that Peter Gelb is playing hardball. It’s pretty transparent to anyone who isn’t on one side already.

      The stagehands complain about a draconian 30% cut (with a three-year clawback to 15%) as being wildly unrealistic, but the NY Phil musicians accepted a 25% cut (to 10% in four years) without starting a PR war.

  • Joyce says:

    Glad to see the VPO supporting the Met Orchestra. Don’t think anything will change, though. The Met management, and employers throughout the country, are sticking together on putting down their workers. For years now, people in office jobs have been working harder, longer, but not paid more and losing benefits, and are afraid to complain as they fear getting fired. The Met’s board are the CFO’s of big business. Wake up, everyone, guess you don’t realize what is happening at the Met is already happening to you. Unfortunately, managements are sticking together. Doesn’t look good.