NY Times: Met gives musicians first paycheck in a year

NY Times: Met gives musicians first paycheck in a year


norman lebrecht

March 18, 2021

According to the New York Times, the Met has agreed to resume paying its orchestra musicians in exchange for negotiations on future wages.

The Met says: ‘We’re very pleased that our agreement with the orchestra has been ratified and that they will begin receiving bridge pay this week, along with the start of meaningful discussions towards reaching a new agreement.’

If this is the case, it appears Peter Gelb has starved out the musicians and brought them to their knees. Gelb is demanding a 30 percent cut.

There are no winners here. Just one moral loser who used the pandemic to oppress his employees.


  • musician says:

    “There are no winners here. Just one moral loser who used the pandemic to oppress his employees”


  • David Leibowitz says:

    NL, I think you have it backwards. Agreeing to negotiate is not the same as agreeing to capitulate. I don’t see this as having “brought [the musicians] to their knees” at all. They are now getting paid (I am happy to see) and all they have to do is show up to the table with no guarantee they will agree to anything Gelb wants. A win for the musicians.

    • BruceB says:

      I understood it to mean “he’s already brought the musicians to their knees [by not paying them for a year].”

      It doesn’t look like his demands for long-term cuts (30%) have changed at all; it will be interesting to see if they do.

      (Maybe the fact that it’s now being reported in the NY Times means that someone high up has decided things need to change… or at least that it should look like an effort is being made. I wonder which is the tail and which is the dog.)

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Musicians aren’t the only people to have suffered in the pandemic. Mostly low-paid people have done all the heavy lifting and that should never be forgotten. As if the Left cares in the least about these, er, deplorables anyway.

        • Dave T says:

          Just what exactly are you talking about? Have you been paying any attention whatsoever to the fight over raising the minimum wage to $15/hour? It was all over the news– two weeks ago. Allow me to remind you: the Democrats, you know, “the left” was for it, and the Republicans, Trump’s crowd were against it.

          If it’s Met’s lower-paid staff you are concerned about– rightfully– I have no idea what ‘the left’ has anything to do or say about it.

          You really should have stopped after two sentences, you were doing so well.

          • BruceB says:

            Typically of The Right, if someone fails to mention a certain problem in a specific post/ comment, they can be accused of not caring about it at all. This reveals them to be a terrible person and renders their argument inadmissible. (The fact that a different topic is under discussion at the moment is irrelevant.)

            It’s a surprisingly effective tactic: people often switch to defending against this new, unrelated, accusation, and fail to notice that the conversation has been hijacked. (Notice how neatly she got you off the subject of Gelb?)

  • E Rand says:

    your description of Gelb could be used for almost every government on the planet. What fools are we… trade freedoms (and economy) for a false safety.

  • Rogerio says:

    Maybe you could do a little additional research and tell the SD community what the average salary for a MET musician is. And what the 5 highest salaries are (not including the Maestro – there is, of course no price for what he/she/it does).
    We would then decide for ourselves if these are poor starving people.
    If they really are, maybe someone can find an American philanthropist. There must be one lying around somewhere.

    • Tristan says:

      so right, such a polemic discussion here, ghastly.
      the unions are the problem at the MET and mostly when it comes to art

      • Rogerio says:

        I guess the more you make, the more poor and starving you are supposed to get when you stop making it.

        This can be found in QUORA:

        “How much are the musicians in America’s finest orchestras paid?…
        …I could not find a list that included the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (????????!!!).

        BASE PAY for the members of the nation’s leading orchestras in 2012:

        1. Chicago Symphony Orchestra $144,040
        2. Los Angeles Philharmonic $143,260
        3. San Francisco Symphony $141,700
        4. New York Philharmonic $134,940
        5. Boston Symphony $132,028
        6. National Symphony $126,984
        7. Cleveland Orchestra $120,120
        8. Minnesota Orchestra $111,566
        9. Philadelphia Orchestra $108,750
        10. Pittsburgh Symphony $100,110”

        • Farmer Joe says:

          The reason you cannot find the MET Orchestra on there is because their system of pay is different. They receive a base salary (already over $100k) which is solely for performances. Their rehearsals are paid separately (“per-service”), since rehearsal periods can vary greatly depending on which operas you are assigned in a season. Therefore, there is no real “base pay” that you can quantify. It would be easier to cite an average pay among the musicians, which has been reported in many outlets to be close to $250k.

          • Peter San Diego says:

            Indeed; and any pay ranking needs to be normalized to the local cost of living.

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            You’d need to be on that kind of salary, wouldn’t you, to live in a shoebox in NYC?

        • Gerald says:

          The Met Orchestra is an opera orchestra… as great as they are, they are basically a pit band to support singers and staging. That’s why you won’t find them on the list of symphonic orchestras.

  • Monsoon says:

    Boston took a 37 percent pay cut. Cleveland 30 percent. San Francisco 30 percent. New York 25 percent. Philadelphia 25 percent.

    I know that we all want to hate Gelb, but all of the other major orchestras are in the same boat — a year without ticket revenue — and they’ve all taken similar dramatic cuts to stay afloat.

    Yes, I understand that Gelb is trying to lock in lower wages in future years when ticket sales and donations return to pre-pandemic levels, but my understanding is that other orchestras have done this too, or, they’re just going to renegotiate with their unions two or three years from now.

    Honest question: What exactly about Gelb’s offer is so much worse than what other orchestras were offered and accepted?

    • John says:

      None of those orchestras went without pay for an entire year. They did not go one week without pay. That is quite a difference.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      Thanks for this comment, Monsoon. I’ll wait with you for a cogent rebuttal from the “I hate Gelb” camp. I fear the wait will be a long one, though, as Gelb could single-handedly eradicate Covid tomorrow and the nay-sayers would still despise him and refuse to understand that it’s HIS BOARD calling the shots.

    • musician says:

      because he is trying to permanently cut salaries and change work rules that are extremely important to an orchestra that works twice as many hours as any other. Said work rule changes would also account for about another 30 percent, equaling around a 60 percent cut. Not only has no other orchestra agreed to such draconian measures, but every other deal is temporary, not Gelb’s. Not to mention that fact that he has been trying to do exactly this for over 10 years. He’s just using the pandemic as an excuse this time. 7 years ago it was the “Opera is a dying art form” excuse and so we need to drastic cuts to stay afloat. Believe me, the Gelb hate is well warranted. He has been a disaster. I don’t care who you are or what you do, a 60 percent pay cut is not something to take lying down. We support you MET Musicians, you are what make that house what it is.

      • Monsoon says:

        Please say more about the changes to the work conditions, because I haven’t read anything about them here. Is Gelb asking for longer rehearsals with fewer breaks, less time off, etc.?

        As for “every other deal is temporary,” that’s not the case. Like other orchestras, the contract being negotiated is for a fixed period of time — they’re not locked into this for all time. Yes, under Gelb’s proposal, at the end of the period, pay would not return to pre-pandemic levels, but that’s what other orchestras, including the New York Phil, have agreed to. I also recognize that this puts musicians in a tough position to negotiate for a salary increase that restores them back to the pre-pandemic pay trajectory, but if ticket revenues and donations rebound, then they’ll have a lot of leverage to ask for more.

    • Emil says:

      What the NY Times reported earlier this week is that the MET Musicians’ union was willing to agree to (sharp) pay cuts, but that Gelb was also hoping to use the pandemic to wreck working conditions and protections, which the Union would not agree to (justifiably). And given Gelb’s demonstrated willingness to outsource concerts, use foreign musicians to bypass unions, and broadcast for free operas produced with the musicians’ (free) work, I have no doubt he’d be willing to crush employee rights if given the occasion.

    • Barry says:

      You’ll bore people with facts. I’m often amazed at the extent to which people on here ignore economic reality.
      That doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad for the musicians. But money can’t be made to materialize out of thin air. When you stop having paying customers, something has to give.
      And am I wrong or hasn’t NL made it a point to take digs at the Met’s attendance woes gong back well before COVID hit? I find it unlikely that attendance will ever rebound to where it was not that many years ago and it may not even get back to where it was right before the pandemic hit, given that some people, especially those with medical conditions, are bound to remain tentative about going out among crowds in enclosed spaces.
      Regardless of what one thinks of Gelb’s tactics, he’s dealing with a financial reality that none of the people on here who hate him have to deal with.

      • William says:

        The box office (Live and HD) account for just over 35% of the Met’s income. We had almost 1/3 of both seasons in 2020 which means we actually lost about 20-25% of our income. The rest comes from donations. Peter will direct big donors when to give and not to give when he is trying to squeeze the employees to give him more of their money to spend on his projects. You all have no idea what he has done to that institution.

      • Sam says:

        So did Mr. Gelb take a 30% cut?

  • Karl says:

    Too little, too late. Can the MET survive this?

  • Frankster says:

    The US has a problem with financing the performing arts. In Europe it is funded largely by governments and most companies continued to be funded. In America, private donations fill in the space after ticket sales. I have the impression that, while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in the US, the wealthy are not funding arts like they used to. For example, you need a high-powered microscope to find what Bill Gates, who donates over four billion bucks a year, gives to the arts. The “old-rich” are supporters of the arts but their numbers are declining.

    • Just saying says:

      Why slam Gates? His priorities –health care, disease control, medical and agricultural research, education– are different; limited donation to performing arts organizations in no way diminishes him or his efforts.

    • Anon says:

      The USA DOES NOT have a problem with financing the arts.
      Many orchestras have been paying 6 figure salaries over the past year to 100 musicians at a time for not working. That is not a financing problem! That is immense generosity.
      Before the pandemic, orchestra salaries in the USA had never been higher. The best European orchestras pay far less than their American counterparts.

  • Myoikey says:

    “But money can’t be made to materialize out of thin air.” Have you ever heard of a $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus package?

  • Dave says:

    This makes me wonder how our local symphony is going to stay afloat. They are attempting concerts by Zoom but I have my doubts that will keep the money flowing. My wife and I have sent extra money to help out but if you don’t have people attending the concerts I don’t see a way out of the financial mess.

  • J Manley says:

    Right on, Slipped Disc. Perfectly stated.

  • William says:

    That “paycheck” is the difference between about $1600 and what the musicians are already receiving from unemployment. It’s pocket change compared to what Peter wants the Orchestra to permanently give back.

  • MacroV says:

    For all the bashing that occurs of Gelb on SD, maybe he deserves some gratitude for pushing an unfit and – as is becoming increasingly hard to deny – criminal James Levine out before he did even more damage to the institution.