NY Times finally reports the plight of Met musicians

NY Times finally reports the plight of Met musicians


norman lebrecht

March 15, 2021

The parish pump sheet, often manipulated by the Met’s press department, has finally joined Slipped Disc in reporting that 40% of the players in the Met orchestra have left the New York area and one in ten have retired. They have gone a year without pay, as Peter Gelb tries to beat down their future wages.

Soon, the best orchestra in New York will have more holes than a colander.

The Times reporter is Julia Jacobs. Like the paper, she is behind the news.

Read the feature here if you have a subscription.





  • M says:

    i do not see this ending well in any way shape or form…

    • Walter P. Shire says:

      The entire staff and orchestra should simply volunteer or perhaps learn to code. Both Obama and the NYT need to stick to their guns as they preached to the masses. Besides the administrators Norman just brilliantly reported on are no doubt busy doling out all of the pandemic emergency ball and flood of donations to those in need. Right???

      Fortunately we have Biden and Schumer who just took enough federal round 3 stimulus bill dough to plug the NY deficit.

      SOURCE from Schumer’s press secretary/spokesman Angelo Roefaro

      Just take what you want from Biden. He won’t notice a thing as usual. He’ll just sit around in a senile fog the same way Cuomo’s removal from office is too difficult for him to manage a cogent, declarative response.

      Joe is on the fast track for the 25th Amendment so Elder Abuse is ok by Dems. They’re above the law and now enjoy being walled in with unnecessary and expensive armed tactical security at the Capitol.

      Guns are good and walls work!

  • harpist says:

    The silence of JNZ is deafening here… Muti spoke out for his orchestra in support as did others. Yet JNZ is making good money with his other orchestra’s and let them hang out in the cold.

  • caranome says:

    NYT is the house organ of the old NY establishment. The Met (along with MOMA, Met Museum, Natural History Museum et al) is atop the NY social order, so the paper is not going to upset the doyennes of NY society, lest one of them is going to accost publisher Sulzberger at a charity ball. Gelb services them well.

    • JoshW says:

      Caranome – It’s adorable that you think the “NY social order” still has any interest in things like the Met and the museums. The money in NY any more is mostly foreign – and those that are Americans are interested in high tech, real estate and the stock market. The cachet of being involved in the arts is something that dissolved in the 80’s.

  • Michael says:

    But hey at least they won a Grammy…

  • henry williams says:

    this will make music as a career very insecure.

  • Terence says:

    Who would bother with a subscription?

    The NY Times are so ‘woke’ they harass their own staff with no heed for natural justice or right of reply. A mere accusation of non-PC behaviour and your career is gone.

  • E Rand says:

    Just 10 years ago, the MET was the finest American orchestra, and James Levine one of a handful of Maestri who could compare to the great conductors of the past.

    Both were cultural treasures.

    Both are now destroyed.

    • henry williams says:

      one of the best concerts i ever heard was levine
      with the vpo in london. what a great sound he got
      from the orchestra.

  • jack says:

    when and if they reopen, they can send out a call for auditions. the unions have nothing to bargain with in these new times. good luck, Met (except for the “diversity officer”)

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Truly a tragedy.

    To arrive at the top job in the profession (in the US anyway) and only to realize one is only one step away from bagging groceries.

    I hope that the orchestra can survive and come back with some sort of dignity but if they don’t , all the young Julliard grads will jump at the chance to work for half the price.

    • Stereo says:

      Surely you should be suggesting the demise of Gelb. What an awful man!

    • BruceB says:

      Half the price would still be sort of a living wage in New York, and Gelb is not interested in offering that. I predict 1/3 the wage, tops (if that’s how this all pans out).

  • virtuous says:

    why is the virtuous ny times so late to cancel evil gelb this time?

  • Just a Guy says:

    I love how, in an attempt to engender empathy among the American public, the orchestra puts forward the following as the pinnacle of sacrifice:

    – Someone who derisively compares his now-current bow situation to the plebeian experience of driving a Toyota Camry, literally America’s most popular car;

    – A guy who is struggling to pay $30k a year in loans on something he can’t even live in; and

    – A millennial, basement-dwelling bassoonist who seems quite proud of the fact that he doesn’t have *any* other employable job skill

    Seriously, do they not have anyone behind on a mortgage? Behind on student loans? Something that might be even the *teeniest* bit relatable to the masses?

    The only person quoted in the article who is remotely likable is the carpenter at the end, who found another job helping people to make ends meet, and seems to show an actual desire to see the MET succeed. The musicians, conversely, sound like a bunch of petulant, entitled children.

    And heaven knows what terrible advice they’re getting from the union that’s caused them to walk away from partial paychecks for months, only to eventually capitulate for something that’ll be barely better than what Gelb offered them in the first place. The AFM is just a total den of incompetence.

    If they think this is good earned media, I’d hate to see what they think *bad* earned media looks like.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      I agree with you. Most (if not all) the musicians I know who play in the Big Five (US top orchestras) are very entitled and are clueless on how the outside world operates.

      They feel that their artistic skills should be above what the rest of the world has to grapple with.

      Yes they have worked hard. Yes they have auditioned and won the Prize. Yes they are talented. Yes they are the best at what they do.

      But in reality they have one skill. When that is taken away they are pretty much minimum wage workers.

      Sorry to say but that is the truth.

      • tony valve says:

        Most have a masters degree in music. Many have degrees in education. Most teach as a side gig. All of them can find work in great paying teaching jobs anywhere in the nation.
        Sorry Old Man but they ain’t no minimum wagers. Not by a long shot.

    • joshw says:

      Just A Guy: You nailed it. My thoughts exactly when I read that. Well said.

  • Tom D’agistino says:

    The SINGERS are the ones who make it an “OPERA house”! This basic concept has eluded those who proclaim to be educated today.

    No news outlets have made an attempt over the last year at interviewing opera singers to tell their stories of mortal loss and financial ruin. It certainly speaks to the total lack of interest in opera. The singers don’t have the luxuries that players normally do with their steady contracts and unions on a regular basis. All they’ve got is AGMA and hopefully a growing stream of freelance work once they get noticed. No benefits.

    There’s plenty of hardship from all facets of the opera world alone that I sympathize with. However some good reporting would make all outlets and mediums more palatable. A few singer friends of mine have fallen into poverty with no bookings to look forward to. Two have committed suicide. I help where I can financially with them as a retiree but cannot understand why these people have been abandoned. The Met doesn’t care at all either.

    • Shaw says:

      The chorus is an opera company’s DNA and embodied memory, as someone wisely said.

    • Maria says:

      I am a singer but not in America, and many of us have had to find other work or just accept retirement with so much having fallen apart. But you can’t have any opera on stage without all parts of the jigsaw complete. Everyone is equally important.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    First off, it’s absurd to call the Met Orchestra the best orchestra in New York. Yes, they are/were very good. Their primary function is/was to serve the opera going on onstage, not the other way around. Second, they did have something of an out. They could have sat down and negotiated. Yes, Gelb and the Met flexed their muscles and used their leverage as a negotiating tactic. Welcome to labor negotiations in the U.S. I’m willing to bet that it’s not all that different anywhere else. Yes, the situation was unfortunate, and remains unfortunate. They can sit down at a table and negotiate. When things finally open up and the biggest show in town returns, they will still be able to put together an orchestra that would be plenty good for any opera house. Yes, it’ll take a little bit of time for them to mesh together. But pros are pros. It won’t take them long. I fully ‘get it’ that N.Y. is an expensive place to live. Everybody knows that going into the place.

  • Geoff says:

    I get the NYT digital for less than $5 a month, so I did read all about the Met. I have no connection with any of the aforementioned.

  • Sharon says:

    I fear the the Met will become just another regional opera company after Covid

  • Rich Patina says:

    “…the best orchestra in New York…”?

    According to whom?

  • Concerned opera buff says:

    You can read the article for free at artdaily.com.

  • Edward says:

    but if you read those nasty comments on the NYT website…

  • Lars Steen Larsen says:

    Just heard Copenhagen Phil has kept all musical and technical staff on full salery without any deduction throughout the complete COVID-19 period.

    I guess it must be the same for other danish orchestras as well.

  • yujafan says:

    just another instance of the print press proving how far it is behind events and the internet in general, not SD in particular.

  • John Salter says:

    OK, so NL doesn’t like the NYT but that’s no excuse for telling untruths about it, is it?

  • Marj says:

    Welcome to the new world of the casualised orchestra. Opera Australia already well down that route. Appalling.

  • Monsoon says:

    What I’d like to see is a comparison of what Gelb has proposed vs what’s happened at other major orchestras.

    As far as I can tell, all of the major orchestras, including ones in a much better pre-pandemic financial position, have taken ~30 percent pay cuts for the next several seasons.

    There’s been no ticket revenue for a year and probably nothing meaningful until the fall — the orchestra has take a cut. So how exactly is Gelb’s proposal more extreme and unfair than what other orchestras have adopted.

    • Manuela Hoelterhoff says:

      His offer has been decent even generous from the start and I know of no other general manager who waived his salary until the house reopens. Over the last two decades, unions have succeeded in extracting so many crazy work rules governing rehearsals and showing up for performances, that hordes of administrators are required to to sort out how little everyone can do for maximum pay. I am sorry anyone should give up a treasured bow, but the fault is not with Gelb but with the violinist’s anonymous and presumably paid union rep.

      • tony valve says:

        No arts union I know of, and I belong to three, “extract(s) … crazy work rules.” Both sides agree to them and believe they benefit each other. For example the Met orchestra members get a base salary for which they owe the company four performances a week whenever the Met says so. (less vacation)

        So what’s missing? Rehearsals. All rehearsals are paid as separate services. You’d think they should be a part of the work week? We all know opera run times vary. Both sides have calculated that paying for rehearsals by the hour benefits everyone.

        The Met’s many contracts have language filled with similar compromises and specifics that BOTH SIDES have agreed to.

    • violabrat says:

      It’s not just 30%. It’s also a demand to slash sick time, health insurance, and other “non-financial” aspect of the job that most white-collar workers take for granted.

  • Nijinsky says:

    What has Classical Music become when there’s not even money for the basic tenements that keep the art going, but ample room for paying and keeping in luxurious pampered lifestyle those who exploit the basic tenements for what often amounts to an adrenaline addiction what might be a circus act where it not for the basic tenements supporting it, the art that actually has meaning and does despite all of it tend to the human soul!?

    I find it all more shocking and shocking.

    Years and years ago, actually half my life ago, I ended up in an upstairs apartment of someone who had been going to a spiritualist church for years, and they all have it as the holy grail that they want to be able to go into a trance and to give forth this secret holy information that would come from spirits; and I started asking him stuff about Mozart’s mother, who I thought was different people around me reincarnated. I was told that I was collecting parts of her personality and that she was in spirit, and then at one point she put him into a trance, because as I was told he was doubting the information. I then afterwards was told he was blown away by the love between me and Anna, actually sort of akin to Voldemoort, who had never known such love, no criticism on him, even. But so the opening was there, and endured for a year, and I got the chance to talk to all sorts of spirits: Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, I took a theory teacher to the church to play something for flute and piano with me and she talked to Bach about how one of his chorales was handed out to a music theory exam and he got a B on it (I thought it sounded good, was his remark), I especially was dear to Vivaldi and Chopin. Tchaikovsky told me about his suicide, and said that he had been discovered making love to another man, and it being against the law the person discovering him was cruel enough to make a sarcastic remark that he should commit suicide, which is what he did, and what Russia now still denies, along with his nature. And Tchaikovsky was really good about it, not like how others mostly play his music indulging in emotional selfishness or thrill seeking, he asked me about something personal and then said I would make it (in contrast), and then the medium woke up wondering why he had tears on his face. I also talked to Nadia Boulanger, who said that she had taught me the notes, and I actually remembered as a child being able to see the logic of the staff and how notes move in it. Unfortunately given how spiritualism tries to exploit spirit for earthly means that only compromise it, I had to get away from all of that, in fact I couldn’t deal with it, it was too confusing and I had a whole collection of emotional wounds from my youth that made me vulnerable to wanting stuff that wasn’t good for me, which I managed to sabotage not have the sense to play such games to get all such earthly rewards, call it crazy if you will.

    And whether you believe any of that or not, right after that year one now extremely famous present soloist showed up, and I knew he would somehow. I found the energy so restless that I called his managers asking them to tell him to leave me alone, and he showed up at my parents house acting cutesy as if his need to be pampered was “just kidding,” while was sitting on the porch just trying to let go of everything, and just that, not needing said ambition coming charging into my life. Music had become something else, and I didn’t even know what it was yet. I didn’t know nor could I cognate, or navigate through quite severe emotional wounds from my childhood and other times beyond perception. That the music was there to heal, would I allow it to be what it’s meant to be, that simple really. That’s really something different then exploiting it for said celebrity, all the marketing games, all the restlessness like some vibrating alarm that doesn’t desist, all of the adrenaline. And it’s taken me years to understand all of the paranoia that it caused, and to let go of it and heal from it.

    HOW is this that a whole array of celebrities, some of them making more money in a year than the whole budget of a regional orchestra in the United states, that they pull through this whole pandemic without hardly a scratch, other than petty stuff to complain about along with stories how they never have spent more than said time staying at home keeping house, and others are losing their whole lively hood (have no house to keep anymore), giving upon their career, and even as Anne Sophie Mutter has reported having had letters about, committing suicide!?

    Music in “primitive” cultures was actually honored for what it was. That it was spiritual, that is was healing, that it contained the stories, the history of a culture, and brought light to the human spirit. The kind of celebrity fixation that it has become, with something like one tenth or less of the amount of money and institutional support going to those who compose the music and who in the times when there wasn’t such a media binge on celebrity actually did compose the whole mainstay or this present blitz…..

    It’s really part of the new wave of colonialism where art itself has lost the spirit it had in indigenous cultures, to become an exploit, a sensual escape, a drug. And the whole mob of adrenaline fixated celebrities, except for a few, are running manic with it……