The Met and the Times collude on the fate of musicians

The Met and the Times collude on the fate of musicians


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2021

Four days ago, after ignoring the story for a year, the New York Times finally reported the plight of musicians in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra who had not received a salary since April 2020. Many had left town, some were forced to sell their instruments.

As if by magic, two days later, the Times published a leaked memo from the Met saying it had now resumed paying the musicians, in exchange for unconditional wage talks.

The next day, the Met leaked to the Times a private letter from music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin to the Met board, pleading for the orchestra to be paid.

Anyone who believes that these events were random and uncoordinated must be impossibly naive. Peter Gelb, knowing the Times could no longer ignore his siege of the musicians, made sure the follow-up stories had him and Yannick looking like good guys.

The Times culture department works hand in glove with the Met press department, performing the same function for the Met as Izvestia once did for the Kremlin.





  • phf655 says:

    Why does this website, which otherwise performs such a valuable service in aggregating news of the classical music world have such a strong anti-American, anti-New York and anti-Metropolitan Opera bias? I think most readers would prefer to read the New York Times than Izvestia! Here is an article that refers to the furlough of the Met Orchestra musicians published before this month. I believe there were others.

    • E Rand says:

      I would rather read used toilet paper than the nyslimes. I don’t trust any organ of a political party. This applies to both sides, but the Slimes and Washington compost are particularly egregious.

      • E Rand says:

        The butthurt people giving this a thumbs-down are the same ones who reflexively laugh at those who view Fox News as hopelessly biased rubes. Hey folks, your cognitive dissonance is showing.

        • Rogerio says:

          As someone looking at you people from the outside, I regret to conclude that about 80% of Americans are in need of Cognitive Dissonance Syndrome Therapy.

        • jt says:

          No, I gave your comment a thumbs-down because it’s stupid. The people who watch Fox News are literally being brainwashed by propaganda and it is tearing America apart. Anyone who cannot see that may just be a hopeless rube.

          • Hopeless Rube Still Has A Brain says:

            Well, people who read the New York Times and actually think they’re getting objective journalism have already had their brains sucked out about 25-30 years ago…

      • Alexander says:

        Earth ecosystem needs myriads of components, slim and compost matter 😉

      • Kolofon says:

        Which media source would you deem reliable? No snark. Just curious.

      • Minnesota says:

        Some people think that the extreme right wing is the political middle. The “applies to both sides” claim reveals all.

        • E Rand says:

          I don’t know anyone on the far right (and I know a lot) who even remotely thinks they are in the middle. They know where the middle is (i.e. Overton window) and lament how far left it has moved.

        • James Weiss says:

          Just as many people on the “far left” think they’re “moderates.”

    • musician says:

      Music doesn’t exist without musicians who dedicate their LIVES to the craft. NL is pro-musician, as everyone else here should be. The MET management, in their current behavior, should be an enemy to everyone who loves music. PS, not all conductors are musicians, those that have chosen to stand with management, are no longer musicians.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I couldn’t agree more. The New York Times is not my preferred news source for classical music news. Its section has declined in recent years. Overall, it is by no means perfect. But it is a great newspaper. Their coverage of Covid is a current example of their high standards.
      I happily pay for my online subscription.

    • James Weiss says:

      The American media – especially the NYTimes – is hopeless. I had multiple conversations with their music critics over the course of some 20 years about James Levine’s proclivities. They all knew. They didn’t publish one single story. One big cover up.

      • Herr Doktor says:

        Everyone knew, everywhere. I was in a in-person private group discussion with the chief classical music critics of 2 of the major cities, and the exact subject of the discussion was James Levine, pedophile, rapist, and pervert. I learned things about his background from one of this two figures that I had never heard from others.



        This is not about the NY Times. It is just as well about __________ (fill in the blank, which could just as well include the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, the LA Times, the Cleveland Plains-Dealer, the Chicago Tribune, etc. – all of which at the time were the cream of the crop of the news industry.)

        Heck, Norman Lebrecht in his excellent book “The Maestro Myth” did not name James Levine, although he certainly referred anonymously to a major maestro who was known to be a serial pedophile. This is not to point fingers, but just to say NO ONE was willing to go on record and say what everyone knew to be true, because it threatened too many people and institutions for that truth to be publicly known.

        • James Weiss says:

          I had a twitter dust-up with critic Anne Midgette a few years ago in which she straight up lied about conversations we had almost 10 years ago about Levine. She eventually admitted she’d “heard” rumors but “what could I do?” You could have asked questions, in print, I replied. She blocked me. Bottom line: no journalist would stick their neck out.

          • NotToneDeaf says:

            You seem to know and understand everything about music journalism. And yet you’re not one yourself? What a loss to us all. Thank you for at least sharing your high-minded values with all of us here.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Finally , a voice of reason.

      • NotToneDeaf says:

        There’s much more to a newspaper than how they cover the classical music scene. Which other source consistently researched and printed story after story about the disasters of the Trump presidency? This is what is really important in a newspaper. Your blanket condemnation of the NYTimes based on your “multiple conversations with their music critics” (who cares???) makes you look like a tiny-minded fool.

    • RU SERIOUS? says:

      That article IN ITS TITLE states that the met is producing content WITHOUT ITS ORCHESTRA. what is wrong with you? Fuck the NYT. Fuck Gelb and fuck Yannick too. The tide has turned and all they’re doing is saving face. Disgusting.

      Have a nice day.

    • Hopeless Rube Still Has A Brain says:

      You are probably a very intelligent person with a respectable job, and a high standing in society. That still doesn’t change the fact that you are blind to the fact that New York Times has been a full-blown, agenda-driven OPINION source with no journalism whatsoever EXCLUSIVELY for about 15 years, MOSTLY so for about 25, and a source with strong liberal bent for about 35, and somewhat respectable as a source of journalism only before that.

  • Alexander says:

    you made my day, Norman 😉 This go at Peter is just unparallel . Happy the Times cilture dept should be , and the happiest is the Met – it has been compared to the Kremlin itself 😉
    PS I have met rather a number of journalists in my life, starting from the Washingtonpost ladies and ending ( what a cruel irony) a charming lady from “Izvestiya” online TV department ( ’twas at some international presidential meeting about 4 years ago). I bet the Izvestiya lady was not only tall, smart and beautiful – she was the very elegance , still remeber her long dark blond hair and beautiful grey eyes. More news on Izvestiya s’il vous plait 😉

  • Novagerio says:

    Remember one little extra “coincidence”: Arthur Gelb used to be the former chief-editor of the NY Times

    • Petros LInardos says:

      Arthur Gelb retired from the NY Times in 1989 and died in 2014. At that time the NY Times share price was $16.12, while now it is $49.93: the company’s valuation has tripled.
      Peter Gelb needs the NY Times more than they need him.

  • A.L. says:

    On the mark. Another example is how the organ’s chief public relationist, otherwise critic, refused, and continues to refuse, to acknowledge the poor to bad singing of Deborah Voigt and Renée Fleming in the past and, nowadays, Anna Netrebko. Whether the critic is in the pockets of the organ or agents, I don’t know. But something has prevented, and continues to prevent, the critic to write honestly and with the professional expectations entrusted the critic. This has been all too obvious for as long as I can remember.

    • A.L. says:

      Correction: Whether the critic is in the pockets of the Metropolitan Opera or agents, I don’t know.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        We can and should criticize the critics all we want. But the pockets of the MET and any artist agents are not that deep.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      Right . . . . because the ever-failing and now almost nonexistent Met Opera exerts that kind of power over the NY media. Absurd.

  • mary says:

    And do the musicians of the Met collude with Slipped Disc on the fate of Peter Gelb?

    It won’t be long before SD posts on UFOs and anal probes…of Peter Gelb.

    • Zandonai says:

      you mean probing the annals of the Met.

    • Save the MET says:

      Anal probes of Peter Gelb would reveal nothing. A really bland and boring human being in a job that is beyond his abilities. The only thing has has left is the New York Times and he cut their advertising budget. He cuts it any more when they start up again, he will likely lose them as well.

  • DAVID says:

    This is really not exclusive to the NYT or the MET, but is rather emblematic of US culture as a whole. The pattern is quite predictable: whenever the “optics” of something start not looking too good, eventually it’s time to start issuing public apologies and signs of contrition in order to salvage one’s public image and, ultimately, one’s bottom line. The underlying assumption is that people are so naive and gullible that they will not even suspect these contrived gestures to be mere calculated moves devoid of a single ounce of sincerity. That’s exactly why these public outbursts often happen late in the process, only when they become clearly necessary in order to preserve one’s image. They are, in other words, a form of damage control, and nothing more. “Optics,” in other words keeping up appearances, is a fundamental trait of American culture; in fact to even use the word “appearance” is almost too generous, as there literally isn’t anything “behind” the appearance that would confer any sense of realness and authenticity — the appearance is literally everything, which is why entertainment and spectacle in general play such predominant roles. Even news here is spectacle, which is why it’s often called “infotainment” — really more “tainment” than “info.” Still, it’s hard to believe anyone of sound mind would give an iota of credibility to such manipulative tactics. The reason might come from a need for psychological reassurance and self-coddling.

    • Hannah Fuchs says:

      Along these lines, highly recommended are Guy Debord’s “La Société du Spectacle” and it’s sequel. As prophetic as the movie Idiocracy.

    • George says:

      This reminds me of the Harry/Meghan Markle interview, when she revealed the Chick Inn Hen to Oprah: “I love to save animals” and “we want to live authentically and get to the basics”, while having moved from Frogmore Cottage (and British country side rubber boots in Camila/Charles style) to a 14,5 million dollar mansion in Los Angeles.

      • Bill says:

        In Los Angeles? Ha! Montecito is further from the center of Los Angeles than the white cliffs of Dover are from the center of London.

        And whatever you want to say about H&M’s idea of “living authentically” there’s no argument to be made that they would be “living authentically” had they kept on doing what they were doing.

  • CarlD says:

    The charge of collusion is nonsense. I am a former labor reporter and SD’s position on this standoff reminds me of the sort of advocacy blogging I’d run up against in trying to play things neutrally and straight down the middle.

  • Michael Blim says:

    Yes, Gelb’s career as a flack is paying off and complementing his family ties to the Times hierarchy. More inexcusable still perhaps is that the Times has not written any editorials supporting Met workers (locked out) or the musicians (de facto locked out) in the dispute, or even encouraged the two for the sake of NYC to find common ground. Given the powerlessness of the workers and the musicians, that’s bias. As to YNS, he could have led an appeal for the orchestra and thrown in the Philadelphia for good measure. Nothing there. His letter is risible. Osmo Vanska resigned his post in Minnesota and helped organize resistance to his orchestra’s Gelb, and who subsequently resigned. Quo wadis, YNS? As to Gelb, he makes it clear where he is going: destroying the Met to save it.

    • JoshW says:

      1) Perhaps it’s just that the NYTimes doesn’t really much care about the Met Opera; and 2) Vanska’s orchestra is now running a deficit that is close to the amount of its annual budget, and he’s resigning. Again. Running away from the problem doesn’t equal courage.

  • Mark Cogley says:

    If an arts organization purchases expensive advertising from the Times, the paper will pull its punches whenever possible. I have learned that when a small arts organization wants the Times to review their events, the Times will attempt to make the organization purchase their expensive advertising in exchange for a review.

  • Minnesota says:

    And the New York Times STILL hasn’t reported on the tens of millions of dollars paid to the Metropolitan opera by the state and federal governments. Oops! Wrong country, wrong opera company, and fanciful story. A correction may follow.

  • FrankUSA says:

    Does SD have any proof whatsoever or is this pure conjecture? If it is the opinion of the owner of this blog it should be labeled as an editorial or,at least, it should began with the phrase,”In My Humble Opinion. “

  • Dennis says:

    Not so! The times published an extensive article in june 2020. It included interviews with many met musicians describing their difficult challenges.

  • Couperin says:

    If Yannick wanted to unequivocally support the orchestra, he would have written that letter a month or more ago. He conveniently waited until they took a partial pay deal and opened the contract to negotiation so he could play both sides and make sure his checks keep coming.

  • DivaNotturna says:

    It is hard to overstate the depths to which the NYTimes culture section has sunk. Superficial, puffy, bloggy, clickbaity articles that have little to no depth or nuance. It’s all “click me, click me!” and it’s sad to see it devolve into such a state.

  • George says:

    Ironically, I think if this pandemic had happened during James Levine’s 40 years, he would have fought for the Met Orchestra and probably would have found ways for them (and him) to perform.

  • fflambeau says:

    The Times has always only published things that glorify New York.

  • Just a Guy says:

    Hey, big shock! They dawdled for nearly three months and then basically took the offer that’d been on the table for three months.

    What’s the price of pride? Let’s see:

    $1,543 weekly x 11 weeks this year of feebly encouraging colleagues to post “pay your musicians” on the Met’s Facebook feed and complaining about how you can’t make $30k a year in instrument payments =

    $16,973 in exchange for pride? Which they ultimately just swallowed anyway?

    This is what happens when you get people whose entire self-identity is wrapped up in their jobs. They make terrible, awful, irrational decisions based more on emotion and less on economic reality.

  • MacroV says:

    Much as I appreciate SD as a source of information on music-world developments, I have seen far too much innuendo, rumor-mongering and just plain factual inaccuracy from Norman over the years to accept his lecturing the New York Times on journalistic standards. Yes, the Times could have covered the situation at the MET more extensively, but there’s been a lot going on lately – a presidential election, other impacts of COVID, voter disenfranchisement. The trials and tribulations of the MET and its musicians aren’t necessarily #1 on the agenda. BTW, the Times had an article on the situation last December.

  • Zandonai says:

    Norman please refrain from editorializing and just report the news… like the CNN Headline News of old.

  • JoshW says:

    Do you have a better source for cultural reporting? Please share if you do. The Times’ cultural reporting is in proportion to the number of its readers and advertisers that actually care about culture.

  • fcg says:

    A more likely scenario…

    People kept complaining about the NYT not covering these issues (as if there was much new to report), so they produced a balanced article covering the personal struggles for the musicians and the financial difficulties for all concerned.

    Lots and lots of comments largely consisted of readers asking questions like “stagehands make $200K/year?” and “the chorus accepted $1,500/wk but the orchestra won’t, simply to negotiate” and “how much are unemployed workers in other fields making?”

    Unfortunately, it was not a good spin for the employees, who sound like the only people in the US who don’t know the Met is closed.

    So the musicians’ union took the bridge deal, five weeks after the chorus – costing their members $7,500 each – why did they think it was a good idea to wait? Why did they think they had the leverage when the Met will have been closed for a season and a quarter?

    (And, I suspect, PG suggested to YNS that he write a supportive email for the morale of the musicians and send a creative message to the board.)

    Soon the Met will settle with the Chorus. Later with the Orchestra. And those deals will resemble those elsewhere – like the BSO’s 37% cut or the Philharmonic’s 25% cut (with limited clawbacks based on time and revenue improvements). The Met should shorten its season? Show of hands of the union members who will take a commensurate paycut… I thought so.

    The stagehands… are kind of screwed. They’re out of contract. To claim to be locked out when the house is closed doesn’t resonate (we all get that some work could be done, but not much). Exaggerating about shopping out productions doesn’t resonate because the new productions will just turn into productions-in-a-box, like new co-productions that are produced every year.

    Does anyone read the annual reports and the financials? The attendance trends? It’s obviously time for a reset.

    I’m not anti-union by a longshot, but it seems like there are a lot of folks who think “we should get what we get because… we’re artists! Art is important!” This is a typical labor negotiation in anything but a typical time. People needn’t make it out to be anything else.

  • Frankster says:

    There is a broader issue here and it reflects a general societal failure to ‘out’ famous people who abuse and allow it to continue to wreck the lives of their victims. I had Lincoln Center friends in the late 70s and all knew what Levine was doing. But he was famous and made great art. Certainly most every Hollywood insider knew about Weinstein but shut up because of his success. It finally is society that is changing and not accepting this deeply immoral behavior by the rich and famous. Finally!

  • Patrick says:

    I stopped reading the NY Times when I came across a wonderful piece of journalism concerning London’s emergence from The Porridge and Mutton Era barely over 10 years ago… memorably skewered here