What concertmasters earn

What concertmasters earn


norman lebrecht

June 17, 2021

The final segment in Drew McManus’s annual chart of US orchestral earnings deals with the musician in the hot seat.

No big surprises here, except that the #1 earner for many years – William Preucil of the Cleveland Orchestra – got fired.

The rest of the leading concertmasters took a small pay cut in year ending July 2019, around 3.76% across the board. In the big five, half a million is now the benchmark, but it tends to be achieved after many years of service.

Malcolm Lowe has since retired at Boston. His successor will take years to match his final wage.

Here’s the top ten:

1 New York Philharmonic $629,738 (Frank Huang – pictured)
2 San Francisco Symphony $587,876 (Alexander Barantschik)
3 Chicago Symphony $573,698 (Robert Chen)
4 Los Angeles Philharmonic $564,237 (Martin Chalifour)
5 Boston Symphony $513,266 (Malcolm Lowe)
6 Philadelphia Orchestra $470,507 (David Kim)
7 National Symphony $424,158 (Nurit Bar-Josef)
8 Dallas Symphony $329,629
9 Cincinnati Symphony $310,708
10 Saint Louis Symphony $302,387



  • David K. Nelson says:

    Would be even more instructive if we knew what their stand partners make.

    My violin teacher, who studied with several great concertmasters (Gingold, Piastro, Guilet, Chaussow) told me that the marvelous David Nadien took a pay CUT — and a huge one — to become Bernstein’s concertmaster of the NY Philharmonic. He was a top freelancer who recorded ad jingles and Percy Faith albums all day long, was said to be the best sight reader in the business, and everybody wanted him.

    • NYMike says:

      Nadien did plenty of studio work when not actually rehearsing/performing with the NY Phil. His 3-year contract was not renewed when he wanted to be able to take off from rehearsals for studio dates.

    • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

      That is true and it is my understanding that he left the position to return to jingles and solo opportunities.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    Preucil not only made the most, he was in Cleveland, perhaps by far the least expensive city to live in, at least among the top 8

  • In Dallas there’s a “co-concertmaster” who does about a third of the classical series. I presume the two together would raise that $329K number.

    Or are the two splitting that amount?

  • SMH says:

    Unless concerto fees are included in the salary I have no idea why concertmasters paid so highly. They don’t run rehearsals, or sectionals. Other principal string players, particularly cello and bass, do their own bowings. Realizing they are generally not tenured, still don’t understand what they are making so much more.

    • Anon says:

      SMH is correct. They’re just another principal player, despite the mystique.
      If anything, I think principal horn players should be paid the most. Imagine the pressure and difficulty of that job.

    • Humble musician says:

      Because after the conductor the concertmaster is the person responsible for the failure and success of the performance. Because he/she, if capable, which is a whole another question, has a huge influence on the sound, direction, and many other artistic decisions, that are much more beyond what other principal players make. Yes, principal wind players have lots of solos to play, but so do concertmasters, plus leading the whole orchestra the whole time.

      Haven’t you ever played with a bad/useless concertmaster?!?!

  • Chicagorat says:

    Muti is the best-paid conductor in the world. He always says the CSO is the best orchestra in the world. Why is Robert Chen not the most paid concertmaster in the world? What went wrong?

    I was wondering who the 10 worst-paid concertmasters in the world are. My guess is the concertmaster of the Cherubini Orchestra is on that list.

  • Hayne says:

    Speaking about overpaid conductors…what? Wrong thread?
    This is about overpaid concertmasters? Oops. My bad.

  • Bill says:

    “ His successor will take years to match his final wage.”

    Not necessarily true. Frank Huang was already making more than Dichterow made in his final years in the 2019 report.

    In any case, it’s all going to be a matter of the negotiation skills of the successor and how hard the orchestra management feels they need to compete to get the CM they want. Don’t forget the BSO flute vs oboe pay discrepancy!

  • Alex says:

    Some excellent CMs overall. But, NYPhil is overpaying for a CM whose intonation is quite often questionable.

  • Alex says:

    Some fine concertmasters who do an excellent job. NYPHIL is simply overpaying for a CM whose intonation is often questionable.

  • A Pianist says:

    These figures are so often met with gasps of indignation here. But these numbers are right in line with a mid-career partner in these cities for any kind of major law firm, consulting firm, financial firm, tech firm, or medical consultancy. Why on earth should a musician of such attainment not be able to earn a similar salary?

  • Patrick says:

    I am puzzled by the job of writing in bowings. Why aren’t they already there, perhaps notated by the composer or orchestrator (is that even a word)? Also, why can’t they just use the same ones from prior performances? With many pieces in the classical cannon played over and over year after year, I would think most of the work would already be done for upcoming concerts.

    • Having been a principal, a co-principal, and a tutti / section player in a large variety of (admittedly much lower-tier) orchestras, i can safely say from personal experience that unbowed parts are essentially unusable, as virtually every string player has a different idea about what works not only for him / herself and personal technique, what is comfortable and consistently applicable, but also what works better for an individual section versus what is best for the entire string section as a whole. Historically, many of the major composers of the past have seemed to be surprisingly or even shockingly cavalier about bowings— e.g., J.S. Bach, to my knowledge at least, never printed a single up-bow or down-bow in ANY of his string parts— or consistency throughout the various string parts (e.g., Mozart’s gripe about the famous “coup d’arche” bowings of the renowned Mannheim orchestra, which supposedly accounted for their accuracy and precision; “The devil! I cannot hear if they are starting up or down”, or the supposed anecdote attributed to composer / conductor Richard Strauss when guest-conducting with American orchestras—“You play too many of the notes!”). The environment nowadays, by contrast, is extraordinarily different. With virtually every performance now preserved for posterity in some format or another, particularly in video, VISUAL conformity / consistency has been made a huge deal by conductors, grumpy audience members, and section leaders and tutti players alike, with perhaps Leopold Stokowski the most prominent exception to this general rule. As a Polish guest conductor with whom i have often worked frequently says: “Nowadays, most audience members listen with their eyes…”
      It is difficult to think of a specific example right now, but it is very common in a passage where all five string sections are playing more or less the same type of material, still for the first violin part to have the most notes per measure, the second violin part to have the same or less, the viola part to be simpler yet (perhaps exactly half as many notes as the violins, e.g., eighth notes when the violins have sixteenth-notes), the ‘cello line to be as florid as the violins, and the contrabassi to be the simplest of all. Coordinating all that so the (most) critical notes are in EXACTLY the same direction is a huge ordeal. Nothing is as ungratifying as being a principal violist (a post i have held both in an educational institution in my native Canada, as well as here in Bangkok, Thailand^^) in that or a similar environment, with the ‘celli arguing for one type of bowing, the second violin principal advocating for another, the concertmaster often preferring to over-rule everybody (as an aside, and in his / her defence, there is usually far too much information to process, at least in complicated passages, for the fearless string leader, not having a score at disposal as the conductor does, to know exactly what every other section is doing moment by moment) and the second-chair stand-partner and / or the rest of the viola section sniping grievances regardless of what has been chosen anyway (and i openly confess to having grumbled too when in the section. Sorry, Captain.^^). Absolute uniformity has to be adopted on the fly, and if rehearsal time is at a premium, marking bowings to make sure the part is exactly correct for performance(s) often temporarily takes precedence over playing all the notes… Ideally, the orchestra librarian(s) will have “correctly” (perhaps “uniformly” is a better word) marked everything in advance, but conductors and concertmasters understandably reserve the absolute right to change things, often dramatically, if a particular musical or technical effect is sought, and they may have to adapt to exigencies such as a change in acoustics (e.g., for an orchestra on tour in many different halls, or in situations where the orchestra only has the dress / general rehearsal on the main stage after rehearsing in a different venue).
      Even in regards to comments about the classical cannon [sic! canon], it is surprising how differently two conductors can view what effect needs to be chosen in a given passage, and in fact playing a work again (or again and again^^) but under (a) different conductor(s) can actually open up more cans of worms, as it were, not less.
      Not trying to be “persnickety” in writing this riposte to the original question, but hopefully it has been made clear that ensuring roughly 40-60 string players are all bowing “correctly” at any given moment is logically then a huge deal, and the concertmasters and string section leaders who can quickly, efficiently, and with minimum of fuss and stress, guarantee this are, to my mind, definitely worth the premium in income they may receive.

    • BRUCEB says:

      The sound one conductor wants for a particular passage may be different from the sound a different conductor wants for the same passage. And the same conductor’s ideas may change over the years. You’d be surprised how much difference a change of bowing makes.

      And, as others have already said, composers don’t often write in bowings.