Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Jul 5 15:07:35 PDT 2004

A long article, not OKOM. So delete now if you are too busy to read
about the plight of classical music. On the other hand, there are some
parallels to the problems we have in OKOM. This relates to the
"business" side of the business and the wasted money and greed of the
administrators. E.G. When Glenn Dodson BSJB Trombonist) joined the
Philadelphia Symphony 35 years ago there were 3 in the front office and
Ormandy was conduction. The orchestra was famous. Now there are more
than 55 people in the front office and the orchestra has problems.
HMmmmm. Is it time to give the music back to the musicians?

Steve Barbone

July 4, 2004 - NY Times

The Plight of the White-Tie Worker


      THIS summer, the backstage chatter at American orchestras is
dominated by one subject: money.

      In the musicians' locker rooms, frustration is building as the
salaries of orchestra executives and conductors skyrocket, while the
players' salaries stagnate. With contracts about to expire at 16 major
orchestras, including such powerhouses as the New York Philharmonic, the
Chicago Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Cleveland
Orchestra, the discontent is rising to a slow boil.

"This year's negotiation will probably be the most difficult in a number
of years," said Ed Ward, the president of the Chicago local of the
American Federation of Musicians. Paralleling trends in corporate pay,
salaries for orchestra leaders shot up during the late 1990's. Among the
18 American orchestras with 52-week contracts, at least 7 pay their
music directors more than $1 million, and 3 pay their managers more than

The New York Philharmonic is at the top. In 2003, the most recent year
for which tax documents are available to the public, the orchestra paid
its music director, Lorin Maazel, $2.28 million for 14 weeks with the
orchestra and an annual tour. Zarin Mehta, then the orchestra's
executive director (and now its president) got $600,000 and $150,000 in
benefits. (The Philharmonic, like most other orchestras discussed in
this article, declined to comment on salaries.)

That would be a lot in any case, but it's especially striking at a time
when classical music finds itself on the ropes. For big American
orchestras, audiences are declining, government and private donations
have dropped and recording activity has virtually disappeared. Some
argue that the surest way out of this apparent crisis is to hire the
best executives and conductors, no matter their price. Others say that
these high salaries are an unbearable financial burden — and that they
reinforce classical music's image as an elitist, exclusionary world that
is increasingly out of touch with its listeners.

The situation is striking at other top orchestras as well. According to
tax documents from 2002, the most recent year available in these cases,
Mark Volpe, the managing director of the Boston Symphony, was making
$349,923; Gideon Toeplitz, then the managing director of the Pittsburgh
Symphony, $335,984; Henry Fogel, then the president of the Chicago
Symphony, $330,000; and Brent Assink, the executive director of the San
Francisco Symphony, $322,688.

Meanwhile, over the last decade, as pay increases for symphony leaders
have soared, the players' annual raises dropped from 3.9 percent in 1993
to 1.7 percent in 2003, according to the International Conference of
Symphony Orchestra Musicians.

Speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals, many musicians say they are
tired of being asked to absorb their orchestras' financial woes while
executives use those troubles to exact even higher salaries. "If
management starts pleading poverty in this year's negotiations, it would
be very tacky," said a New York Philharmonic string player.

Between 1997 and 2002, the compensation of Thomas W. Morris, then the
executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra, jumped 92 percent, while
the musicians received a 19 percent raise for the same period. And
Allison Vulgamore, the president of the Atlanta Symphony, won a 64
percent raise between 1999 and 2002, while salaries for Atlanta's
players increased 11 percent.

Ms. Vulgamore had taken pay freezes during 4 of her 11 years with the
orchestra, which has become much healthier financially since her
arrival. And Mr. Fogel, now the president of the American Symphony
Orchestra League, points out that there may be other unseen reasons for
a sharp raise, such as moving allowances, bonuses or parity with other

In any case, players are being asked to make concessions. At several
orchestras, managements have proposed pay freezes or cuts, according to
union officials."It's the pattern in every industry, that executive
compensation has grown over 30 years, while workers' pay stayed flat for
the same period," said Robert Frank, a professor of management at
Cornell University and the author of "The Winner-Take-All Society."

But the similarity ends there. In the corporate world, the incentive to
trim labor costs is to return greater profits to investors. The
classical music business is nonprofit, which means that the investors
aren't looking for financial rewards. They may, however, re-examine the
amounts they're asked to donate to an institution that pays its top
people lavishly while simultaneously crying poverty, posting deficits
and urging fund-raising campaigns. And like donors, musicians are
scrutinizing the salaries as well.

The Conductors

"Executive directors of orchestras are going to have a difficult time in
developing and maintaining a bond with players as ratios between their
compensation and the players' continue to diverge," said James Abruzzo,
a nonprofit consultant with the executive search and consulting firm
DHR. When the bond is sufficiently damaged, the players may simply
leave, as 14 did after the Houston Symphony imposed a wage freeze in

Top conductors are also moving around a lot these days, albeit under
very different circumstances. James Levine, for one, combines two music
directorships, at the Metropolitan Opera and the Boston Symphony. Many
who maintain contracts with more than one orchestra earn hefty salaries
abroad while collecting six or seven figures at their American posts.

Some orchestras even celebrate their peripatetic conductors' popularity
with other employers. The Dallas Symphony tracks its maestro on a Web
page, "Where in the World is Andrew Litton?" That's because the hope is
that the higher a conductor's profile, the more effective he'll be at
fund-raising, a function on which orchestra boards are increasingly

Mr. Maazel at the New York Philharmonic, for example, is renowned not
only for his musicianship but also for his ability to attract donations.
His personal Web site trumpets the millions he has generated for
charitable organizations through benefit performances. Last season, he
challenged contributors to match his own $100,000 donation to the

But Daniel Barenboim, the conductor of the Chicago Symphony (who
collects a second salary from the orchestra of the Berlin State Opera),
has announced that he will resign from his $2.14 million American
position, citing frustration with just such nonmusical obligations.

The Executives

Salaries offered to star performers and managers often represent an
emotional response of boards, said Mr. Abruzzo, the consultant. As
donors weary of chronic shortfalls, boards bank on conductors and
executives with proven track records rather than untested newcomers. The
talent pool is small, and executives bearing responsibility for
multimillion-dollar budgets can compete in the for-profit world, which
pays significantly more.

Deborah Borda, the executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic,
says she once considered moving to a for-profit corporation, but, a
trained violist, she decided to stay in music. She received $739,000 in
2002 but says she earned it. "I think the orchestra knows I live this
job," she said, "seven days a week, 365 days a year."

In 1999, the Los Angeles Philharmonic faced a $7 million deficit, the
sudden departure of its executive and the looming construction of the
$274 million Disney Hall. Lured from her $420,000 New York Philharmonic
post with a $728,000 package, Ms. Borda vanquished the Los Angeles
Philharmonic's debt and guided the orchestra's renaissance as Disney
Hall opened to universal acclaim in 2003.

The Players

Many musicians approve of high executive salaries — if, that is, the
orchestra is doing well. But when it is not, frustration arises, as it
also does over inequities in players' pay scale.

These days, for example, many players earn little more than their
orchestra's minimum, with increases after five years of service. But
principal players make substantially more.

The base pay of a New York Philharmonic musician is now $103,000.
According to 2003 tax records, Glenn Dicterow, the New York Philharmonic
concertmaster, was making $366,000; Carter Brey, the principal cellist,
$255,000; Philip Smith, the principal trumpeter, $243,000; Philip Myers,
the principal hornist, $227,000; and Cynthia Phelps, the principal
violist, $216,000. The have-nots in this scheme are primarily section
string players, who have to pay for instruments costing significantly
more than woodwinds or brasses — often in five or six figures.

And in the case of brand-name soloists, the disparity is even more
enormous. The violinist Itzhak Perlman and the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, two of
the most reliable box-office draws in the field, are reliably said to
make from $65,000 to $70,000 per night; as much as full-time players at
second-tier orchestras like the Dallas Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony
and the St. Louis Symphony make in a year.

That takes a toll on morale, and on collective bargaining power. And
even those musicians who consider themselves decently paid often resent
subsidizing top conductors' limousines, country houses and jet-set

Compensation for orchestral musicians was less generous 50 years ago,
when American orchestras played part-time, and players were often
underpaid and poorly treated. In the 1960's, an era of relative
affluence produced year-round contracts and performing arts complexes
like Lincoln Center.

Politicians lauded the arts boom as a cold war victory, and a cultural
shopping spree ensued. In an escalating cycle, orchestra staff positions
multiplied; with marketing pros toiling to fill seats at the extra
concerts, development offices were expanded to pay for it all.
Overspending, a few midsize orchestras folded, igniting a media uproar
over the "death of classical music." Almost without exception, they rose
from the ashes only to generate new deficits and a fresh crop of
newspaper articles.

But the players' gains may have reached a plateau. In the 20 orchestra
negotiations that took place during the last year, only one did not
involve a pay concession. Now musicians fear that the next round of cuts
will involve the number of weeks they have off, the ratio of tenured to
part-time chairs and, eventually, the size of the orchestra itself.

Other issues include health care and pensions. At the New York
Philharmonic, the players' retirement account is underfinanced by about
$9 million, a shortfall that has to be made up partly from the
orchestra's endowment.

The Accounting

Though the multimillion-dollar budgets of orchestras may now resemble
those of corporations, orchestras are still nonprofit organizations. An
orchestra justifies its tax-exempt status like any public hospital,
museum or food bank, as an organization receiving support from the
government and the general public. But experts say orchestras don't
always live within their limits.

"Arts organizations tend to see themselves as separate from the rest of
the world, that their giving streams and compensation packages bear no
relationship to the rest of the nonprofit sector," said Paul C. Light, a
professor of public service at New York University. "But that's
absolutely wrong. Orchestras don't get a special pass."

In May, the I.R.S. announced plans to investigate nonprofit salaries
exceeding $1 million, after New York State sued Richard A. Grasso, the
former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, over his $200 million
retirement package. Under 2002 I.R.S. regulations, nonprofit executive
salaries must compare to those at similar tax-exempt institutions. And
in 2003, the average pay for chief executives of nonprofit organizations
with budgets of more than $50 million was only $188,000, according to
The Nonprofit Times.

With tax investigations, disgruntled musicians and recurring deficits,
the orchestra business may be forced to re-examine its strategies. Mr.
Abruzzo, who teaches arts management in Berlin, sees the orchestra world
shrinking both here and abroad. Gone are the days when cities regarded
professional orchestra, ballet and opera companies as essential to their
cultural life. Instead, many cities are expanding the definition of
culture to include zoos, aquariums and science centers and, more
significant, arenas, convention centers and stadiums.

The crisis the orchestra may be facing is primarily an internal one: not
a loss of value in the wider world, but a malaise borne of chronic
overspending and outdated vision. In response, some orchestras have
lately developed new community programs or joined with other local
performing groups to pool resources.

Joseph H. Kluger, the president of the Philadelphia Orchestra, has
pledged $23,800 of his $283,000 salary to the institution's annual
endowment drive; the board increased contributions, cut staff and
received 10 percent fee give-backs from Christoph Eschenbach, the music
director, and some soloists. "I personally would be uncomfortable making
a salary over 1 percent of the budget," Mr. Kluger said, stressing that
he spoke only for his organization.

But Philadelphia's strategy may signal a trend. Many orchestras have
begun enacting staff salary freezes and cuts during the last three
years, as well as encouraging substantial salary give-backs from
conductors and executives. They include the Dallas Symphony, the
Cleveland Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony, where Ms. Vulgamore gave
back 15 percent of her salary. And at the New York Philharmonic, Mr.
Mehta has pledged $100,000 to the organization over three years.

Ms. Borda took a different tack, reinvesting the Los Angeles
Philharmonic's profit into a new system of education, outreach and

And the midsize Utah Symphony, with a budget of $17 million, is testing
new ground. It merged with the Utah Opera last year, saving $1.5 million
by streamlining administration and scheduling for guest artists. Anne
Ewers, the executive director, and Keith Lockhart, the music director,
have each pledged $10,000 in challenge grants.

Ms. Ewers, who earns $175,000, said, "I'd rather see the organization
thrive than demand a huge salary."

    About the author: Blair Tindall, a professional oboist, is writing
"Mozart in the Jungle" for Grove/Atlantic Press.

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