Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

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lennygoran
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Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jul 28, 2018 6:06 am

This part of the article caught my attention:

"Maestro worship rushes to fill the void left by that big question mark. The centrality given to conductors — symbolized by their sometimes, yes, bizarrely large paychecks — is a symptom of a struggling classical field, clinging to the last gasps of a dying system of almost entirely male stars." Regards, Len


Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High


By Zachary Woolfe

July 27, 2018

“Every symphony orchestra in America has a financial problem,” the veteran classical artist manager R. Douglas Sheldon said in a recent interview.

To summarize the tried-and-true tale: Costs are up, while ticket sales and donations are down. It’s a fundamental structural problem.

Yet despite these troubles, the amount orchestras pay their conductors is increasing. Another marker has been passed as the average compensation for the music directors of 64 American ensembles analyzed in an annual report by the arts consultant Drew McManus topped $600,000 for the first time.

“The most obvious and pronounced trend is that compensation for music directors has not just been increasing, but it’s been increasing at a sharper rate,” Mr. McManus said in a telephone interview after releasing the most up-to-date data on his blog, Adaptistration. “I have data back to the 1999-2000 season, and just on the chart, you can see it spiking up.”

At the top end, the numbers are well over the average. Mr. McManus’s analysis of the 2015-16 season, the most recent for which detailed financial information is publicly available, found that nine music directors made more than $1 million. (The numbers, drawn from tax filings, may over- or underestimate actual compensation because of the inclusion or exclusion of severance or deferred compensation payments, bonuses, and expenses and other perks.)

Riccardo Muti, the septuagenarian Italian eminence who leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, made just over $3 million that season. But he was outpaced for the No. 1 position by a less famous name: Jaap van Zweden, who was the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the time, and who will begin leading the New York Philharmonic this fall. Mr. van Zweden made $3.6 million, part of a run of blockbuster payouts for him buoyed by bonuses earmarked by an anonymous donor. (A spokeswoman for the Dallas Symphony said that part of that bonus accounted for $1 million of his 2015-16 compensation.)


“I’m thrilled that music directors are making what they’re making,” Gerard Schwarz, who led the Seattle Symphony from 1985 to 2011, said in an interview. “But the numbers are bizarre, aren’t they?”

Some of them are, indeed, a little bizarre. Still, no one disputes that being the artistic leader of an American orchestra is a difficult job. Not only are you charting an ensemble’s musical direction and, well, waving a baton through rehearsals, concerts and tours, but you’re also taking part in fund-raising, marketing, public relations, hiring, firing.

“When you look at how much work is involved in being a music director, it’s considerable, and a big responsibility,” Nicholas Mathias, an artist manager who represented Mr. van Zweden until November, said in an interview. “Yes, they’re paid very well, but I think that they earn it. From my point of view, I don’t honestly think it’s out of kilter when you consider what certain people in television or sports are earning.”

Television and sports, though, are generally for-profit enterprises, while orchestras are not. And the trouble isn’t, or isn’t only, that conductors are paid so much — particularly relative to the size of organizations far smaller than most TV networks or sports teams. It’s that there often isn’t a good definition of what that pay is based on. The responsibilities defined in a music director’s employment agreement are often nebulous. They include selecting repertory, auditioning new players and reviewing musicians when they’re thought to be failing.

“Beyond that,” Mr. McManus said, “is a great big giant question mark. Some say there are fund-raising responsibilities; they often aren’t defined. There aren’t revenue goals. The most I’ve seen is the number of fund-raising events a music director must participate in. It’s certainly not standard to define the minimum number of those, but there are groups who do.”

Maestro worship rushes to fill the void left by that big question mark. The centrality given to conductors — symbolized by their sometimes, yes, bizarrely large paychecks — is a symptom of a struggling classical field, clinging to the last gasps of a dying system of almost entirely male stars.


Almost nowhere do donors want to support works as much as they do personalities. (The Los Angeles Philharmonic, as ever, is the exception.) An artificial sense of scarcity and urgency gets created — “if we don’t get him, we’ll fail,” “if we don’t get him, someone else will” — and, salary-wise, everyone wants to keep up with the Joneses at the symphony down the block. Some boards, Mr. McManus said, want to be seen as rich and powerful enough to write extravagant checks.

So even if Mr. van Zweden’s compensation in Dallas, which will continue over the next few years as he takes the title conductor laureate there, was artificially inflated by his unusual bonus, it might have an impact on a tiny field in which the participants are keenly aware of one another’s moves.

“I’m very concerned with how that’s going to have a ripple effect with the ego quotient,” Mr. McManus said, adding that another conductor could very well ask himself: “If Jaap’s worth that money, why am I not worth that?”

The New York Philharmonic declined to provide information about what Mr. van Zweden’s compensation would be there. Mr. Mathias spoke only generally: “Just because someone may be very successful in raising a lot of money somewhere, doesn’t mean that automatically that can be transferred somewhere else.”

Mr. van Zweden’s current manager, Mr. Sheldon, characterized the New York contract as “comparable” to and “not less” than Dallas, saying he “would be surprised if it were more.”

“I think Dallas was totally unique,” he added. “They saw him as someone who could transform that orchestra, and they invested in that.”


But the vagueness of Mr. van Zweden’s arrangement in Dallas — for one thing, why would a bonus that seems intended to retain a valued artist not be withdrawn once he decided to leave? — is part and parcel of a system that thrives on opacity.

“Compensation policy in the performing arts nonprofit sector is a few decades behind where it really should be,” Mr. McManus said, adding, “Without that degree of transparency and empirical analysis, you begin creating an environment that begs for obfuscation and hidden deals and back-room handshake agreements.”

He supports orchestras reporting their music directors’ compensation more transparently — by, for example, separating out in tax forms the amount an artist is being paid for the managerial aspects of the job and for his time on the podium. The Seattle Symphony did that for Mr. Schwarz, and continued the practice for its current music director, Ludovic Morlot.

“My theory about it was that the administrative part of being a music director is different than the conducting part,” Mr. Schwarz said. “I felt that therefore I should be compensated as a music director separately from as a conductor.”

Some ensembles wrap music directors’ compensations into a lump payment to their managers, sometimes bundled with payments to soloists represented by the same person. Mr. McManus said he’d like that practice to end, as well as for orchestras to include in their filings, beyond boilerplate, the process they’ve used to quantify a music director’s value.

“Don’t just tell me you have a process,” he said. “What is the process?”

National debates about chief executive compensation have included sobering discussions about how much that pay has skyrocketed compared with an average worker’s salary. Perhaps orchestras should consider anchoring their music directors’ packages to a sane multiple of their players’ base pay: “Ten times what the musicians make,” Mr. Schwarz said. “That to me sounds reasonable.” (Some ensembles currently approximate that standard; many don’t.)

It may be just a matter of time. As the classical field, long propped up by a desire for marketable stars above all, indeed shifts, and as more orchestras pull back from full-year programming, the steady rise in music director compensation may finally slow — or even reverse. But Mr. McManus was skeptical that it would be easy for administrators and boards to get off the ascending ride anytime soon.

“Until there’s enough public pressure, from patrons and others, to expect a higher degree of conduct with regard to compensation policy,” he said, “I don’t expect the trends we’re seeing to change.”


https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/27/arts ... aries.html

John F
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Re: Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by John F » Sat Jul 28, 2018 8:22 am

Woolfe has it the wrong way around. Orchestras choose their music directors and guest conductors for a host of reasons, both economic and otherwise, including what they think they can afford. As in industry, they pay what they must to attract and keep the conductor they think their orchestra needs. I don't think Woolfe's Lebrecht-like complaint about "maestro worship" amounts to a hill of beans. If a conductor is capable of leading great performances, who can set a price on that? And if not, then maybe the orchestra can get a better music director for its money.
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Re: Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by maestrob » Sat Jul 28, 2018 11:23 am

.......and then, there are the caretaker conductors who basically keep the orchestra in place, only occasionally leading great performances. They, too, receive enormous salaries without generating excitement, and there are more of those than there are great conductors, especially at the top, where salaries are exorbitant. Van Zweden got his act together in Dallas, which made him attractive to NY. Let's see how he does......

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Re: Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by John F » Sat Jul 28, 2018 1:37 pm

In case that's an unspoken reference to Alan Gilbert, :) his pay in 2013/14 was $1,751,570. This is about half what his predecessor Lorin Maazel was paid in his last year as the Philharmonic's music director: $3,291,791, and of course far less than his successor Jaap van Zweden was paid in Dallas. Simultaneously with his years in New York, Maazel was music director of orchestras in Italy and Spain, and was presumably paid for it. No comment.

The top 10 earners:

1. Jaap van Zweden, Dallas Symphony: $5,110,538
2. Riccardo Muti, Chicago Symphony: $2,309,837
3. Christoph Eschenbach, National Symphony: $2,274,151
4. Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony: $2,105,920
5. Alan Gilbert, New York Philharmonic: $1,751,570
6. Esa Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic: $1,661,493
7. David Robertson, Saint Louis Symphony: $1,043,313
8. Franz Welser-Möst, Cleveland Orchestra: $977,496
9. Marin Alsop, Baltimore Symphony: $914,747
10. Leonard Slatkin, Detroit Symphony: $800,957

https://adaptistration.com/2016/06/22/2 ... directors/
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Re: Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by maestrob » Sat Jul 28, 2018 2:06 pm

Outstanding information, John, thank-you. I wonder if that $5 million figure for van Zweden includes his earnings in Hong Kong? If not, he's parlayed himself into history as the highest paid music director by a wide margin. Wow!

He's accomplished much with Dallas, that's for sure, at least judging by his recordings.

John F
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Re: Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by John F » Sat Jul 28, 2018 2:16 pm

maestrob wrote:I wonder if that $5 million figure for van Zweden includes his earnings in Hong Kong?
No, it's Dallas only. Half of it was a bonus for signing a long-term extension of his contract in Dallas in 2013. Long term in Dallas = 5 years, and now here he is in New York. Does the donor believe he got his money's worth?
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Re: Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by maestrob » Sun Jul 29, 2018 10:46 am

Riccardo Muti, the septuagenarian Italian eminence who leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, made just over $3 million that season. But he was outpaced for the No. 1 position by a less famous name: Jaap van Zweden, who was the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the time, and who will begin leading the New York Philharmonic this fall. Mr. van Zweden made $3.6 million, part of a run of blockbuster payouts for him buoyed by bonuses earmarked by an anonymous donor. (A spokeswoman for the Dallas Symphony said that part of that bonus accounted for $1 million of his 2015-16 compensation.)
Sorry, JohnF, but I think you missed this line in the original posted article. Van Zweden was paid $3.6 million in Dallas for the 2015-2016 season, including the bonus, so, doing the math, the figure you cited must include his compensation from Hong Kong. Either way, he knows how to promote himself, that's for sure.

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Re: Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by John F » Sun Jul 29, 2018 11:11 am

Drew McManus wrote:1. Dallas Symphony: $5,110,538

In order to confirm the $5,110,538 figure was accurate, I contacted Denise McGovern, DSO Director of Communications. According to Ms. McGovern, the $5,110,538 payment to Bajada Productions LLC is correct.

“Regarding Part VII, Section B: the Music Director’s salary for 2013 was $1,788,997, with the bulk of the remainder being a signing bonus for a long-term contract extension executed in 2013,” Ms. McGovern wrote in an email message. “The long-term contract extension now goes through the 20/21 season and includes three years as conductor laureate. The bonus amount was funded entirely by a restricted gift given exclusively for this one-time occurrence. The bottom line operating budget of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was not affected at all.”

If you haven’t done the math yet, that’s a $3,321,541 signing bonus; nearly double his salary for that season.
It's not my figure, it's McManus's, so if anybody's math is wrong, it's his. :)
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Re: Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by maestrob » Mon Jul 30, 2018 10:27 am

Wow! So we have a disagreement between the Times and McManus. At any rate, with either figure, van Zweden is currently a hot item in the bidding wars. We'll see if he's worth it when he comes to town.

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Re: Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 30, 2018 11:07 am

As Ralph Stein used to say every time there was a vacancy on the Supreme Court, I'm available. :D

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Baton Inflation: American Conductor Salaries Hit a New High

Post by John F » Mon Jul 30, 2018 5:30 pm

McManus's Adaptistration blog is the Times's source, so the Times simply got it wrong.
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