6I feel quite torn about the current standoff between the musicians and management at the San Francisco Symphony.

On the one hand, the musicians deserve to be paid well for being so very world-class. The wages should rank more or less alongside the other top-tier orchestras in the land and it’s right for the musicians’ union to push for that.

On the other hand, today’s canceled afternoon concert and the threat of the upcoming tour being canceled as a result of the musicians’ strike, gives me pause for thought.

And it’s not as if the players in the ensemble are struggling financially like the workers who sometimes protest outside grocery chain stores and corporate hotels for the pittance that they earn for cleaning rooms and stacking cans of beans. According to The San Francisco Examiner, currently, San Francisco musicians make a base pay of $141,700 while those at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra bring in $144,040. Players with the Los Angeles Philharmonic net $143,260.

Sounds pretty great to me, even if The Bay Area is one of the most expensive places to live on Earth.


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  1. says

    To me, this is not an issue of the dollar amount they’re paid as much as an issue of EQUITY. And secondarily, it is a communication issue. IF one believes the musicians are as critical a part of the success of the orchestra as its management, then how do their salaries compare relative to management’s. Are administrative staff getting raises or bonuses? And if surpluses are going into an endowment, do orchestra members understand how a large endowment is in their long-term best interest?

    It gets complicated by the hardline rhetorical dance that is scripted by the we/they protocols of union/management discussions but EVERYONE in a non-profit from the board, to the CEO, to the line staff, to the artists should have an understanding of the organization’s finances and feel equally responsible for contributing to revenue, mission and sustainability. And there should be equity in sharing success and failure as well, NEVER FORGETTING that the organization exists to benefit the public.

    To bastardize an essay by Donald Barthelme, it’s Mao Tse Tung and the Art of Orchestra Management (except he used baseball as his example).

    • says

      Speaking of equity, the average salary of the members of America’s ROPA orchestras (the organization the represents regional orchestras) is 13k per year – not even a tenth of the above mentioned major orchestras. And yet ROPA orchestras serve the majority of the American population. Albuquerque, for example, has metro population of 900,000 but pays its orchestras even below the ROPA average.

      Iowa has a pop. of 3 million people, but no major orchestra. I would bet that there are more people per capita who appreciate classical music in Iowa than in the Bay Area.

      Our arts funding system, by and for the wealthy, concentrates funding in a few major financial centers where the rich live, and leaves the rest of Americans culturally neglected. Anyway, there’s a larger picture to the equity that has been mentioned.

      • says

        I should add by way of comparison that Europe’s public funding systems do a vastly better job of distributing arts funds to regional areas. The system is democratic instead of plutocratic.

          • says

            Yes, I know, Margot. And in defense of your point, we should note that the pay of our top orchestras is in line with with the top orchestras in several countries. These salaries allow our orchestras to be internationally competitive. They are also not that high compared to top members of other highly trained professions. In fact, they are on the low side.

  2. Samantha says

    I say just fire the lot….
    there are lots of good musicians in the Bay Area.
    These people get paid very well.
    Most people in the Bay Area have had no raises in several years.
    These clowns were even offered a raise.
    And their 10 weeks vacation
    These weeks are even paid.
    Their ticket prices are so high only the 1 per cent can afford
    Fire them if they do not accept the current offer – the offer is exceptional during these Obama economic years.