an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

If you’re booked by the Johannesburg Philharmonic, watch out: they don’t pay

We’ve been sent a translated article from the Afrikaans press and another from an English-language paper reporting continuing chaos and mismanagement at South Africa’s premier orchestra. It’s not just the guest artists who don’t get paid. Musicians in the Johannesburg Philharmonic go from month to month not knowing if they can cover their bills, while the CEO is nowhere to be seen.

Read, and beware.  The dream of a fair and equal South Africa has yet to reach its orchestra.

Korsten Tells JPO ‘No’ after non-payment


Thys Odendaal (Die Beeld)


The South African conductor Gerard Korsten, who in May conducted the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO) in five performances in Johannesburg and Pretoria, has cancelled his performances with the orchestra in the third season at the end of July due to ongoing delays with payments for his services.

Korsten responded to queries after it now appears that his appearances with the orchestra in the final season in October are also in question.

“It’s a sorry state of affairs,” he said. “It was a very difficult decision.”

He sees the situation with the orchestra as untenable and explained that he was finally paid for conducting eight concerts in July last year only two weeks ago.

“It also happened in 2010, and then I had to wait seven months before I was paid.”

Korsten, chief conductor of the Vorarlberg symphony orchestra in Bregenz, Austria, and musical director of the London Mozart Players, says the situation is very frustrating, also for International Classical Artists (ICA), who handle his affairs.

“Before my last visit in May last year, we decided that I would not come to Johannesburg if I was not paid for last year’s performances”

“Four days before my departure confirmation was received of payment of last year’s money and then I conducted the five concerts.”

“And then the pattern repeated itself: after my last concert in Pretoria (3rd of June), the payment was not made to my agent. Then I decided to cancel my performances with the JPO. The money was then paid a week later.”

Korsten says that the artistic concessions which have to be made bother him more than the payment issues.

“This happens because the freelance musicians that perform with the orchestra for a certain composition also have to wait months before they are paid.”

“Many of them refuse to play for the orchestra again until they are paid. Because of this, the orchestra is frequently much too small, as in the Elgar Enigma Variations.”

It also bothers him that music is downloaded from the internet,  “with hundreds of mistakes,” in order to save money. “And programmes which are changed a month before the time because the musical rights and the hire of music is too expensive.”

Kortsen is also unhappy with the way he is treated.

“I am still waiting for the orchestra’s CEO (Shadrack Bokaba) to greet me at a reception after a concert which I have conducted. Or at least to just say ‘thank you’.”

“This sort of thing apparently doesn’t exist anymore. Members of the orchestra tell me that this is how things are these days. I find it unacceptable.”

Korsten says that after he suspended his concerts in the coming season, Bokaba also cancelled his appearances in the last season in October.

He has also been contracted for JPO concerts in two seasons next year, “but we will see what will happen.”

He will return in the middle of next year “to conduct the South African National Youth Orchestra. This I do for free.”

Korsten says that during his last visit, he tried to encourage orchestra members to stand together to solve these problems.

“There are many of my musical friends in the orchestra, and I enjoy working with them. But they are probably too afraid of losing work to register any complaint.”

He says he’s sorry about the “sad” situation at the JPO. “And also a bit bitter.”

Bokaba had not commented on Korsten’s statements at the time of going to press.


The Afrikaans original:


And the article in “The Star” this morning:





Musicians out of tune with orchestra chiefs

July 6 2012 at 09:00am

Comment on this story


FREELANCE musicians attached to the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra have accused JPO bosses of running the company like an autocracy and treating them like “indentured slaves with no labour rights”.

Seventeen of the musicians are owed about R250 000 in total, with some saying they have done work for the orchestra without receiving a cent since August last year.

One violinist had to borrow money to pay her rent and fill up her car.

She said that when she asks for her money, she is met by “aggressive” JPO officials who choose to disregard the plight of musicians.

“The general atmosphere of intimidation is blatant. Between December and the present I was forced to borrow money to pay rent and for other expenses,” said Judith Klins.

She said she felt “disrespected and discounted” and was now considering approaching the small claims court in a bid to get her money.

Some musicians are owed as much as R35 000 after performing in various shows like Sleeping Beautywithout getting a cent for their services. Sleeping Beauty was showcased at the South African Ballet Theatre, with the last show performed in December.

“We got called for Sleeping Beauty, and we know they got paid for it, but we haven’t been paid our money. We are treated like indentured slaves that have no labour rights,” said Laurie Howe, a cellist.

Another violinist, Morkel Combrink, blamed the financial situation at the JPO on the company’s managing director, Shadrack Bokaba.

“You have a total autocrat (Bokaba) who cannot accept any advice or criticism with the way he handles his company,” Combrink said.

He said that when he demanded his money from the JPO, he was told he would never be called to perform again.

Bokaba has laid the blame on late payments from the National Lotteries Board (NLB). “It’s a cash-flow situation. If you are owed for 15 months by the NLB it makes life very difficult, and planning quite impossible,” he said.


NLB spokesman Sershan Naidoo said they paid the JPO on May 22, with the next payment to be made “shortly”.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. This can be also a funny story in a certain way. In fact Maestro Korsten has been Principal Conductor in Cagliari Opera House, Italy, when the Opera management did a financial disaster, even if Maestro Korsten had not any responsibility. Actually Cagliari Opera House still owe me my fee for the 2 opening season symphonic concerts I conducted there back in October 2010
    Vittorio Parisi

  2. It is the sad truth the the arts in South Africa are handled in this manner on a daily basis. The Lotto money sponsorship is also a complete and utter shambles. Small people on the ground struggle bravely to put good quality material on stage. It is a hard struggle.

  3. Martin Yates says:

    It’s actually very sad this because the orchestra has so much potential. Out of the ruins of the old SABC orchestra the musicians themselves arose phoenix like to create the JPO. Sadly it worked until a less than competent management team get involved. I speak from first hand experience of having been there, having not recieved my fees for a very long time, they did pay in the end, having been promised things that didn’t materialise (no explanation) and then deciding to call it a day.

  4. Laurie Howe says:

    This is our follow up letter to The Star after Musicians Out Of Tune With Orchestra Chiefs was published:

    Once again, the JPO “CEO” Shadrack Bokaba has tried to dodge the bullet by laying the blame at the National Lotto Board and uses the old “It’s a cash flow situation” excuse. By his own admission this has been going on for 15 months and needs further discussion.

    Yes, it makes planning quite impossible and we the musicians you have hired to play, knowing full well that you did not have the money to pay us, are the ones suffering for your lack of planning.

    Knowing that you did not have the money to pay us you continued to authorize the use of extra players for concerts and other productions which required a large orchestration. The ballet was paid and yet extra musicians hired to play for the production were not paid. Where did that money go? The UNISA International Piano competition was also fully paid before one note was played. And yet not 1 extra player saw a cent of that money until beginning of May.We were told from the side of the management that the money was used to pay salaries end of January. Later, this was denied. The extra players were used in these productions to generate funds to pay the staff and permanent contracted players of JPO.

    Why in this 15 months has there not been an attempt to work out a solution to this problem?

    The permanent members of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra have been receiving their salaries, although sometimes late and on occasion not the full amount. We presume this includes the “CEO” and the office staff, whilst we sit on the outside being ignored and our debts piling up.

    The “CEO” in this mornings article in The Star stated that “If you are owed for 15 months by the NLB etc…” and yet Sershan Naidoo from NLB stated that they, the JPO, had been paid on May 22nd and that the next payment would be made shortly. Can the “CEO” please explain where that payment went and will the unpaid extra players be paid from the next payment? Can we have some commitment please?

    You will have noticed from the article that the “CEO” has made no statement confirming the debt incurred by him to the extra musicians hired by the JPO and that no financial plan has been put forward or suggested to meet this crisis.

    It is also noted that not a single word of apology has been forthcoming from the “CEO” for this state of affairs.

    We need to resolve this and would suggest a meeting between yourself “the ceo”, JPO orchestra members, board members and unpaid musicians with if necessary an independent chairperson from the CCMA.. We have chosen taking this to the media as the only way that we cannot be ignored and respectfully request that you do not ignore this letter.

    Laurie Howe
    Morkel Combrink
    Judith Klins

  5. I am very disappointed to hear this sad news. The SABC orchestra employed many foreign musicians and most left for pastures new when the SABC orchestra was disbanded, presumably because it was too “Eurocentric” for the new dispensation in South Africa. The orchestra has been struggling to make ends meet over the years and I thought that things would be put right when it received fresh funding from the National Lottery a year or two ago. Like many other things in South Africa today, ranging from non-delivery of text books to government schools in Limpopo province, and non-payment of fees by government hospitals so that patients cannot receive essential treatment for life-threatening diseases, it looks as though the orchestra is being mismanaged in the same way.

an ArtsJournal blog