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Exclusive: A conductor takes stock of orchestral wages

The US-born conductor John Axelrod has just brought out a book in German on the state of orchestral culture. It’s a brave book, and a timely one. It’s called How Great Music Is Made, Or Not.

Axelrod, who is based in Europe as music director of the French Orchestra National des Pays De La Loire and principal conductor of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano “G. Verdi”, is not a man to hide behind platitudes. He tells it as he finds it.

He has authorised Slipped Disc to publish the following extract.


The Emergence of the Enfant Gâté….

For some, (and this is written with respect for my colleagues though I am sure some will misunderstand my intentions) a reason is because most musicians are indeed a bit spoiled.  Like children at home they scream to have more.  Like children at school, an orchestra can be filled with bullies who create negative influences. They have been coddled by politicians and civic leaders longing to maintain a refined, cultured organization emblematic of their ideals.  The system worked during a period of expansion.  What now during a period of transition and reduction?

Familiarity breeds contempt and the routine is subject to a corporate mentality.  Musicians’ salaries, after years of union advancement, have resulted in the highest salaries in history, but due to economic instability, and a non-profit tax deduction system in the US, budgets of orchestras go the way of the stock market.  When the rich have money, they give it away.  When they lose money, they don’t.  Up until 2008, it has been nothing but growth, but now it is shrinking.  The result has been bankruptcy, stagnation, consolidations, reduction of budgets and firing of posts.

The Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy in 2011.  The Detroit Symphony basically cancelled their 2011-2012 season.  In 2012, the Atlanta, Indianapolis and Minnesota Orchestras have canceled opening concerts due to lack of funding or, due to unresolved contract negotiations, enforced a musicians lock-out.  As I previously noted, even the Cleveland Orchestra has been dubbed the Miami Symphony as they cannot survive on subscriptions in their own city and must tour.  In 2012, the New York City Opera slashed salaries by 70% just to survive!  Musicians are in an uproar, refusing to cede ground and take any further loss of hard earned salaries. Everyone is fighting the other, music versus management. Musicians versus conductors. Musicians versus musicians, administrations versus governments. Are they not supposed to simply be professional and enjoy playing?  Ha! This is a business, not music!

An electorate that thinks classical music and its musicians are elitist and a luxury may soon decide whether those spoiled musicians who make more than 99% of the rest of the US tax paying public do not deserve their support.  And guess who sponsors most of the orchestras?  The banks and the 1%.  Lets hope the Occupy Wall Street movement, should it last, does not focus on orchestras or those budgets will indeed be cut further.

The base salaries of US orchestras for 2011 revealed, despite 20-30% cuts in some musicians wages, amounts still greater than $130,000 per year, (soloists and concertmaster can make twice this.)  The Los Angeles Philharmonic, thanks to its new Gehry designed Disney concert hall, a wise President/CEO named Deborah Borda, and the young savior of classical music, Gustavo Dudamel, has catapulted from a Top Ten place to number 1, with a $135,460.00 musicians base salary.  San Francisco is behind at 2nd place.   The West Coast has supplanted the traditional Big 5.  New York is now 3rd and the remaining orchestras survive on a shaky status quo.

Salaries of European Orchestras are considerably less than the US.  “A rank-and-file player can earn up to £40,000 per annum in the London Symphony Orchestra, but the equivalent post in the London Philharmonic and Philharmonia orchestras is unlikely to be more than £30,000 – in the North it’s nearer £25,000.”

According to research made by the President of the New England Conservatory, the Berlin Philharmonic is probably the highest paid in Europe.  “Base salary is €90,000 gross for all rank and file players. Principals receive 15% extra. There is no individual negotiation of personal contracts as in the USA. Transparency and equity are seen as essential to solidarity and the stake-holder attitude of all members.”

But most musicians still feel they should be paid more.  And why not? They are among the most specialized, highly trained artisans in the world.  And if they do not get what they like, they fall back on that most French of traditions:  They strike. Most strikes end up with less money.  Its a lose-lose situation.  But they still do it, particularly in the USA, where they are paid the highest salaries in the world.  Why not? It worked for others.

Strike to get a bigger piece of the pie….

They do strike in sport.  Though, baseball does not anymore.  Why should basketball and football and hockey strike and the fans suffer from walkouts when baseball, after 3 strikes in the 80′s-90′s, no longer resolve their differences this way?  Why have the other sports not learned?  Is there anything orchestras can learn ?

In 1994 American baseball had its worst moment.  Arguments about salary caps and piece of the pie ownership, (read revenue sharing), resulted in the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.  Finally, front page protests and pissed off Dad’s changed their tune.  Once they realized they lost around $1 Billion in revenue, both parties came back to the table.  All it took were a few signs outside of ballparks reading: “Play for the love of the Game, not the money!” “Fans can boycott too!”

And they did.  And they have never had a strike since.  People power.

Classical music loves to hide behind the red curtain.  The less people know about this mysterious art and how it works the better. There is the element of fantasy and make-believe in music, and the people who have the power do not want to change that fantasy because as the more relevant classical music becomes the less they will have power.

Now suppose the people knew exactly what they were paying for.  Would they still pay?  Apparently not.  Culturally speaking, we are at a crossroads in civic expression.  Just as the people created the first public orchestra with the Gewandhaus in Leipzig in 1743, so too can the people take it away.  Imagine audiences outside the Philharmonie in Berlin, Lincoln Center in New York, the Barbican in London, Salle Pleyel in Paris, or the Musikverein in Vienna, holding signs saying:  “Play for the love of music, not money” “Public can boycott too!”  Do you think musicians would think differently about their jobs?  Perhaps they think they are above the fray.  This lofty attitude can be explained by their uniforms.  What you wear is who you are.  The Frac.

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  1. As of today, the Minnesota Orchestra has not cancelled any concerts, or locked out musicians.

  2. Any plans for an English translation?

  3. Gabe Langfur says:

    Does he have anything to say about the outlandish salaries music directors receive in exchange for occasionally blessing their orchestras with their presence? The ridiculous culture of celebrity soloists, many of them pretty and with good wardrobes, but essentially devoid of any original musical ideas, who get 5-figure fees per appearance?

    Does he have anything to say about orchestra CEOs taking salary and benefits packages in the half-million dollar per year range while failing to do effective planning and fundraising?

    Also, the comparison to baseball is stupid, and major league baseball players are making more money now than anybody ever imagined possible.

    • That’s quite a judgment you’ve made from an extract. Chill out!

      • Gabe Langfur says:

        I know I’m reading an excerpt – I’m asking questions based on my own intimate knowledge of the field. I’m an orchestral musician who has also worked in arts administration. Now, you’ve read me correctly that I assume he doesn’t bring up these things.

    • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

      Thank you, Mr. Langfur. I agree completely. In many orchestras, the ratio between the conductor’s compensation and that of most musicians resembles the flagrant disparity found in many American corporations between the top management and the workers. Conductors, soloists, and management see themselves as members of the “1%” and intend to keep it that way.

    • I couldn´t agree more, I am professional musician and play across the world in many different orchestras. Some are more altruistic than others but many musicians in threatened orchestras are working hard at this time to create new projects to make their ensembles more visible, often for little or no money. I find it truly galling that Mr Axelrod, as a member of the real musical elite, has the cheek to speak about the money grabbing nature of orchestral musicians. I also hire conductors for some of the ensembles I play in, and the fees they ask for are totally ridiculous at this time, not to mention their total inflexibility in financial matters, whilst musicians have to grin and bear it.

      • Indeed until the management/conductor/soloist ‘group’ can convince me that they understand this ‘recession in the arts’ and are willing to join the ‘other’ musicians in extracting proportional cuts as well, it will difficult for me to see that what is happening as anything other than elitist moves protecting their power base.

  4. Curiously, Axelrod says very little about conductors’ salaries. (Or is that to be found somewhere else in the book?)

    • Actually I write a great deal in support of musicians. Indeed, we are all seeking the same goal: the development of new audiences for classical music, and the sustaining of the instrument that plays this music: the orchestra.
      Here is another excerpt from the same chapter 4 that Norman quoted:
      Before I continue, let me give a contrasting picture of my own, a bit different from that of a musicians, though I suspect some would agree with me.  To me, as a conductor, I find most musicians in most orchestras to be refined, serious, professional, very trained, proud of their work, pressured to perform consistently despite having already proven their worth at auditions, overburdened by poor conditions and not paid enough given the specialty of their training.  Many musicians I know resent being treated as employees and not artists, are suspicious of a conductors and managers intentions, and denied credit for the success of their organization. Finally, musicians defend their unions, like other workers around the world, because without them, they would once again be exploited in the name of profits and returned back to the social status of tavern fiddlers, criminals and prostitutes that was once their domain.  Now we can understand why musicians are having such a hard time.  They deserve to be appreciated and rewarded.  They are artists and they give back to society.

      • Still nothing about conductors’ exhorbitant salaries, despite the fact that they are is an important cause of tension within orchestras and between orchestra musicians and conductors. Many big conductors are excellent, but many others are clearly overrated or loved because of extramusical reasons: how do you want not to be bitter when you are a musician “du rang” and you see some mediatically hyped but less than musically competent guy earn in one concert ten times what you make a month? More generally, the “Maestro Myth” (and also the “Big Sexy Voluptuous Soloist Myth”) ought to be questioned if one wants to explain the state of classical music today.

  5. Mr. Alexrod’s information is too undifferentiated to be very meaningful. We have a handful of top orchestras that receive very high salaries, but our regional orchestras are among the worst paid of any developed country.

    There are two categories of orchestras in the USA, the ICSOM orchestras (International Conference of Symphony Orchestra Musicians– the US larger orchestras) and the ROPA orchestras (Regional Orchestra Players Association.) Here are the minimum salaries for a cross section of tutti players in 19 of the ROPA orchestras where the average (at rough estimate) seems to be about 20k per year:

    California Symphony: $2,976
    Charleston Symphony: $18,888
    Colorado Springs Philharmonic: $7,471.20
    Dayton Philharmonic: $17,910
    Flint Symphony: $2,846
    Fort Wayne Philharmonic: $24,856.56
    Grand Rapids Symphony: $35,574
    Hartford Symphony: $22,258.80
    Knoxville Symphony: $24,417
    Memphis Symphony: $22,895
    Mississippi Symphony: $7,210
    Omaha Symphony: $29,691
    Portland [ME] Symphony: $6,000
    Richmond Symphony: $31,205
    Sarasota Orchestra: $27,600
    Spokane Symphony: $17,460
    Symphony Silicon Valley: $6,120
    Toledo Symphony: $24,950
    Tucson Symphony: $14,185
    *( Minimum Annual Salary means management is contractually not allowed to pay less than this amount)

    The salaries for the ICSOM orchestras is here:!377&app=Excel

    The average seems to be between 60 and 70k. (Perhaps someone wants to do the arithmetic for the exact number.)

    Our orchestras are funded by rich people. In our few financial centers, where the rich are concentrated, a small number of orchestras are highly paid. In the regional areas the salaries at catastrophically low. We see how the rich service themselves luxuriously while letting the rest of the country go to hell. Europe’s public funding system is much more democratic. The pay gap between major and regional orchestras is not so large.

    • “Our orchestras are funded by rich people. In our few financial centers, where the rich are concentrated, a small number of orchestras are highly paid. In the regional areas the salaries at catastrophically low. We see how the rich service themselves luxuriously while letting the rest of the country go to hell. Europe’s public funding system is much more democratic.”

      In this comment, William, I see what I see everywhere in the industry; disdain for the very people who support and enjoy what we musicians do. ‘The rich don’t do the right thing with their money!’ In the US, if you present a worthy, relevant product, people will support you and your organization, its purpose. That is a principle that this country has thrived on. The simple truth being that classical musicians think that they should be spoiled, and have the government redistribute monies from the very people who already are giving them their money—but they want it regardless of whether their product is relevant, or their organization respectable. It’s no surprise to me when orchestras and their management act like children, that’s their habit at this point.

      • The disdain is for the common people (the 99%,) many of whom would like to attend orchestra and opera performances but have very little access. Very often there is no genuinely professional orchestra within reach, and if there is decent tickets are often too expensive for them. Germany, for just one example, has 83 opera houses with fifty-two week seasons while the USA with four times the population only has about 6 real houses, and the tickets are generally about 4 to 5 times more expensive than in Europe. These attitudes are also reflected in our lack of arts education. There is no reason that the USA should stand completely apart from the rest of the developed world and not have a comprehensive system of public funding for the arts.

        • The “99%” that everyone loves to refer to can afford to go to classical concerts. Tickets for a pop show or a sports game are often comparable in price. What we won’t admit is that people in the US, aside from an erudite few—those greedy “1%”—don’t give a ____ about what we do. It’s stodgy and snooty and out of touch (not that it has to be). There’s no reason to expect them to care, honestly; Dvorak is no more relevant to their lives then Descartes, and I don’t see people running about crying about how few copies of Descartes are sold.

          I love what I do, no question. I am deeply connected to the music and to the instruments and to the people who play them. But I do not demand that the culture adjust to my taste. Our product is a luxury, plain and simple, precisely because it is not a result of our society. Yes, music is a necessary part of culture, but classical music is not all there is. To make it clearer, the music we play is of bygone eras, and other parts of the world, and while that enriches a culture it does not qualify anything we do in orchestras as ‘necessary’. It is a luxury and an intellectually demanding one at that—and we want to steal Ke$ha’s fans? Or Kanye’s fans? Or maybe Yanni is more likely? Good luck. I’m looking around at heads in the sand.

          • Orchestras and opera houses require regular, repeat attenders — i.e. subscriptions. Pop concerts are one-off performances of groups on tours. So the ticket prices can’t be compared.

            There are many cultured people who like classical music who aren’t rich and can’t afford decent subscriptions. And there are many who like classical music who do not even have access to high quality orchestra and opera performances, regardless of the price of tickets. And the number of classical music fans would be even greater if we had better arts education. Your defeatist attitude and other remarks make me skeptical that you are actually a professional, classical musician.

          • Henry, do you read Greg Sandow’s blog here at ArtsJournal? He devotes most of his blog entries to that very issue and how classical musicians can address it.

        • William, also in central Europe, the core of the classical music culture, this very culture has been carried by the interest of an educated middle class, “Bildungsbürgertum” and was supported by the political and economical oligarchies. Never had this music mass appeal, except for times and places, where this middle class, art hungry, education loving, was a very big piece in the pie of all the people.
          This “Bildungsbürgertum” never existed as such in the US, except for a few European culture exclaves on the east coast.
          In order to understand, what makes classical music popular, you should study the socio-economic and educational setup of the German cities of Leipzig and Dresden, which are places reminiscent of the old days, where education mattered more than what car you drive. What do you see if you look at these medium sized cities with a HUGE classical music scene in relation to their size.

          Where classical music and all classical art is alive, we see a prevalence of educational and cultural assets over material assets.

          The US is lost. Masses brainwashed and dumbed down to a herd of consumer cattle. “What you can’t buy doesn’t exist.” Can this ever be reversed? Even if schools would run full throttle against the corporate mantra, they had no f…ing chance.

    • Top 1% income in the US is $343,000, as of 2009. I don’t know orchestral musicians who are actually in the top 1%, that is just factually incorrect. What I do know is that Orchestral Musicians have mortgages, want to send their children to college, and maybe save a little for retirement. No doubt there are burned-out musicians, but to categorize all players as greedy is ridiculous. Try living on $130,000 in NYC or LA. You’ll have to live in a studio apartment.

      Nice work if you can get it, but players aren’t in the top 1% statistically.

      • I’m not a musician, but I’m sure it’s a difficult situation for most. Still, one can indeed live just fine on $130K in the NYC area though unless you mean that’s the total income for a family of 4 — even then, it’s not exactly impossible (or how do you really expect most people to do it here then?). If you’re single, $130K should be plenty unless you spend it carelessly. You don’t actually have to live in Manhattan though (or at least the more expensive parts anyway), if that’s the problem.

        Part of the problem may be learning to live w/in one’s own means and learning to be content w/ what one can reasonably have/gain. Happiness doesn’t come from merely having more afterall. Of course, I’m not suggesting musicians should live below the poverty line or anything like that. But if you cannot do fine w/ the same income that most highly experienced IT people — let alone the blue-collar folks — make in the city, for instance, then what exactly do you think will be enough??? And what should the rest of us musically-challenged mortals really think then???

        The one problem w/ all this, of course, is paying for eventual college education for our kids given the tremendous rise in that cost over the years. To me, that’s the real problem for all us middle-class folks. But I guess most of us will just have to take out 2nd mortgages and such unless our kids manage to win lots of scholarships or we just choose to send them to the best public universities we can find — and there are some pretty good ones that also happen to have pretty good music programs if I understand correctly though they obviously do not come w/ the kind of prestige as Julliard, et al. At least in the past, some musicians who are affiliated w/ certain colleges/universities receive some additional aid (in the form of discounts) for the kids’ college education, but that might be going away now as colleges/universities look to cut costs, etc. to try to keep their tuition in check….

        • William Safford says:

          You omitted at least one important financial detail: the expenses incurred in being a classical musician.

          I do not own a house. I own three instruments.

          At least I own my instruments. Many musicians take on substantial debt just to purchase a musical instrument or instruments of adequate quality to allow them to perform at a professional level.

          I incur substantial costs as a routine part of my playing, for everything from instrument insurance to reedmaking tools to reed materials to sheet music to…well, I hope you get the picture.

          Most orchestras do not compensate musicians for such costs, or provide assistance for such purchases. (There are exceptions.) Most musicians are responsible for the ownership of their instruments; only a few instruments are supplied by the orchestra (such as certain percussion instruments and the piano).

          Musicians must pay for these expenses out of their own pockets.

          This is before getting to the fact that vanishingly few orchestral classical musicians in New York earn $130K/year.

  6. This article is a little misleading. It cites U.S. musician salaries! Of the over two thousand U.S. orchestras listed in Musical America, to my knowledge, only about 17 of them offer full time salaried employment, the vast majority of U.S. orchestral performers are freelance or are on a contract for 10-15 performances a year with such -and-such small city/town orchestra, and earn a pittance. The salaries of the LA Phil, NY Phil, etc, are the exception NOT the rule. Far from being spoiled, classical musicians in the U.S. for the most part are treated like “the help”, with little or no respect or acknowledgement from society for the personal sacrifices they have had to endure to attain the skills they have on their chosen instrument. Classical music never has and never will survive and thrive in a purely capitalist supply/demand marketplace. It requires enlightened government and individuals subsidy to exist. The issue is not the music nor the musicians but the enlightenment of lack thereof of the society within which the musicians find themselves. :)

    • I love classical music, but yes, I definitely seem to be an exception amongst my peers.

      Maybe the problem is that classical music (if we do not include anything that might easily get repeat appearances on a movie soundtrack) has become more of a museum piece than something that’s very readily accessible to the mainstream public like most other contemporary music. Then again, our culture/society, including the music scene, has become so pluralistic anyway that any particular “interest” that requires tremendous effort and/or resources to appreciate will just have a hard time thriving (or even surviving) unless you don’t mind it staying low profile w/ not much $ reward. Most people who are willing to spend some $ on sports, for instance, probably do so in large part because of the instant gratification aspect (whether they realize it or not), but they probably also prefer that over something like classic music because the social/crowd aspect of that appeals to them far more — and that’s, unfortunately, going to be a virtually impossible one for classic music to beat short of some very dramatic changes in society…

      For my own part, I try to get my kids (and others) interested in classical music both as active participants (thru Suzuki-based music training) and as listeners. But I too can’t realistically afford to bring my kids to concerts at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center on a regular basis — I’m obviously choosing to spend the bulk of the $ on their music training (and on recordings) instead. And no, I don’t spend $ attending sporting events (like some of my peers do)…

  7. One other observation should be made. Orchestras in our largest cities like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles are highly paid, but they are the only major symphony orchestras in these cities while European metroplitian areas of a similar size would have several major orchestras. London, for example, has 5 major symphony orchestras while NYC, Chicago, and LA only have one.

  8. I would also add that, in order to reach the hallowed halls of any full time orchestra no matter what its prestige level, the amount of training and dedication required from musicians is immense. Musicians who play for the love of it play in community orchestras, where the artistic quality rarely approaches a professional level. If we as a society want to continue the growth and progress of the art form, then we have to provide a living wage for those who pursue it. As Derek points out, most classical musicians in the US are indeed freelance, playing with several groups, teaching, and doing ad hoc performances to make ends meet. The only musicians who really have a comfortable income from a single source are the ones at those top 5 orchestras. And, I think Mr. Axlerod may have forgotten about the issue of cost of living. If you play in NY or LA and have to live there, then your cost of living is much higher than the national average. I’d like to see a comparison between the average, rank and file pay for these orchestras and the average income of their cities.

  9. Weird indeed that he shouldn’t start at the top: conductors’, soloists’ and managers’ salaries. The spoilt are rather more likely to be found in that zone. But what is he trying to say anyway? That musicians are generally too well paid? That they should be willing to get less? Why should playing for the love of music (or loving your work, generally speaking) exclude being well paid? I don’t get his point.

  10. Norman, the vitriolic responses to a few paragraphs in what is likely a much longer book answer the question you posed in your post about the Atlanta Symphony. Why hasn’t Robert Spano said anything? It is because conductors who speak up are destroyed, either by the administration that pays their salary, or by the musicians who must give him/her the right to work with them. This is why Spano stays quiet in Atlanta, and why the few conductors who do say something(like Mr. Axelrod) place themselves at considerable risk for their livelihood.

    • Waldo, I would hardly qualify Mr. Axelrod’s words as ‘placing himself at considerable risk for his livelihood’. In reading the excerpt I hear a rhetoric that most managements are spewing out, and would applaud. The “spoiled” musicians / the “overpaid” musicians. And has been pointed out here – NO mention of the massive salaries of conductors and managers. These people earn $250K to 350K (managers) and $500K to $1M (conductors) – who, incidentally spend as little as 15 weeks in front of their orchestra for that wage.

      The claim about ‘average’ salaries is also skewed to a management agenda. When you talk about “average”, you need to clarify which orchestras you are including in this calculation – he does not. And clearly his numbers are WAY off if you talk about the top 20 orchestras for instance. The top 5 orchestras in Canada, for example, are roughly in the $45K to $70K range, and all of these are in cities where the cost of living has soared over the last 10 to 15 years. Musicians in big orchestras are forced to live in BIG cities – high cost of living.

      But… I have no doubt that this attack on classical musicians’ wages will continue, as seems to be the trend for the last few years. The management argument: lots of talented kids coming out of schools… How bloody short-sighted can one be? You think kids, and their families, don’t read? I have personally seen, lately, ALL of my top students, opting out of college music and heading into medicine and engineering. It’s like a real estate cycle… got over-supply / dropping wages?: stop building (stop going into music). By the time the ‘excess’ is taken up – supply is years behind again. But there will be no inflation of salaries in this case: simply a massive drop in standards, and loss of culture.

      If you believe the argument: “Sports pays for itself / why can’t music?” – Perhaps try transferring that to all areas of society, and see where it ends up: schools? (let the rich be properly educated, since they can pay for it) health? (let the rich have the only proper care, since they can pay for it…)… or perhaps, instead, be a bit more enlightened – like the Greeks of a few thousand years ago: Music is one of society’s cornerstones. Culture spins off into society with benefits that very few short-sighted politicians can understand, or care to understand. Like health, education, law enforcement, infrastructure – it’s important to your way of life. To society. Full stop.

  11. Striking is a last resort for ochestras, used when they have their backs against the wall, and concessions have often been made already.

    Most of us already know that a strike will harm the image of an orchestra.

    Like most human beings, musicians may want to have families, retirement plans and maybe even have a house on a borrow to own basis. In other words, to make a living.

    In hard times concessions may be needed but these need to be IN PROPORTION:

    When it gets too bad the orchestras will simply cease too exist and this form of art will either disappear, or in some cases move to the amateur level. Along with the musicians so will go the over paid, snooty conductors
    and no “board members” or staff will be needed either.

    One step closer to “idiocracy”.

  12. One of the most “striking” things about this topic brings up is how there seems to be a widening rift between the musicians of the orchestra and the management.

    Hard to tell why that is, but it certainly isn’t good for the music.

    And if this man comes down on the side of the management, he won’t be liked by any of the musicians.

    Wonder what he’s trying to prove?

    • Indeed , information about conductors, and much more, is found elsewhere in the book. But until the English edition is published, you’ll have to read it in German, unless Norman reprints those excerpts.

      • How about you tell us? You speak English, and we all can read numbers. And I’ll bet quite a few of us can read a bit of German too. Show us the numbers.

        • why don’t you just buy the book instead of expecting the writer to extract the bits you want to ask about and reproduce them for your convenience for free? Why not buy the book and see it all in context before you cast judgement?

  13. There is the element of fantasy and make-believe in music, and the people who have the power do not want to change that fantasy because as the more relevant classical music becomes the less they will have power.

    ….and the MONEY the real motivator. This is actually more at play with CEOs, conductors and overpaid soloists, than orchestra musicians.

  14. The “happiest” orchestras I know are the self governing ones, LSO, BPO, VPO etc, apart from a couple of chamber orchestras, there are NO self governing orchestras in the U.S. And in reality, an “Orchestra” is the organization that hires the musicians, not the musicians themselves. For example, if you walk by a construction site and see the guys on scaffolding working away, no-one would point to them and say “oh, look, there is a construction company”. No, we know the construction company is the organization/corporation that got the contract to build and then hired the builders. This is how orchestras are run in the U.S and also in the Radio/TV Orchestras of Europe. If U.S musicians want true freedom they must establish self governing orchestras, and then, the hard part, raise the money to exist. Money talks!! :)

  15. Antonio J Augusto says:

    Wow! Finally an intelligent person throws the light of wisdom and uncovers the truth about this infamous and short-minded race commonly known as musicians. According to this best seller author, their main function is to disrupt the geniuses’ lives who humbly dedicate themselves to manage orchestras and to make the conductors’ pure and noble existence a distress.
    “Most musicians are indeed a bit spoiled. Like children at school, an orchestra can be filled with bullies who create negative influences.”
    Yes! Musicians are people with a disability that prevents primary cognitive skills and maturity to live in society to develop. They become vulnerable adults, easy victims to the most perverse influences and end up thinking they are entitled to everything, as decent wages, health insurance, vacation and other small things typical of people who only think about money.
    Like children with no sense of reality they develop an enormous pleasure for strikes! They enjoy striking for things with no importance as the welfare of their families, the right to a salary that will allow living with dignity and to dress and eat like normal people. What nonsense!
    “Play for the love of music, not money”
    Yes, yes, yes! Let us all live for love! All teachers must teach for love, doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen, let’s all talk about love! No more paying bills, loans and mortgages! Let’s talk about love with the banks, governments and, mainly, with the conductors!!! I’m pretty sure they will be the first to join this new order, the order of love!!!
    Yes! Let us reveal what’s behind the curtains: the conductors’ astronomical salary, exchanges of favors they do among themselves, how the spoiled musicians cover for the incompetence and lack of talent of most of them! Would people continue to pay for it??
    As for the tails … humpft … nevermind:

  16. Luca Mareno says:

    This is a must to read book for everybody!! Maestro Axelrod is a truly great conductor of this century. Throughout my life I have sat in many Live concerts of Mahler 9th symphony by the world greatest conductors: Bernstein, Tennstedt, Abbado, Rattle, Haitink and also Giulini, not to mention by many others (Jansons, Barenboim etc). In my opinion Maestro Axelrod performance of this piece which I witnessed in one of his concerts surpassed all those other conductors I mentioned before. From the grapevine I heard that the Chicago Symphony tremendously loves working with Maestro Axelrod and that his name is in the shortlist to succeed Riccardo Muti. After Lucerne and Orchestre des Pays de la Loire, he certainly deserves to be the Music Director of one of world greatest orchestras: charismatic, passionate, brilliant, deeply thoughtful musician, a humble personality…………BRAVO to you Maestro Axelrod!!

    • The MaesTro’s apparently amazing talent on the podium does not necessarily mean he speaks wisdom when he writes with words.

    • William Safford says:

      Here is a nitpick of what you wrote, but an important one.

      You did not hear a single musical sound from Mr. Axelrod. You did not hear Mr. Axelrod perform Mahler 9. Nor, for that matter, did you hear any of the other conductors you listed perform Mahler 9.

      What you heard were orchestras performing Mahler 9. Under the direction of those conductors, the musicians created the sounds that you heard as moving performances.

      This is an important distinction.

      This is not to denigrate the importance of those conductors, nor is this is any commentary for or against Mr. Axelrod, of whose existence I was unaware until reading this blog post.

  17. I sat in John Axelrod performance of Kaddish symphony by Bernstein with National Symphony Orchestra, Washington DC. My family and I were in tears, moved by the passion of his music making. The orchestra sounded flawless under his direction, far better result in comparison with many concerts we have heard under our Music Director Christoph Eschenbach. Many musicians of that orchestra said they want John Axelrod to come regularly to work with them. Could he be in consideration to take over our orchestra when Eschenbach leaves? Axelrod would be great for our city

  18. OneNSOmusician says:

    Mr. Lebrecht: is this some kind of a campaign for the conductor John Axelrod? I know that all my colleagues in NSO share the same view: the truth of the matter is that John Axelrod was hated by our orchestra when he made his debut conducting Korngold Symphony and Bernstein Kaddish. We the orchestra right away told our managements Rita Shapiro and Nigel Boon to never engage this man again. He was arrogant, disrespectful to us, fake and unable to engage in efficient rehearsals. His concerts with us were absolutely mediocre for our standard. We fully blame this as the fault of our Music Director Maestro Eschenbach who continually pushes to invite his personal friends who are mediocre artists. Those friends of Maestro Eschenbach are: John Axelrod, Tzimon Barto, Dan Zhu, Erik Schumann, and Marisol Montalvo. We wish to never see these people coming again to our orchestra and hope that our management takes our feedbacks seriously.

    • If ‘all … in the NSO share the same view’, this would be the first time in my experience that an orchestra was ever united in its opinion of a conductor.

      • another orchestra musician says:

        And this would also be one of the first times a professional orchestra published negative feedback of this nature in an open, international forum. Normally, it remains internal. Common sense, and sometimes contractual stipulations oblige the musicians to keep it that way.

        • I appreciate the honesty of oneNSOmusician. It is presumed that one player cannot speak for the entire musician group but it is only with his outrageously honest take on things that “maestros with power” can be made accountable for their sometimes irresponsible artistic decisions.

          • another orchestra musician says:

            Honesty is unquestionably a virtue. But so is discretion. Keep always in mind that the sword of uninhibited speech is double-edged. Too, that symphony musicians, just like members of many other institutions and corporations, often are bound by contract to refrain from making public the details of their orchestras’ internal dealings. Whether NSO musicians are bound by a confidentiality clause, I don’t know; but even if they aren’t, any vitriol they spill in this forum can certainly poison relations between themselves, their management, their donors, and their audience.

          • Professional Musician and Administrator says:

            Unfortunately, this kind of public attack does nothing to further the best of the art form for anyone. Although I have never had the pleasure to experience Mr. Axelrod’s conducting in a live setting, he has at no time in the excerpts from his book or his comments on this blog tried to attack anyone. Instead, he has stated his opinion about what is holding back the artform from moving into a modern century. Everyone has a right to their opinion and he is in a position through his experience to offer his opinion based on what he has experienced. Mr. Axelrod has been extremely respectful to the people offering differing opinions in this comment stream and has attempted to answer your questions or in some cases rude demands to the best of his ability even though he did not need to. Disgreeing on the issue is healthy dialogue, but personal attacks when we all have to take responsibility for the problems and work together to find the solutions does not help anything!!! Anyone from outside our field reading this would be immediately turned off by the rudeness they experienced. We must work together and have respect for eachother to make change – I believe that Mr. Axelrod is doing exactly that in the writings he has excerpted here – now what are the rest of us doing except pointing fingers the other direction?

      • excuse me? in certain orchestras conductors are banned by the musicians after the first or second rehearsal. ..

    • Sorry, Mr. oneNSOmusician, but you sound like the screaming spoiled child this industry does not need. Im sure Eschenbach would not be very happy either and he is still your MD. And I can say, without doubt, having played under both conductors, that they are warm, generous and authentic musicians. Are you? Not from what I read. At least Axelrod wrote a book, which I would like to read before jumping to conclusions, and he is trying to do something to help our tarnished industry. And what are you doing about raising revenue and building audiences? Nothing. If you think just playing is enough to keep our salaries, then why are we all in this mess? I fight everyday to play at the highest level and deserve my salary. But I know I must play a positive part because we are all in this together, whether you like someone or not, or whether you disagree with salaries for conductors and executive directors.

      But all you are doing is washing our dirty laundry in public. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. The same goes for opus132, ponte, Mr. C, and muss es sein. Just because we pass an audition does not mean we musicians know better. In fact, I could say worse things about the arrogance of some of my colleagues than you say about conductors. Could it be that musicians are actually partly responsible for the failure of the relationship with it’s conductors? NOONE EVER WRITES THAT! Since when did musicians become untouchable flight attendants? How about some constructive ideas from you instead, and stop the destructive character assassinations!

      Here are the NSO programming facts in question: Written by Anne Midgette in the Washington Post.

      “Thursday’s program (which repeats Friday afternoon and Saturday night), conducted by John Axelrod in his energetic NSO debut, was one of the most cohesive I’ve seen — every bit of it was connected. It linked three American composers: Bernstein, Samuel Barber and Aaron Jay Kernis, whose program-opening “Musica Celestis” is a veritable homage to Barber’s signature Adagio for strings, shimmering and emotive. That Adagio was represented in a choral arrangement (“Agnus Dei”) that Barber made of his most famous work, offered by the Cathedral Choral Society.”

      And she also wrote:

      “Bernstein’s greatness, in fact, lay in his being exactly who he was.”

      Maybe Mr. Axelrod was just being who he was, and Mr. oneNSOmusician, just could not handle that, whereas Mr. Honigberg, and other NSO musicians I know, apparently could. Seems like Mr. oneNSOmusician should find another job, because Im certain should the NSO read this (and Rita and Nigel will) , he will be universally dismissed.

  19. Very interesting article. Sounds like the book could be a good read. Axelrod as MD of a major orchestra? Not in a million years. His career has been going nowhere for a decade.

  20. OneNSOmusician says:

    Mr. Lebrecht: In my more than 20 years as a member of NSO I had never witnessed a guest conductor so unanimously hated by the majority of our orchestra until John Axelrod came. Our musician committee have spoken against Maestro Eschenbach’s will to bring back John Axelrod. You are welcome to check on this fact directly with Rita Shapiro or Nigel Boon.

    • I am in the NSO and with disrespect to “OneNSOmusician”, which exactly is as it reads, find my colleagues assessment harsh. Mr. Axelrod did a fine job with the music at hand in his one week stint with our orchestra (Bernstein’s Kaddish was a revelation) although he did have a tiff on stage with a member of the orchestra and then for some odd reason called out, “where is the orchestra committee?” I think his temper got the better of him in the heat of the moment. Having played under Rostropovich, that kind of thing can happen. In any case he needs to further examine conductors and soloist salaries which are out of control. I understand that Leonard Slatkin was paid $60,000 a week while his Detroit orchestra was on strike for six months. This, to me, is unforgivable if true.

  21. OneNSOmusician says:

    Axelrod is neither Rostropovich nor Bernstein; his behaviour in front of NSO was full of arrogance.

    • OK, so you are basing your entire assessment of the man – and of the content of a book you haven’t read – on one outburst you found distasteful? You can only hope that the NSO management won’t take the same approach to hiring & firing players, I imagine.

  22. Graf Nugent says:

    The gloves are off, this is great! I wish JA would publish some conductors’ salaries. I speak and read German fluently; if there’s a problem, I’ll translate.

  23. May I add that Norman’s excerpt was a short passage from my book. There is much written about conductors and managers and everyone else in the industry from a conductor’s perspective with the intention to inform, not to threaten. This should be a healthy discussion, not taken as a personal attack or given as such. We are all seeking the same goal of helping classical music performance.

    Regarding your question about numbers for conductor and soloists salaries, I defer to John Von Rhein, whose 2009 article already anticipated the need for reduced expenses and increased revenue. High salaries for conductors started way before Karajan. In fact, as noted by Henri de la Grange, Mahler was paid the highest fee ever for a conductor when he became Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. That trend continued to the present day. In short, I agree with your assessment that conductors are paid too much.

    The argument was seconded by the UK paper the Guardian:

    What is more alarming has been the trend of absenteeism, despite the high contracted salaries.

    Taken from Chapter 6 of my book: Wie Großartige Musik Ensteht..Oder Auch Nicht”…..

    …..But since the arrival of the unions, classical conductors, used to such authority, have not had it so easy. They, too, are in the line of fire. In the war of music and management, the conductors are sidelined and isolated. Today, directors of opera take the place of authority, giving more importance to words and image than to the music…..Intendants and boards no longer believe the conductor’s vision is relevant. They are often pressured to heed the musicians’ needs to a far greater extent than to support the Music Director.

    By the end of the 20th century, the conductor had gone AWOL. Missing in action. The 1998 Andrew Mellon Orchestra Forum study reveals, “Absenteeism is especially problematic because of the manner in which authority is delegated. Unlike artistic directors of theater companies or general directors of opera companies who typically serve as CEOs of their organizations, music directors are assigned broad responsibility for artistic matters but are relieved (in practice, if not in intent) of the obligation to provide overall institutional leadership. The business management of the orchestra falls to the executive director, and there is not always a designated CEO, a situation that often creates serious conflicts. This decision-making structure is inherently ambiguous: one person is given power without responsibility, the other responsibility and accountability without authority.”

    Have baton, will travel became the motto of the conductors. Conductors were forced to keep to a sterile distance, become an absent father figure, and accept many invitations abroad (ostensibly to recover the high salary income lost to commissions, taxes and expenses). “Musicians describe the almost complete isolation of the music director from the players in the orchestra. Said one musician, ‘The bigger, the more eminent a music director gets over the years, the less likely (he or she) will ever hear any negative comment whatsoever from anyone. The sky can be falling behind you, but people are afraid to say anything to the music director.’” ….

    Who Really Killed Classical Music…..

    Norman Lebrecht asked the right question just in the title of his book Who Killed Classical Music? I think the answer is we are all killing it, slowly, because of the high salaried conductors, especially young ones who do not say no in order to grow; the musicians who are union protected until retirement; the boards who lack the patron mission of a Medici; the governments who cut arts funding; the foundations who donate money based on market conditions; the record labels who struggle to make money and look for the crossover compromise; the industry’s obsessive fascination with youth, the agencies who treat artists like ipods to sell en masse, and the media who treats classical music as tabloid fodder. All are staking their respective claims on this limited territory without finding common ground or consistent excellence. A wall of fear hidden behind the veil of confidence. There is a lot of hype, but not a lot of substance.

    We are all human and we make mistakes. My teacher, Bernstein, said that is the nature of making music. However, to not be true to the character and intention of the composer is an unacceptable error. What I have heard repeatedly are the lamentations from composers, performers and conductors that orchestras and promoters no longer give their individual and collective best in service to the ideal of music or the intention of the composer. That celebrity is more important than quality.

    Gidon Kremer’s now famous letter in cancellation of his performance at the Verbier Festival in 2011 is testament to this. In his letter, Kremer writes:

    “I simply do not want to breath the air, which is filled by sensationalism and distorted values. Lets’ admit – all of us have something to do with the poisonous development of our music world, in which “stars” count more than creativity, ratings more than genuine talent, numbers more than…. Sounds.”

    We are in a new era, perhaps with new rules and definitions of a concert experience. The paradigm of the 20th century concert performance has shifted. The passive experience is passé. Classical repertoire can co-mingle with different styles of music and arts. The orchestra can restore its relevant place in society, as inclusive, rather than exclusive. The leadership to navigate this uncharted territory might surprise you……

    *But Leadership wont come from a disgruntled musician who uses public forums to lash out at personal targets. He should even get his facts straight: I did not conduct Korngold with the NSO. And I very much enjoyed the experience working with the excellent NSO musicians and received many expressions of support and appreciation. I’m sorry he did not.

    • Mr Axelrod,

      With all due respect, allow me to disagree with you on this point: “…because of the high salaried conductors, especially young ones who do not say no in order to grow”. Do young conductors really have so much room to say no? When you just start out as a conductor, you generally accept what you are offered without much room for negotiation; you wouldn’t refuse a good proposal because you don’t have so many “gigs” yet and need to pay your bills. Then, if you’re any good and lucky, you get an agent, who negociates on your behalf. You’re not going to tell your agent to negociate less, since this will also reduce HIS fee, and both of you still need the money to pay your bills. So, any change in attitude should come from the top down, such as a collective of big name maestros and their agents, showing that for a even tenth of the money they can work just as well and live just as comfortably.

  24. Regardless what sense, or if any, this book is trying no make, great music is not made by those who really know how to talk, self-promote and imitate, but possess no one once of artistic originality in their own.

  25. Wow…

    John’s always been a good guy – we shared the same teacher in the 90′s – even back then he was talking about all this stuff – I remember he specifically said his goal, along with a good conducting career, was to bring back patronage and financial support for all of the arts, not just music. As for the NSO musician’s comments, everyone is entitled to their own opinion about how efficient or liked a conductor is. Fact is everyone always thinks they could do a better job than whomever is on the podium and if they could then they would be on the podium. I have not seen John an years but he can’t be that bad – he’s got management, legitimate gigs and over 10 years of solid gigs. Perhaps such matters are better left between parties – and agree that even in the best of circumstances in our business, no one person is ever loved unanimously all the time, perhaps with the exception of ABC: Abbado, Bernstein & Chailly.

    The inequality of pay in our system is reflective of the bigger issues impacting the arts: adhering to old & obsolete models of business and performance, valuing style over substance and not including or developing programming for audiences across the entire developmental life span. I firmly believe that for most of us, we do what we do because we have no other choice – and to deny our artistic sensibilities is to deny our true self. However, there are always those who are in this for the money – and those Philistines will always sway the court.

  26. Musicians have rules and unions for good reasons.

    It’s to maintain minimum conditions. Reasonable hours, decent wages, etc…

    If you have to ask why, your barking up the wrong tree.

  27. When these conditions cease to exist, then orchestras in their current form will also cease to exist.

  28. Dr. Marc Villeger says:

    “We are in a new era, perhaps with new rules and definitions of a concert experience. The paradigm of the 20th century concert performance has shifted. The passive experience is passé. Classical repertoire can co-mingle with different styles of music and arts.The orchestra can restore its relevant place in society, as inclusive, rather than exclusive. The leadership to navigate this uncharted territory might surprise you……”

    “Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi. Mi sono spiegato?”
    Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa

  29. Jeanne C. Fuchs says:

    I am stunned by the passion and eloquence of conributors to this comment section. So often these threads go off into diatribes involving unrelated issues. These commenters have amazingly stuck to the issue of orchestral salaries (almost, that is) –.musicians, conductors, stars. Thanks for a lot of new information, and for a good read.

  30. Although Toscanini conducted, for no fee on occasion, one alleged legacy places the blame of his well-documented income on the contemporary disproportion between conductor and orchestra member salaries. Conspicuous was his Philharmonic salary of $110,000 in 1931 (equivalent to 1.55 million in 2008) to conduct 60 concerts in 15 weeks, with all taxes paid plus steamship passage to and from New York. Then, during the Great Depression, the average musician in the orchestra earned $3,000 for a 30-week season. As for soloists
    of Toscanini’s day, in his only appearance with the NBC Symphony, Emanuel Feuermann earned $350 in 1938 (equivalent to $5,350 in 2008) for his broadcast performance of Strauss’s Don Quixote. Today, Yo-Yo Ma, one of the industry’s biggest draws, reliably earns from $65,000 to $70,000 per night.

  31. Constantine A. Papas says:

    The rumor is that the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra- the highest paid orchestra player in the universe- makes $475.000 per year! No wonder the CO is becoming more and more a traveling band.

    • This guy is perhaps the best at what he does in the world, playing for one of the finest orchestras. Do you have any idea of the skill level required to do that? You begrudge him what would be pauper’s wages for a hedge-fund manager or a mediocre realtor in NYC? Why don’t you pick up a fiddle and give it a go? I’ll give you twenty years to perfect it – you’d be lucky to get a section job in the Stuttgart Prison Orchestra.

  32. I am familiar with Mr. Axelrod’s MO, as I was in Houston when he was running his “Orchestra X” project. He does not hold musicians in particularly high esteem, and thinks that throwing together a group of players at the cheapest possible cost is the ideal model for how to build an orchestra. Players are infinitely interchangeable, expendable, replaceable. Tradition means nothing. I think he knows he’s not going to win a major conducting appointment based on his talent; now he’s trying to wrap himself in the anti-union/musician sentiment that is pervasive amongst many executive boards and managements. Mr. Axelrod is no doubt hoping that some misguided board member sees this and says “alright, here’s a guy that is on the same page. Let’s stick it to these spoiled musicians and their damned union. Sign him up!”

    Regarding the comment about the Chicago Symphony – that’s a good one. These people are used to working with the best conductors on the planet, and I can assure you, Axelrod is not on anyone’s short list to replace Muti. I actually laughed out loud when I read that. Luca, you need to find a better grapevine.

    Good luck, John. Get off your high horse and give a little more credit to the people actually making the music – the musicians. If you achieve a great performance, it is as likely to be in spite of you than because of you.


    • Mr.C, there is no need to be spiteful. If you and any of the other readers who openly and personally criticize me actually do read my book, or the threads above in which I quote other passages expressing complete support and respect for all professional musicians and for the salaries they earn, then you might not misunderstand the content and context of this quoted passage, and perhaps be more open to a constructive dialogue about audience development and music performance. It seems others are very interested and are not so biased. Im sorry you feel otherwise. I’m not on any high horse, but it seems you are carrying a grudge.

  33. I would have a lot more sympathy for Mr. Axelrod’s view if….
    1: Any concessions by any musicians at any time were ever met by any response other than demands for further concessions at a later time. Raising money is hard. If you can find a way to do less of it, it is very hard not to succumb to that temptation. Of course, playing the great orchestral repertoire at the level that it deserves is pretty hard too. Which brings me to my other point.
    2: My sympathy for Mr. Axelrod is also compromised by the fact that I have actually played under him.

    • muss es sein says:

      Having been in the same position as opus 132 more times than I would have wished, I must applaud this elegant explanation and heartily concur with it – a perfect summary of why, try though we might, some of us will never be able to take seriously anything Mr. Axelrod says. It is extremely encouraging to read such astute comments here, made by colleagues from all over the globe.

  34. My English is not very good but I have a statement to make, I play under Mr. Axelrod in his orchestra and find him to be a pretentious person. What he wants people to see in himself is absolutely not the real Mr. Axelrod. This book is a good propaganda for his “career”??

    • Lise Charles says:

      I read the book, in German, and I can vouch for his support for all musicians and their benefits. The subject is about the survival of the orchestra and how the musicians salaries, indeed orchestras, can be sustained, not forced into strikes. How the public can be more involved. The paragraph in question is part of a larger explanation as to why classical music performance is under threat and suggests ideas to invite others to consider. From what I understand, Axelrod is concerned with more than music. He is concerned for everyone’s continued employment and has fairly invited others to join the discussion. We can do with less attitude and give more gratitude to those artists and writers who bring the real issues to the public.

    • It is entirely possible that what you say is correct AND the book is valid and has something very worthwhile to say. Some conductors just have trouble showing their best side on the podium…

  35. Is it a trial for or against Mr. Axelrod or do we speak here about this classical industry, the challenges orchestras face today, especially in the US right now? This post on Mr. Lebrecht’s blog arrived at a timely fashion indeed!
    The criticism of the conductor will always remain. If I remind well, at the start, there were no conductors at all. The tradition, the podium, (the salaries, yes!) give them today the license to conduct. And sometimes we can ask ourselves what motivates them: interpretation or ego? Art opens our perspectives and minds, it asks us questions, opens the imagination, and makes us feel passion. I share Aristotle’s idea in the Politic and Poetic that music has an influence on souls. And much too often, I can be bored with what I hear, bored with the artists or the attitudes I see on this very stage that should/could reflect the best of us.

    BUT I heard Maestro Axelrod with Dvorak’s New world once and another time with Mahler, and indeed it was that: imaginative, impressive, opening my horizons, it made me shiver, even brought me to tears (not often with Orchestral concerts); concerts I still remember and talked about during days… And that is for me the only future possible for orchestras: having great musicians, committed conductors and soloists who make our world better, who can remind me as an audience that we can indeed make beautiful music together. What it takes to make me believe, that’s an other story. Certainly these nights, Maestro Axelrod had Dvorak and Mahler’s music in his soul and mind, able to transmit it easily to a totally conquered audience. (We still talk about and wished he could come back more often) And big personalities – as he obviously is – do polarize people.

    So let’s leave the trial about the person, and let’s go back to what really interests me: how do we bring classical music into the XXI century, a century of interactivity, new communications, new audiences, new challenges, instead of crying on the beautiful old days or the bankrupted orchestras, or hold on to our certainties, or split on people. And I am sure Mr. Axelrod has some ideas to share that are valid and coming out of his knowledge and experience. Don’t we have to give him the credit of having conducted more than 150 orchestras? If he was so bad, his career would have been “killed in the egg” as french people say dramatically. He is obviously someone who takes risks, is passionate in what he does. And tries to find solutions. Let’s do the same. With an open mind.

    • From a professional philosopher : a precise quotation from Aristotle, please ? Because, you know, I agree with Kant that clouds have a cloud-like shape and with Hegel that art is good. Not forgetting Descartes’s famous claim that evil is bad.

  36. Perhaps it might be useful (if only as an exercise) to forget about the composer for a minute, and just look at the notes on the page – or in this case. forget the author and look at the text. I see nothing disrepectful, self-aggrandizing, or politically motivated in Mo. Axelrod’s comments i may disagree with him, but these excerpts at least are thoughtful and cogent.

    I’d also suggest that the (unseemly) debate about Mo. Axelrod’s professional standing in this thread exemplifies an intractable problem for those of us who work in and believe in large musical institutions of all stripes. Some (I assume serious and talented) musicians have gone to some length to cast aspersions on a colleague. Lets give them their due and admit that perhaps thay did not get what they needed (or thought they needed) from the collaboration. Others (including the only musician on the thread whose work I know and whom I admire greatly) staunchly defend this colleague, so clearly they felt they did get what they wanted out of the process and felt positive about the experience.

    Probably, these colleagues would also disagree on what makes for meaningful, ‘important’ musicmaking, disagree about whom we are playing for, and perhaps even disagree about how to think about music in the first place. If we start (as we must) with this underlying tension, is it any wonder that we have trouble reaching out to that elsusive new audience that knows nothing of ‘classical’ music, much less its history or institutions?

  37. Constantine A. Papas says:

    Mr. C.,

    The New York and Vienna Philarmonic’s concertmasters make less than the Cleveland’s. According to your assessment, they are not as good as he. Or he may have a better agent!

  38. I feel that assigning blames to musicians, conductors, staffs or board for current status in US orchestras misses the point, in a country where private enterprises can afford to have multi-billion entertainment entities, such as sports teams. There is plenty of money to support this art if it is valued by the society at the similar level. The truth with classical music is that it is quite difficult for average persons to understand, even if they are highly educated. Those of us, who make living in the field, regardless being musicians or conductors, need to work really hard to figure out some effective way that can get broad spectrum people to understand and be passionate about this art. No more empty rhetoric. This s the only positive solution. In that perspective, this book would seem to be a waist of time for me.

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