US musicians who are being hit by 30-60 percent pay cuts look longingly at Europe as a Shangri-la of state-coddled cradle-to-grave protectionism (or whatever Mitt Romney’s phrase of the week might be).
Well, it ain’t so any more. A distinguished European concertmaster, who asks to remain anonymous, has sent us this assessment of how the times are a-changing in major orchestras – invariably, for the worse.
Dear Mr. Lebrecht,
As one of your enthusiastic readers, I would like to draw your
attention to a more and more serious problem in European orchestras.
When I started my career in the 80′s we had tons of jobs available.
“Das Orchester” was full of ads, it was only up to us to make
a good application to get invited to the auditions. Because I tried
many of those jobs and having been concertmaster most of my life (OK,
I had the first prize of the nnnn competition), I see some
alarming changes in the hiring system in European orchestras.
Auditions would be held, musicians were selected for the jobs, and after a
year’s probation time either engaged or not. Now, there is a new type of
engagement too: if they don’t feel that the candidate was good for the
job but good enough for a time being, they will give a “Zeitvertrag”
for one or two years.
The other solution is more brutal: they call it “Academy”
position. It is a two year contract, sitting as a student in the
orchestra, having a certain amount of services/month and lessons by an
orchestra member. Payment: something like net 650.- Euros (=$) a month. After
the two years: “next please”, another audition, another student. And
in most of the cases, these students are filling actually a full time
position. For some instruments in smaller orchestras there is no mentor.
Knowing inside “secrets” of many major but also small orchestras in
Germany and Austria, I could also tell how many musicians are used
like some cheap disposable substitutes, making the community of
freelance musicians grow. Perhaps there are now more musicians
graduating than before, but to me the number of jobless musicians in western Europe is
Can other readers confirm these impressions?