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Euro orchestras apply ‘brutal’ squeeze on young musicians

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
alarmingly high.





Can other readers confirm these impressions?

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  1. Nicholas Daniel says:

    I would suggest another reading of this. As a Professor in a major German Musikhochschule I see these ‘Academies’ as being incredibly useful training grounds for young musicians. My students are allowed to take a semester or year out of studying to do them and then come back with no time penalties, ie they can continue to have the same length of course. They get INVALUABLE experience, for good and bad, of symphony orchestra life, and free lessons with the principal Oboe, in our case. They work hard, yes, because you do in an orchestra, but I find they come back with knowledge and confidence that’s hard to get in school.
    Many orchestras in the UK have similar high prized and valuable training schemes here, like the links between the Guildhall School and the LSO and BBC Symphonies. They are not, as far as I know, thought of as brutal.
    Regarding the other matter, in the UK we have trial systems that often go on for years. The reality is that it is SO much more expensive, with labour and pension laws, to employ someone full time that orchestra management encourage short termism to an extent, despite the damage this can do to the stability particularly of, say, a woodwind team that have to work so intimately and know each others playing so well. There are orchestras in the UK that take 5-10 years to fill principal wind positions sometimes. I do not exaggerate.

    • I’m sorry, I don’t buy this. As an orchestra manager I find this practice appalling and an abuse of music education and the institution of the orchestra. What then is the purpose of the conservatory orchestra? Is a professional symphony orchestra merely a training ground for exceptional students or something of a higher standard to build and uphold? It sounds to me that European managers are taking desperate measures to save money and hoping to capitalize on ‘youth’ in the process.

      • Riiiight. You’ll also be aware of the huge constraints on orchestral time in a conservatory situation, then; and that a conservatoire orchestra in no way reflects the pressure and working balance of a professional orchestra, and hardly gives students a taste of what the orchestral life is really about?
        You’d be dead against the RNCM having a partnership with the Halle orchestra, GSAMD having a relationship with LSO and BBCSO; and so on and so forth? And by extension, I suppose you would refuse to employ anyone on an internship in an orchestra management role or anywhere in the orchestral organisation?

        Some of the most useful training students ever get on engineering courses, medical courses, and so on is a year in industry, outside of the academic or formal training institution. Why would you deny that to a music student? Or do you think that a hot-house conservatoire atmosphere, concentrated on solo playing (however much occasional orchestral or chamber playing is squeezed in) genuinely adequately prepares a student for the reality of an orchestral position?

    • Stuart Green says:

      I retired as principal viola of the Bournemouth S O in 2009,still no sign of a replacement. It’s not just wind vacancies that are difficult to fill evidently.

  2. Does any music historian out there know how orchestras were financed in the late 19th century and how the wages of rank and file orchestral players compared with the average middle class wage?

    Thinking about the effect of supply and demand on wages in Britain: for every advertised orchestral position, there may be 10 times as many fully competent musicians applying for it now compared with 50 years ago. Take the flute, for example. (The following average figures are guess work but I don’t think they are far wrong). 40 fl(a)utists graduate from the British conservatoires every year; one professional flute player retires each year.

    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      In 1840, a second violinist playing a season (8 concerts and nine rehearsals) with the Philharmonic Society Orchestra would earn L19. 13s. 9d. A senior clerk could expect to earn about L150 a year. However, the economy can hardly be compared (aside from the obvious Victorian imbalances which are reappearing today): in 1851, only around 1% – 2% of the population earned more than L150 a year. Orchestras in London paid well, and compensation compared favourably with orchestras on the Continent and in the US. Am busy researching the topic at the moment for a paper, so will let you know if I come up with figures for any other orchestras.

  3. Dear Mr. Lebrecht,

    As Professor of Violin at the Hochschule (University) in Stuttgart I can absolutely confirm the information of Concertmaster NN. Several of my students have “Zeitvertrag” positions, and although I don’t have any former students in Academy positions, I have several in “Praktikum” positions. This is also a situation where they are paid about 650-750 Euros a month for playing a certain number of services in the orchestra, but they do not get lessons from the orchestra musicians. This is a very complex situation for the young graduates because they risk going from one academy or Praktikum position to another without getting an actual “job”. These players are busy performing in sometimes very good orchestras, but get paid a fraction of what the contracted players get – and don’t have the job security either.

    When I arrived in Germany from the USA in 2008, I was surprised to find out about this system. I had, after all, only seen the situation here from the side of the invited soloist. Now I do my best to advise my students in the best way I can, recognizing that there are many dangers and uncertainties ahead for them, even in Germany. Bottom line: they have to be aware and also be the best possible violinists they can be when they graduate from my studio.

    It is good to know that this is starting to be talked about openly. It is a beginning. Thank you NL and concertmaster NN!

    All my best,

    Judith Ingolfsson

    • A clarification: the Praktikum players are contracted, of course, and must win an audition, but get paid much less than the orchestra members and have only a one year commitment.

      • After reading all the different comments I’d like to add that from my perspective there is really no need for alarm, rather that students and professors know exactly what the situation is so that the best possible decisions can be made for each individual. Some of my students have had great experiences with Praktikum. Others have not. In principle. Praktikum is a good idea, Academy is an even better idea because of the lessons that are given, Zeitvertrag is a job that looks good on a resume. Jobs are currently difficult to come by – competition is high, everyone is trying to save as much money as possible. I try to instill the idea with my students that Praktikum and Academy are opportunities for experience, sometimes invaluable experience. They are not jobs, however, and one shouldn’t move from one such position to another but rather figure out a way that this experience earned can help them win a job, hopefully in the best possible orchestra.
        I would like to add, as an aside, that students in Germany still have a great deal. There is next to no tuition to be paid, and they also have the opportunity to do what amounts to paid internships. In the end, if the system is used as intended and not abused (and this is where it gets complex), it can be a win-win situation.

  4. Just an opinion says:

    It seems the author of the letter knows the German orchestra environment pretty well.
    He/She described the situation correctly but it is hardly a secret to anybody working here.
    No question: securing a full time job in Germany did not get easier for young musicians over the years.

    Another thing to add to the list is that quite some of the positions advertised in “Das Orchester” are not actually on the market. Auditions once a while are only held for the sole purpose of not losing the subsidies connected to this vacancy. So much cheaper of course to cover those positions with subs if needed.

    Also a strange development that the percentage of foreign musicians in German orchestras increased dramatically over the years, especially in the smaller , not so well paid orchestras. Seems German conservatories fail to provide local musicians on a professional level needed to secure a job in an orchestra.

    • Another concertmaster says:

      I find it strange that you expect to see mostly German musicians in German orchestras. Really!

      In fact in Conservatories there are a lot of foreigners, sometimes actual Germans are minority. It is not surprising there are more and more foreign musicians who graduate and get a job in Germany.

  5. Unions or syndicates need to be battling this situation. Hasn’t this become an issue in negotiations with management?

    • Dare I suggest that part of the problem starts with the unions in the first place?
      It’s the unions that campaign for and have arranged working conditions that are such that it is exceedingly difficult to remove an orchestral player who is past their best, can no longer be bothered to try, or is poor at their job. This makes it very hard to find vacancies where there perhaps should be some for new talent (or for existing talent to move around).
      It also means that employing a full-time, salaried player to fill a seat is extremely expensive and a substantial burden on an orchestra, probably already hard-pressed for funding. This explains why many orchestras operate with a full-time staff of just under that which they need for many concerts (eg string strengths a half desk or full desk short, ‘topped up’ by ‘extra’ players most of the time).
      These are both situations – a lack of available jobs, and a lack of full-time appointees to such jobs as might exist – which arise from typical union campaigns aimed at improving the working lives of musicians (or rather, aimed at improving the working lives of the few musicians already in employment, and sod the rest). They also have the additional undesirable side-effect of keeping deteriorating and/or unmotivated players in jobs which only worsens the standard of the ensembles further, which in turn hardly helps keep an audience interested.

  6. Timon Wapenaar says:

    Don’t know about Europe, but the practise is definitely being implemented in South Africa, where the “Academy” students are usually from “previously disadvantaged backgrounds”. I find the entire situation objectionable, as young black players from the townships are, under the guise of “upliftment” or “outreach programs”, basically used to cut corners on the budget. These players are given seats in the orchestra, with the obvious implication that the “experience” will be good for them. The question is, how many of them have the maturity to understand that they would never have been given those positions in the first place were the orchestra to be run in a strictly professional manner? In SA, these players are engaged for a concert or two, which means that players are rotating constantly, leading to a distinct lack of cohesion, particularly within the strings. How is an orchestra supposed to develop a sound if your desk partner is constantly changing? Predictably, anyone who points this out is immediately open to thinly-veiled accusations of racism and a desire to perpetuate the inequalities of apartheid, so most grumble in private. I have no doubt that putting young, inexperienced black players into an orchestra made up of senior players already disgruntled by late salaries is a recipe for increased racial tension, whether it is overt or not. Since the younger players look to their seniors as role models, they too must inevitably undergo the same process of cynically hardening their constitution. In the end, the biggest losers are precisely these young players who are supposed to be uplifted by the programme, as they are given a false impression of orchestral practise, and sit in an orchestra which has compromised its own standards in order to save money. You cannot lift people out of 300 years of racial oppression merely by lowering the bar!

  7. I am more than a bit taken aback by this damning from within of the long-standing tradition of apprenticeship-based learning/teaching in Austria and Germany. Judging from the long lists of applicants to these ‘academies’, there must be a perceived value to ‘in situ’ training that is otherwise not available to aspiring orchestral musicians. One may judge the success of this type of training from the long list of positions won by graduates of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Academy.

    While I am not in a position to speak to the implied accusation that these students are being used as ‘cheap labour’, here in Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra this is not the case. Our very successful Institute for Orchestral Studies, created by Music Director Pinchas Zukerman, places five string apprentices (all expenses paid) into the Orchestra for specific training and five weeks of performances of Main Series concerts. Our Apprentices do not replace ‘full-time players’, yet are given the same responsibilities of ‘membership’ in the Orchestra’s string section. To the best of my knowledge, pre-professional training at this level is unique in North America.

    Brutal? I think not. Beneficial? Most definitely. Just ask our Apprentices.

  8. Another concertmaster working in Germany says:

    Personally, I don`t see any reason for raising such an alarm.

    Indeed, there are probably less jobs per graduate compared to 80`s and the number of applicants is much higher, the average level is higher etc etc. Should it be any different?

    I could say that Conservatoires probably are producing a bit too many musicians and for some of them it is difficult to find a job.

    As for the “Academies” – it is not true saying that they might fill in a full-time job. Such a position is strictly regulated and it is not possible to work more that half of the full-time job (at least in Germany). There is an age limit, too. And, of course, this position is an enormous career opportunity. Having a good apprenticeship on a CV helps receiving an invitation for audition in the future. Since this is an educational position, it is absolutely normal that after a year or two (2-year academies are less common, though) this position is given to another student. In some cases, indeed, an “Akademist” might be employed after the internship BUT it is not a rule and there must be an open audition (with a screen, what is uncommon for British orchestras).

    Yes, there are probably more freelancers in German orchestras today. I can not compare with 80s, I only was born then, but I have got an impression that freelance is becoming more “normal” in Germany. The average orchestra musician who had his secured position for decades sees a freelancer like a looser. This is common in other branches in Germany, not only in music… But there are more and more freelancers who chose to be it deliberately and I think there is nothing wrong with it. However, in some orchestras they might be paid less that if they would be one-time extras who are members in other orchestras – and this is not fair.

    In some orchestra there are simply no open positions for additional players, usually in the strings. This is why they invite more freelancers, give Zeitvertrag etc. That`s true. But I don`t see anything alarming in it. It makes getting a full-time job more difficult for graduates but the tougher competition rises the level in the end, am I not right?

    The times when a good student has got a job right after his graduation (and stayed in this job until his retirement), in Germany, are over.

  9. Michael Hurshell says:

    I concurr with “another concertmaster” in that “Akademie” is primarily a chance for young, inexperienced players to gain very valuable experience. Just a few days ago I spoke with a cellist who is getting hands on training – his first assignment is playing “Siegfried” ! And I do’t believe the young players assume Akademie will lead directly to a steady post. It is excellent for the CV. – Nonetheless tougher times are ahead.

  10. John Summers says:

    At the Halle we have had a professional expereince scheme for over 10 years, and an increasing niumber our permanent players had their first contact with the Orchestra through the scheme – which is run in collaboration with the RNCM. We have always paid the young players the full rate for the job on the basis that, if it is a professional experience scheme, they should be treated as professionals in every aspect, both in terms of what we are asking from them and in what we provide in return. We raise the money to fund the scheme and are very happy with what it has dewlvered for us and the young professionals involved.

    I personally have a problem where orchestras use an experience scheme to reduce costs – it is not the purpose of offering such training.

  11. My wife teaches at the same German conservatory as Nick Daniels (see his post above.) Several of her students have worked in Prakitum positions (usually one or two years) and it was a very rewarding experience for them. Playing in a professional orchestra is very different from playing in a student orchestra. The standards are higher and the work routines far different. And perhaps most importantly, they get to experience the attitudes and habits of professional orchestra musicians – which are informative though not always a positive experience. Some of her students have decided they do not want to become orchestra musicians after experiencing what orchestras really are. Others were better prepared for their auditions.

    I notice that the orchestras like the cheap labor. The work of the students reduces the number of services the regular musicians have. In some senses, the work exploits student labor, but it also gives them experience they might not receive otherwise. I think some of the smaller orchestras, like the Stuttgarter Philharmonik, or the Hamburger Symphoniker, have come to depend on these student positions, but a thorough study is needed before making general conclusions.

    The situation in the States is far worse. Most regional orchestras are categorized as “town and gown” ensembles. In cities like Albuquerque NM, Flagstaff AZ, El Paso TX, and countless others, the orchestras are a combination of university professors in solo positions, and university music students and local amateurs playing the tutti parts. Some universities even require in their job descriptions that their professors must also fill a position in the local orchestra. The tutti players usually receive about $5000 per year, and the solo chairs might get up to $20,000, but usually far less. This represents the exploitation of student musicians in its purest form. The basic attitude in America’s countless town and gown orchestras, is that orchestras are something that students and amateurs do, and not something for real professionals. This defines most of America’s regional orchestras. There is nothing whatsoever in Germany that is comparable.

    There are indeed fewer positions in German orchestras than in the 80s. Very few people have considered the larger picture. During the Cold War, East and West Germany competed in their support of the arts in order to show the superiority of their respective economic positions. As a result, East Germany had the highest concentration of orchestras per capita in the world. It really was excessive, and this resulted in quite a few orchestra closures after the wall came down – a problem exacerbated by dire economic conditions. There were thus many more musicians for fewer positions, a situation that remains to this day.

    In addition, with the sense of competition removed, the West Germans (which in effect became all of Germany) began reducing arts funding in general. There was nothing more to prove. Orchestras were affected, but the hardest hit areas were the more marginalized genres, like new music, small free theaters, artist studios, etc. All that said, Germany still has the highest per capita orchestral funding in the world (except for Austria where it is very similar,) even if it’s not what it was before the Cold War ended.

  12. Carson Keeble says:

    I agree with much of what William just wrote, but I think the U.S. regional orchestra stereotype laid out is a slight mischaracterization. I played in Albuquerque’s New Mexico Symphony Orchestra for two years in the mid 2000′s and there was really very little connection between it and the University of New Mexico. Sure, there were a few professors filling out the ranks here and there, but only a couple of them were section principals, and they generally seemed to make an effort to hire the best local talent as subs, not just their students. More recently, I performed with Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra which many may characterize as a regional orchestra as well, and it also had very little connection with any university.

    I’m sure the “town and gown” model is prevelant in many places, and is certainly an unfortunate phenomenon in many ways, but in many regional orchestras artistic quality and musician equity are the top priorities, at least among the musicians. Both of these orchestras offered some form of health benefits in addition to salaries for most section members between 15 and 25 thousand dollars per year. -Certainly not nearly as much as it should be for our level of training and expertise, but it’s atleast something to build off for folks who are industrious. These are (or were, before this ongoing round of managerial plunder) permanent, secure jobs that many, many musicians have used to catipult themselves into big careers. And these are orchestras that have provided an extremely important musical foundation for many smaller cities. In my opinion, this type of smaller city approach is a lot more virtuous and useful than much better funded orchestras that use students for cheap labor on a temporary basis.

    • A couple additions to Carson’s informative post. Albuquerque is not exactly a small city. There are over 900,000 people in the metro area. Any European city that large would almost certainly have a 52 week season orchestra and a year-round opera house as well.

      It is true that over the last 20 years the now defunct New Mexico Symphony tried to move away from its town and gown format. Most of the local professors did not want to play in the orchestra due to low pay and other reasons. And there were local musicians better than most students. On the other hand, the tutti musicians almost all had day jobs so the orchestra rarely had day time rehearsals. And the essential task of touring to other cities in the State was very difficult if not impossible because the musicians couldn’t get free from their day jobs. The orchestra raised the tutti musicians pay to about $8000 a year. The budget could not be sustained and the orchestra folded.

      The NMSO reformed as the New Mexico Philharmonic and with a much smaller budget. As an example of these stresses, it recently performed Holst’s Planets using a synth for the chorus. Some of their initial concerts were conducted by a Jr. High band director – though a very competent and experienced musician. These conditions illustrate the problems regional US orchestras can face.

      One of the strangest parts of this for me is how the musicians in these orchestras want to believe in the quality and status of their ensembles, and thus live in a kind of denial about the low standards of their working conditions. On the positive side, due to the dedication of the musicians the quality is often much higher than would be expected, but it is mostly because they accept being exploited. (Carson, Abbie sends her greetings.)

      • Carson Keeble says:

        Again, I agree with pretty much everything in William’s second post. My primary point in initially posting was to defend the (recently deceased) New Mexico Symphony and others like it that seemed to be characterized as borderline sub-professional. The $8000 figure you mentioned only applied to one of the five horns, conta-bassoon, bass clarinet I think, keyboard, and the last few strings in each section that were just brought in for classics concerts (Im sure there are a few more I’m forgetting about). That’s absolutely inexcusable, but a vast majority of the orchestra got the higher rates of pay and were used on a regular basis. I assure you I’m not in denial about work conditions and neither are most of my friends and former colleagues at the defunct NMSO. We always expected better and fought for it in negotiation after negotiation, one of which I was present for, the last of which led to the organization’s completely unnecessary demise. I’m also certain that the newly formed New Mexico Philharmonic has agreed to the substandard conditions you outlined above under the assumption that once it gets on its feet, those conditions will no longer occur. Perhaps operating in the present with this kind of faith in a better future is not the best path to take (another discussion) but these musicians are truly operating with their backs to a wall and have been for some time.

        -Very fondest regards back to Abbie. What say we continue this at Eske’s next summer!

        • Drew McManus compiles yearly reports on the compensation for orchestra musicians on his website Adaptstration. A subscription is required to see the figures, but this site provides a summary:

          In 2010 the average base salary for ROPA orchestras (Regional Orchestra Players Association) was just over $13,000 – a salary that requires most of the musicians to have day jobs, very often outside of music. The NMSO was no different. And again, my point here isn’t to diminish the dedication or quality of these orchestras, but rather to point out that the musicians are exploited. Carson, for example, has a music degree in trombone from Oberlin. The first trombone, Debra Taylor, has a degree from Curtis. The ratio between the quality (and expense) of their educations (and their status within their fields) is in grotesque disproportion to their salaries.

          Perhaps someone has a subscription to Adaptstration and can give us the exact numbers for the now defunct New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. I strongly suspect that the New Mexico Phil will not see their hopes realized, and that their salaries will remain below average even for ROPA orchestras.

          The essential problem is America’s unique and isolated funding system by the wealthy. It concentrates funding in a few financial centers where the wealthy live and leaves the rest of the country largely neglected. One example is that America only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. (For the stats, see the website of Operabase.)

          This also strongly affects New Mexico which is the 50th poorest state in the nation. There are not many wealthy people there to support the arts. It illustrates why Europe’s system of publically funding the arts is much more democratic. Cultural funding is spread evenly over all regions of their countries. (And yes Carson, looking forward to Eske’s.)

  13. another orchestra musician says:

    ‘Praktikum’, the limited-duration engagement of student-age musicians at below-scale wage to perform a certain number of orchestra services per work period, is not new. It has existed in Germany for decades. By and large, it is a reciprocally advantageous situation for all parties concerned.

    If the orchestra exceeds legal limits relative to duration or quantity of work demanded of the Praktikant/in, this latter can, and sometimes does sue for instatement without audition as a full-time member of the orchestra. Judges, in these cases, unhesitatingly rule in favour of the plaintiff. Most orchestras therefore are careful not to keep their Praktikant/in for longer, or work them harder, than rules allow.

  14. Martin Locher says:

    Are these academy posistions really any different than other apprenticeship positions in business? In Central Europe, at least Switzerland, it is usual to learn a job, by working almost full time for a company whilst going to a business school.

  15. Jobless prizewinner says:

    I would like to express just shortly a few facts. Then, connecting them is just a personal matter.
    I am 28 and I play violin undoubtebly good enough. I have a master degree in Switzerland.
    Yet, I am one of the endless examples of good young musicians, unable to get this huge privilage called salary.
    All the time freelancing, practicing and applying for auditions. I worked as full time tutti as Prakticant. However, I felt exploited enough during conservatory ( by the way, conservatories are foundations) playing endless orchestra sessions as concertmaster . The concerts were not with free entrance. But I was asked to play extraprojects, I remember. Funny enough, less good students were often ” excused” for making projects. I come from a eastern europeean country. There, we start violin at 6 and orchestra sessions at 14. All this experience was gathered untill it got blocked in the conservatory- playing average concerts in the favour of conservatory. I never recieved a scholarship tough. So, I had to earn a living and pay my tuition by playing freelance ( where sometimes I actually had the chance to play some really nice concerts with good conductors and collegues etc). As prakticant, I played in one of the most important swiss orchestra. Believe me, I played next to some bad players. I understand- experience is gold. But when you are over 60 and fingers strat failing you, you can’t be great playing Salome or Don Juan. However, I was the one whi had to earn experience. I believe that young generation should learn from the older. But to be able to actually play and follow the conductor and the others is a condition that can not be compromisef. 40 years of experience should notbe an excuse for bad playing, missing whole passages because they are fast and then protesting against the conductor on behalf of the orchestras fame. I relized that this guys, and they are many , are judging my CV among the ones that they actually can play. Major orchestras are almost never spared of some violinists that for various reasons play bad. Either they did not really earned the place, either they became bored or old. Yet, they reject CVs of violinists better then themselves. It is like a rule. Once you get the position it seems fair to consider yourself better then anybody aplying. Rhat is an illusion. I got invited to audition for orchestras like Zurich Tonhalle , Paris Opera, Bruxelles Philharmonique and even managed to play in the final. I got rejected by smaller names aswell. It is of course a bit of lotery in all that and there are chances that antime a better violinist can appear. But still, very often I will be rejected while bad violinists having a job feel entitled to judge. By the time I will be 30 they will start saying it is a bit late and my CV will have less and less chances to succeed an application. Conservatories are happy to accept as many students as possible and feed the most of them with illusions. Many of them have no clue how hard it is. Eventually they quit or continue ad a hobby. Meanwhile orchestras are exploiting musicians, offering prakticum positions. For those whi can’t play and know it, remember that there is a ” apprentice” next to you, payed for a fraction of your salary. He is there not to learn but to do your job. He is willing to start properlt his life with a job and a familly. It is not only my case. I know at least 30 good-very good violinists in Switzerland only in this situation and at least 8 lame players in 2 major orchestras. I do not want to ask life to be fair. I just want to make it at least clear that ” prakticum ” position is exploiting prople. Please, don’t hide behind this, we all know this is hipocrit. Just make openings for replacements and pay properly. At least. The auditions for practikum akademie are almost always as difficult as for a job. You might say ” repertoire is smaller and competitors are younger” . Believe me, I got my position as prakticum at 25. I did not evolved much from then and how much I did it was because of me and not because of the advices of some paralized players. I know it might sound I am unpolite or even unwise, close to uneducated. I can promise you it is not the case. I am just fed up of those who keep a permanent position without deserving . You know who you are. You are not the majority but you are too many.

  16. Not surprisingly, even a post raising concerns about something in Europe results in a number of posts bashing America’s system. Shocking.

    • And justly so. The average salary of 8400 EUR per year for a student Pratikant in Germany is only about $2000 less than the average base salary of an American regional (ROPA) orchestra. It puts things in perspective.

  17. James Creitz says:

    Having read the comments of my esteemed colleagues, I would like to confirm the thesis in the original letter. Yes, Nick, SOME of these Academies are wonderful: several of my students have gone on to the Karajan Stiftung and the Berlin Philharmonic Academy and were provided with what they needed to make highly successful careers as orchestral musicians. There are other academies in name only, which provide little or no training and are basically slave labor, by German standards.
    The situation of “Praktikanten” is another entirely. There are a few illuminated orchestras which have, in collaboration with the conservatories, offered these positions over the years purely as an educational opportunity. These, today, are the exceptions. The great majority of these positions stem exclusively from the desire, on the part of the orchestra, to defer (or eliminate) the filling of a permanent position with full benefits, by basically hiring cheap temps. The result of this policy is a net loss of permanent orchestral positions, and are a money-saver for the orchestra. William Osborne, who has commented here, is a brilliant researcher of these matters. Maybe he can come up with a reasonable estimation of how many full-time orchestral positions have been lost to this practice. I would hazard a rough guess at 20%.
    A figure anywhere close to this would have repercussions, as it would mean we are educating too many potential orchestral musicians, and that the conservatories should be placing their focus elsewhere, or that we should have fewer conservatories.

  18. The letter which started this discussion IMHO contains some correct facts, but unfortunately a lot more misinterpretations and misrepresentations. Concluding from the mentioning of “Das Orchester” I presume that it deals primarily with the situation in Germany. There are far more questionable details in it which would merit a detailed response than I have momentarily time to deal with. Therefore I will restrict myself for now to the complaint about the greatly increased number of time contracts in German orchestras.

    It is true that the number of timely limited contracts (“Zeitverträge”) has exploded since the last years of the previous millenium. But this has mainly two quite simple reasons:

    1) There has been a considerable change in the legislation giving every parent of a small child the right to some time off the job to look after one’s offspring (“Elternzeit”). Orchestra musicians have this right as well, of course. During this period the employer is prevented from cancelling the contract. As a consequence there is an increasing number of positions everywhere held by tenured players who are on a leave for some time, in some cases even for close to a decade. Obviously during this time such jobs can only be filled on a temporary basis, and everybody who applies for such a Zeitvertrag must know this from the very outset.

    2) Another change concerns the probation period. When I started my professional career one would be hired after a successful audition directly on a permanent contract with a stipulated probation period, usually of one year, sometimes even of two. Today such a construction would be the failsafe basis for winning a suit for permanent employment, because the legal probation period must not exceed six months. Since orchestras generally and rightfully feel that this is not a sufficient time frame for such a decision, they resort to another legal possibility: they don’t use an unlimited contract with a stipulated probation period anymore, but instead they will issue a Zeitvertrag, mostly over a one year period, in some cases even with a two year duration. This contract will explicitly have the purpose of trying out the new player (“Zeitvertrag zum Zwecke der Erprobung”), and this way allows a considerably longer probation period than it would be legal for an unlimited contract. If the probation period has been passed successfully, the unlimited contract will follow. However, aside from the legal technicalities this is exactly the same probation period for both the candidate and the orchestra as it has already been the case for decades before the advent of the Zeitvertrag. Of course, everybody in a probation period is technically working on a time contract these days. But is this really reason for complaints?

    • I think the laws of Germany’s social democracy are generally humanistic and admirable, and that attempts by orchestras to circumvent them are questionable. The laws that allow a mother or father to stay home for a period to care for a new born are a fundamental protection for children. Orchestras should not feel entitled to circumvent them.

      The German courts have limited probation periods so that they fall within humane standards. Orchestras typically give a new musician a lot of services in order to judge them. With few exceptions, if an orchestra can’t complete this process within six months, then there is probably something wrong with its methods of evaluation. In some orchestras, the process was more like hazing. Reasonable time limits prevent abuses.

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