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Dudamel is not the top paid conductor in Los Angeles

He’s not even second richest.

A useful survey in today’s LA Times checks out the pay checks of conductors and arts administrators in 2010-11, the year that Gustavo Dudamel became supremo at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. To earner with a baton that year was Michael Tilson Thomas at San Francisco Symhony, pulling down $2.41 million. James Levine was close behind with $2.06m at the Met (plus an extra couple of mil at Boston). Newbie Alan Gilbert was on $1.56m at the New York Phil.

Dude came in just behind James Conlon of Los Angeles Opera. Con made $993,696, Dude $985,363.

Above them both was Placido Domingo, an occasional conductor, drew down $1.4 million as director of LA Opera. Here’s the conductors’ pay league and here‘s the check list for top arts executives.

Do not read too much into these stats. Two years is a long time in podium politics. Dude will be earning more in his third year than in his first and will probably be quite comfortable in the knowledge that he’s never going to make it as rich as MTT, away in Lotus Land. I get the impression he doesn’t want to be. He likes music too much to  keep thinking about the size of his lunchbox.

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  1. Graf Nugent says:

    MTT deserves to earn more than the others; he’s been delivering the goods for decades.

  2. Levine is the only one on this list that comes close to deserving that sum.

    The rest are good negotiators. Period.

  3. Interesting salaries. In 1928, Klemperer was paid 45,000 deutsche marks for nine months of work, the equivalent of just under $10,975, or $148, 462 in today’s dollars. This was actually a reduction from the prior year because of a shorter employment period.

    As for Leonard Bernstein, “[he] was paid rather modestly at first: A memo from the Philharmonic’s law firm details Bernstein’s three-year contract with the orchestra for the 1958-1961 seasons. For a 16- to 20-week annual commitment with the orchestra, he was paid $52,000 in 1958-69, $57,000 in 1959-60, and $62,000 in 1960-61. Adjusted for inflation, his starting salary is equivalent to $396,249 in 2011, with a final salary of $472,450. In all, a far cry from today’s seven-figure conductor salaries.”

    (Quoted from:!/articles/wqxr-features/2011/mar/07/eight-revelations-new-york-philharmonic-archives/

    Are these guys today really worth it? The hedge fund managers on the orchestra boards of directors seem to think so. Myself, I like listening to YouTube to enjoy the wealth of artistry from earlier generations and interspersing it with a very few from today.

  4. And the use, sense or logic of paying these or any artists millions is what?

    • They bring the crowds into the stadium, increase “record” sales (or whatever the medium is), create a new market with the youth- i.e. the audience of the future- maybe make the hedge fund managers on the Boards feel happy they have acquired a trophy for the orchestra? Good question and poor logic (not yours).

  5. harold braun says:

    MTT is worth every cent! He is way better than Dudamel or Gilbert,and his programs are often daring,uncoventional and thought provoking!

  6. Norman, are you making genuine comparisons here? Do the figures you quote in each case correspond to salary as music director or salary plus concert fees for all concerts conducted during the season? A very, very big difference! If you base a serious article on figures/statistics you need to define your terms very carefully… please clarify (‘pay check’ is a rather vague term!).

  7. I think MTT is a better conductor than the Dude. However Klemperer, Karajan earnd very much more given their time frame/era. Karajan understood very early in the piece how to manage the electronic inductry, especially the visial one and made the most of it financing much of it himself. Klemperer too made a lot of money after his fruitful association with Walter Legge & EMI. I heard Klemperer conduct once. I was eighteen and on my way to Berlin to study conducting. Klemperer’s concert was Schubert’s Unfinished & Bruckner’s 5th Symphony. I was gob smacked for want of a better term. I wandered the streets of London quite unable to sleep. This performance was just stunning. Karajan I saw a lot of. My teacher in Berlin was the orchestras chariman & introduced me to Karakan. I was nothing. An uhreard of conducting student. Karajan however was always very civil to me, even kind and invited me to attend many rehearsals from which of course I leraned much. He was shy, with few friends and in total agony with his spinal arthtritis. But he understood the electronic media better than any other conductor and was critcised, I think unfairly for this. He was an astute and very clever man for whom I had the highest respect for. Especially when I played as an “extra” in the orchestra under his direction.

    • Thanks for sharing these memories. Karajan could be a bit cutting too, could he not? (There is the story of Richter when he was recording with Karajan, confiding to the maestro that he too was German – his father, and many other ethnic Germans had suffered under Stalin- and Karajan responding, “if you’re German then I must be Chinese”, and punctuating it with a cackle.)

      • Karajan had such a quick mind. When he first came to Paris as chief conductor of the Orchestra de Paris they were rehearsing the ‘Rite of Spring’. Karajan conducted the entire rehearsal without a score. One of the wind players tried it on. “Maestro, what’s my note at letter B , ” The snappy response was “it’s a c antural did you leave your glasses at home”. Oh yes he could snap, but only when snapped at & with a very quick incisive response.
        But he had few friends and was a solitary almost lonely figure. Having said that, given the era, you can’t help but admire the man. He made members of the Berlin Philharmonic very rich by all the recording and especially video contracts he brought them understaning the importance of the electronic media quicker than (with the possible exception of Bernstein) any other conductor.

  8. I agree that MTT is a better conductor than Dude, although I have great respect for the latter. But it is not simply about conducting, per se. MTT has done extraordinary things not just in SF, but with ventures like the Youtube Symphony, among others. He deserves to be at the top of the list.

  9. Johan Korssell says:

    MTT is absolutely one of the major conductor-personalities of today. He may not always be as nice as he’s constant smiling suggest but he knows his job! Not only is he a superprofessional but he’s completely devoted to music and to the big questions of the future of our classical music society. A superb conductor constantly achieving incredible things with a wide range of music. Further he is also an intellectual and very wellread musician. The rarest of animals! Blessed with a true educational spirit!

  10. Always these comparisons are problematic. I also think that some of the top salaries are excessive. But so are the top salaries in other branches, even more so. So maybe we should compare what back then a director of the biggest local bank made, what the chief surgeon of the leading local hospital made, what the top lawyer in the town made back then, and then look what they make today. I suppose the top conductors salaries will look modest in comparison.

  11. It is interesting to note that at $2.41 MTT would be well down the list of the highest paid U.S. college football coaches. Some of the other conductors you mention do not even crack the list of the top 50 salaries in U.S. college sports.

  12. Aren’t we forgetting something here? conductors wouldn’t be able to earn anything if it weren’t for the incredibly underpaid musicians sitting in front of them….. time for a redress in the balance I’d say.

    • I recently watched an interview with Nick Saban, the winning football coach at the University of Alabama where he was asked about his 4+ million salary. His reply was that coach salaries are based on the exchange factor–what does his being there bring to the school. The school gets megamillions from the TV exposure a national championship team gets plus its a “winner” which helps its fund raising overall bigtime. There is no question in anyone’s mind at the U of AL that Saban’s “worth the money.” So like all things in the marketplace, it is a question of fair exchange. People at whatever level of economics want to feel that they are being compensated fairly for what they do for society. If during a particular conductor’s tenure the musicians are inspired to play their best, their salaries keep rising, the wealthy are donating generously, a new and better hall gets built, the reputation of the orchestra rises and there is demand for tours, etc. without going into to debt, and the above is credited to the effect that the MD is having on the scene, then he “deserves” his high salary. It’s just fair exchange. Where it goes awry is when MD’s get huge salaries while the musicians are bored, the audience declines, contributions diminish and so on. Not fair exchange.

  13. minacciosa says:

    I offer no argument concerning the accomplishments of the above mentioned conductors, but in the scheme of things not one of them is worth the money. There is an unforgivable distortion in the relative pay rates of orchestral musicians in relation to conductors. (As I recall, Mr. Lebrecht addresses that issue and its origin in one of his more famous books.) The implications of such gross disparity could have existential effects upon the future of the classical orchestra business. It is a gross understatement and an insult to orchestral musicians to call this issue merely a problem.

  14. Barry Lewis says:

    I am not a musician, so please, educate me. I was at a performance of a piano concerto recently. In order of manifest skill, my uninformed observation would tell me that the soloist has the most exposed, difficult and specialised task, by a long way. Let’s just say that he/she is by far the least replaceable contributor. Next comes the orchestra players. They are more replaceable than the soloist, though still amongst the best players in the world. The only person on stage with no instrument in his hands is the conductor. Given that the music would not stop were he to stop waving his arms, nor fall apart, he is surely the most replaceable. If, then, he is by far the best payed up there, can you explain to me how it can really be said that his contribution to the music making is commensurately greater than any of those with musical instruments in their hands, including the soloist? Isn’t it all topsy-turvy? In my operating theatre, the man with the most skill, exposure to risk, expertise and responsibility gets the most money. Not the nurse, whose contribution is only indirectly causal to the success of the operation.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Your logic is compelling, but…let’s talk about films. Stephen Spielberg comes to mind, No one has ever seen him in a film (except for his name in the credits) but yet he is considered a visionary who has had an impact of some consequence on his art over the past few years. Why is that? And he doesn’t even wave his arms (at least not in organized patterns). It’s because he has the vision, a few ideas, and the ability to assemble other people who carry out his vision and his ideas, plus the force to convince other folks with no ideas and no vision, but lots of money, to support his projects. Every true artist is a risk taker, every artist is exposed and has a specialized task, but some have a global view that enables them to link their vision to the creator (aka composer in the case of music), the performers, and the audience. Is MTT worth over $2M a year? Of course he is, and that’s cheap for what he has contributed to his art over the past 40 years. He is an intellect, a leader, an artist, an educator, a visionary-one in 100 million. The art world and especially the performing arts reward the power to communicate and that piano soloist might have been paid more for his performance than the conductor on any given night, is that fair? It depends…great painters and composers usually to have to die to become rich and famous, at least great performers (including conductors) can wallow in their glory (and occasionally some wealth) while they are still alive.

      Coda: Nurses should be better paid.

      • MTT is very fine, and has contributed much over the years to the cultural life of San Francisco, including with very innovative programming, but not every performance has been good by a long shot- I heard a horrendously affected interpretation of some Mahler some years ago, and while I was squirming in my seat, really wished it had been a Bernstein, or Scherchen, or Walter or Horenstein on the podium.

    • Marilyn Crosbie says:

      Not so! This opinion is the result of not understanding that the conductor has to have a high knowledge of each and every insrument in the orchestra. He has to be able to help each player to play that instrument in such a way that the overall effect of to produce the best possible rendition (for want of a better word) of each movement of the piece being performed. Should the instrument cause the member of the orchestra diffulty, the conduction must know how to assist that musician in adjusting his instument. The conductor needs to know every aspect of each piece being performed – the tempo, the dynamics (in laymen’s terms, loudness and softness), the finer details of sound in every aspect. The conductor usually memorizes the score (if you notice, most musicians have music stands with the music in front of him or her, as a “security blanket” at least and a reliable reminder of the piece at best). Most conductors (such as Dudamel) conduct without the musical score in front of him or her in a performance. In my post earlier (under mcrosbie) I mentioned that my late husband was a conductor who studied with Sir Adrian Boult in England. He spend hours studying the score and deciding the approach he was going to take with the music. He had to communicate his musical ideas to each member of the band or symphony he was working with. The conductor also has a major instrument that he has mastered. In the case of Dudamel it is the violin. In the case of my late husband it the oboe. In summary, the conductor does not just stand there waving his arms around.

    • I will try. I was for some twentyfour years a member of several symphony orchestras including that of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. I can say playing is nothing compared with conducting. I have been a conductor for twenty five years. I have to know what every member of the orchestra is doing and 90% of the work is done during rehearsals. If there is a **** up then it’s surely me that gets the rocket, even if a musician plays wrong notes, I get the blame. I spend hous (dozens) in my studio learning scores long befor I even face an orchestra fir the first time. . I don’t just ‘flap’ my hands’ but, your requested example, need to bring in say 80 players exactly together at exactly the right moment when the soloist has finished the cadenza. There are moments when folk get lost. That can NEVER be me but, if & when it happens it’s up to me to repair the situation on the spot, during a concert without the slightest hesitation. Rhythm can be in 2, 6 7 9 or whatever beats to the bar & these I must give to pêrfection or everything falls apart. My musicians are everything to me of course. There is no ‘boss’ only the most musical & mental of co-operation & total understaning of what each other is about. I can tell you, it’s bloody difficult. Imagine when you conduct a large opera. You have, say, 90 musicians, on the stage, say ten solo singers plus, say, a 60 member chorus. Who do you think keeps all this together. Often I wonder of it’s not God.

  15. In my opinion, MTT is worth every nickel he’s paid. He’s a conducting superstar and has brought enormous ( and well-deserved) prestige to the SFSO. Though the orchestra has been top notch for quite a few years, even before Maestro MTT’s arrival, it sometimes takes a singular personality to elevate it to the heights. It’s just the way it works. (What would the Yankees be without Ruth? The Met without Levine? ) Like his mentor, Bernstein, MTT has done much to educate. His video series “Keeping Score” is wonderful. And he brings lots of new and interesting music to symphony going San Franciscans, virtually popularizing, for example, the works of John Adams.

    I have seen Dudamel and I think he’s an amazing young man. He’s done incredible thing with El Sistema and with popularizing classical music not only in L.A., but all over the United States. (I sometimes discredit him just because he is so young. How can such a young man have the maturity to fully understand someone like Mahler. Then I think about Mozart and that little voice in my head says to me, “Just shut up and listen to his music!)

    I remember when Zuben Mehta had the El Lay years ago. There’s a story about how, at the end of a performance, someone in the audience yelled, “Way go go, Zubie baby! How…well, how Los Angeles! So now, Gustavo is “The Dude! I love it!

    From what I read, he’s enormously happy in San Francisco and hopefully will be there a long time to come.

    • The quality of playing of the SF Symphony was really improved under Herbert Blomstedt, whose repertoire was very traditional but whose sensibility was refined, artistic integrity unimpeachable, and performance standards highly exacting- even to the extent that if you (i.e., audience member) were late to arrive at a performance, he would not hold the symphony for the standard 5 to 10 minutes for latecomers to be seated. He started and you waited outside (unless you knew an usher and could sneak in). So, when Michael Tilson Thomas arrived on the scene the symphony was ready. Another thing that helped was that the City fathers and “old wealth” were very supportive of the orchestra, and that continued to expand and grow such that today, the symphony, even for many of the inside and non-principal chairs or stands, is almost fully endowed. To have the finances so well taken care of makes it much easier for the symphony to program and survive in an economic downturn. RIght now, the standard scale for SF is the same as the Philadelphia Orchestra, though I doubt that the level of playing of the SF Symphony (as opposed to its programming) is up to Philly’s level.

  16. Marilyn Crosbie says:

    The above was a mistake, although it does show you how Dudamel must consult others when he plans concerts. Here is his discussion of Mahler.

  17. Barry Lewis says:

    Thank you for educating me on the role of the conductor. From my vantage point, and I have already admitted my inexperience in the area, it seems quite straightforward: the conductor has a job to do, like everyone else, but is compensated well over ten times the salary of the musicians for performing his assigned task. Twenty or thirty times, even, judging by some of the figures quoted here. I suppose that what I am asking is quite an empirical, managerial question: given the resources available in the relatively small business of classical music, and given the sacrifices that musicians are making in difficult times to stay employed, can such disproportionate compensation be justified? Is that role – figurehead, face of the orchestra, planner, interpreter/metronome/magic puppeteer – really 10, 20, or 30 times MORE VALUABLE than that of the players? I happen to think, personally, that great music is so essential to all of us as a civilisation that ALL top classical musicians should be highly rewarded for their skill and contribution to humanity, but my idealism is surely tempered by market forces. My question, therefore is one of RELATIVE value. Should the cake not be cut a little more evenly?

    • Of course it should but it doesn’t. And conductors are hardly at the pinnacle of this growing income disparity over the last decades in ALL areas of western economies. The top CEO salaries of big corporations are 300-500 times that of an average employee now, while 40 years ago they were happy with 30-40 times the average pay.
      Nobody is paid for hard work or skill (!). Every body is paid for what he or she CAN negotiate.
      The system is unfair. But can we change it?

      • Realist,
        Hard work and skill, but lack of capacity to negotiate? The person will be just a good aide, maximum.
        The question always considered for salaries is “ROI” (Return of Investment). What benefits and how much this person can bring back to the institution? Even on artistic ones they make this same question. However, It’s seems that in past incomes were higher on this industry than it turned to be more recently.
        Artistic institution got the challenge to do not lost or to increase the cultural values, but with the necessary return of investments. There are many strategies working at this moment, in my opinion most based on succeed ones from Pop world such beautiful artists, hype (Turn something to be the coolest fashion of the moment), massive propaganda, behavior such “classical music for dummies”, rely on conservative repertoire (Old shoes) etc. The crossroads is to define who is losing market share against who is losing credibility over cultural values. I do not dare to point it out, I’m just capable to decide what I like or dislike. However, sometimes these strategies are so exaggerated and obvious that make me sick. Anyone can survive very well just with incomes without cultural values, but the inverse situation is not true at all.

  18. Now LA Times is trying to convince us that Dudamel do things more interested in music and not in money if compared with others in the list? Why the news was not “MTT is the top paid conductor in a specific list selected by us”? MTT do not likes music too much, but keep thinking about the size of his lunchbox? At least it is also the connotative meaning of this LA times article.
    For example, what is the same fee that Morlot receive in Seattle? (I don’t know) Perhaps it is not interesting to put him bellow Dudamel on this list, no? Perhaps the same with worst results can happens with the inclusion of Welser-Most in Cleveland, Mutti in Chicago, Alsop in Baltimore, Robertson in St. Louis. I still don’t know, but it is clear that the list does not have any criteria. Call Dudamel as the “Not the top paid in LA”, but include some others MD all around the US. New and old contracts along experienced and not experienced MDs. Altogether, but just some of them.
    These figures are the total bottom line of incomes in a year? Including merchandise, Image rights, sales commission and the other things that Nick is questioning here above.
    However, even if LA times provide a real conclusive study after a deep research. Again Dudamel? Always LA times is finding ways to turn Dudamel to be the cool thing, besides the central focus, even when it is not really applied to him. I’m trying to be impartial, but they are really working hard to promote backlash on me. Maybe I’m not the only one. If it was a Federal Court, it is certain that LA Times as witness would suffer impeachment.

  19. paul myers says:

    I know of very few conductors who negotiate their own fees. That is done by their managers. Furthermore, most organizations pay according to the drawing power of the artist . If the rumours one hears of the fees paid, say, to Lang Lang and various singers for a single performance are true, then conductors’ fees are relatively modest, since they cover a year of work. If you move to the pop world or the sports world, the comparative amount paid to conductors is quite low. This does not mean that orchestra players should not receive more but, as we can see from the chaotic state of various American orchestras at the moment, sooner or later, various organizations find they have run out of money. .

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