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Hello! New York notices Minnesota’s in trouble

Not the New York Times. They’re too deep up their own navel to see past 47th Street.

The New Yorker has a good analysis online on the darkening calamity at the twin orchestras. Read it here.

Was the New York Times ever a newspaper?

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  1. Well, if the donor Board members responsible for the cuts also want naming rights to the new facility, maybe the next article should name names… all of them.

  2. Amy Adams says:

    I don’t know if I would call this a good analysis, exactly: Phrases like ‘impossibly generous’ ‘deep intransigence on both sides’ ‘pushed aggressively’ and ‘extremely well-paid’ all set the tone for the reader to make a certain kind of judgement call. (“Oh, my! That IS rather high for a violist!”)
    It’s been noted by better analysts than myself that this is about control. It’s management’s way or the highway. There are a LOT of changes to the contract that don’t get mentioned in salary-focused media coverage (Goodbye, seniority.) There are many notably questionable decisions and statements by management, nothing even approaching this from the musicians’ side. One opponent obfuscates – the other one (the locked-out one) questions.

    • I agree Amy. This wide-spread assault on orchestra musicians in America is shameful. There is no reason that musicians in the top 10 or 15 US orchestras should not have slightly upper middle class incomes. They represent the top 1% of the profession. Employees in most any other profession requiring that kind of training and status within the field would be paid better. It reminds us again that in any capitalistic society, if labor can be screwed, it will be.

      • Dare I posit the opposite – that the high salaries commanded – or demanded – by musicians (and the legendary top salaries paid to stage-hands in some houses in the USA) represent a “wide-spread assault” on financiers, donors, and to a more limited extent than in Europe, taxpayers, in America?

        You are also slightly skirting the issue, suggesting that highly trained musicians deserve – in your opinion – to be paid a ‘slightly’ upper-middle-class income.
        In the USA, an upper-middle-class income would be around what the top 15% of the population earn, which is somewhere in the region of $70,000, for an individual.
        Minnesota players are reportedly on $135,000 (nearly double what you suggest their lower band should be!) and being asked to reduce to $89,000. The latter figure is clearly comfortably upper-middle-class in income, so where’s the problem?

        • You make some worthwhile points. There are no established definitions for middle class. In terms of taxation and other practical measures, some define it as incomes below 250,000k per year. In any case, I would not describe the musicians in our top orchestras as well-off, except for those who have negotiated contracts. They are indeed excessive.

          Our top 20 orchestras are almost all concentrated in expensive urban environments which also changes the picture in terms of disposable income. A house in the Bay Area can easily cost half a million dollars (though that might have dropped some in the last few years.) A mid range apartment for a family in NYC will likely cost $2000 a month.

          On the other hand, I can see that 130k for a tutti string player might be excessive, especially when the average pay for a member of a regional orchestra is just over 13k per year – about one-tenth that amount. Should the top 1% of musicians make salaries commensurate with an average lawyer, dentist, or doctor? What if they were paid the salaries of the top 1% of those professions?

          • Soloists, conductors, and a few others – those at the top of the music profession – generally are paid far higher than the rest. The situation is similar to sport, banking, legal, medical… No real disparity in principle.
            Yes, top performers should command top return.

            In terms of some of the measurements you mention, indeed, there’s not too much established. But top 15% equating to upper-middle is fair enough, and often cited elsewhere, which in the USA is around $70k individual income, or $120k household income (off the top of my head)

            By your suggested house price / living costs, player wages seem generous. Compare to London where a mid-range apartment can likewise be £2k (which is why most musicians live out of town where it is cheaper), and a 2-bed flat will be near-on £500k.
            And then live there on a salary of £55k or so in the Royal Opera House orchestra (the best paid full-time band in the UK, and the least worked as well).
            [As an additional comparator, median UK household income is around £25k, and USA $45k]

            Seems that player salaries in the States are pretty comfortable by comparison. Maybe the US funding model works OK after all. . .

          • The orchestras in the States are divided into two categories. The average salary of an ICSOM orchestra (major orchestras) is 65k/year and for ROPA orchestras (regional groups) 13k/year. If the two groups are averaged the number is 38.5k/year. This is well below the average middle class income. Actually, the number is even lower because there are many more musicians in ROPA than ICSOM orchestras which drags the number even further downward, but unfortunately, I don’t have the data. I would guess that the average salary in the USA is well below 30K. In any case, we see that salaries are low, and that the funding is unreliable.

            For another measure, the USA only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. This also speaks poorly for our funding system.

          • Thanks, William. I’s suggest that the ROPA bands are not worthy of consideration. Are you telling me that there are highly-skilled first-rate players, worthy of playing in the major league, earning $13k per year, and that’s it? I seriously doubt it.
            I’m comparing full-time, high-standard salaries.

            You said you thought musicians in the top orchestras should have upper-middle class salaries. I think it is demonstrable that they already have somewhat more than that (time for a pay-cut, then, eh?). Indeed your average $65k figure is close enough to the c. $70k figure I gave. So that seems settled.

            You commented on living costs being awfully high; I suggested that compared to a similar-level musician in London, they are not too bad at all.

            If you want to talk about lower-league players out-of-town then we can do so, but this wasn’t part of the discussion; so to trying to drag your average salary figure down by pulling them in to play (no pun intended) seems slightly disingenuous.

            Thus far we seem to have established that $ for $, top-level orchestral salaries in the US are higher than you say the minimum should be (and even the cuts at say MO would leave it above that); and that the US funding system seems to provide for a better livelihood for those musicians over that in the UK, no?

          • The debate would be contingent on whether 130k is slightly upper middle class or upper middle class. I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in a back and forth on issues like that where there are no concrete definitions. I know that 130k is in line with what top German orchestras are paid like the Berlin and Munich Phils and the big radio orchestras (base pay plus Zulagen as the Germans call it.) I’m not sure I would use the UK as a measure of things. By European standards, its per capita arts funding is low. On the other hand, London has 5 fulltime, major orchestras, and two fulltime, major opera houses. NYC only has one of each. The opera houses in Chicago and San Francisco only have 6 month seaons (and they are getting shorter.) And they both only have one orchestra.

            One point you raise is important. There are some truly great players in ROPA orchestras, and some of the orchestras are very good. An example is the New Mexico Philharmonic (NM Symphony before it bankrupted.) Many of the first chair players come from major conservatories like Curtis, New England, Juilliard, Indiana, etc. This is true for many ROPA orchestras. It is not unusual for about 60 people to audition for first chair positions in these groups. And most importantly, they often serve large populations. The metro population of Albuquerque is over 900,000 but the musician’s pay was around the typical 13k a year, and considerably less for the tutti players. Now it’s even lower.

            Any continental European city that size would have a fulltime orchestra and a year round opera house. The musicians would have middle class salaries and full benefits. There has been a lot of talk on this blog about the closing of the SWR in Germany. It is based in Freiburg which has 200,000 residents. It also has a fulltime, year-round opera house. There is not a single city that size in the USA that can make such a claim. In fact, there’s not a city at all that runs an opera house for about 11 months a year (and closes only so that the musicians can have a vacation.)

            As another measure, there are about 60 ICSOM orchestras in the USA while Germany has 133 fulltime orchestras for about one quarter the population. (Some ICSOM orchestras have seasons as short a 6 weeks, like Grant Park.) Germany has 83 year round opera houses while the USA only has about 6 real houses and the longest season is only seven months (The Met.)

            Argue away, but I have no time to pursue this for now. For me this discussion illustrates the intransient attitudes that make progress in the USA so difficult. We not only need better music education, people also need better educations about how the arts are supported and how the USA compares.

  3. Emil Archambault says:

    Mr Lebrecht, it increasingly looks as if you’re on some kind of vendetta against the New York times. There are lots of bad newspapers out there; why do you always keep on hammering on the NY Times? Did they refuse you an interview, or did not review one of your books?

    You call them the Met’s cheerleaders; then, when they slam the revival of Don Giovanni, you suspect them of not being honest. You pick up minor errors like misnaming the title of a Carmen aria as proof of incompetence. You criticize the style of their welcome parties for new critics. You criticize their non-reviewing on news, without mentioning if other newspapers picked up the story. You then accuse then of failing to report subsequent stories on the same issue, in order to cover up their own mistakes, without the tiny hint of proof. You then keep dragging the story, using the tiniest pretext to again hit on the NYT (see Nov. 30 as example).

    So I ask you; why does the New York times merit such heavy attacks? Why not other newspapers?

    • There is a long answer to your question, which I will address at some point as a full essay. The short answer is that media entities are judged by by their presumptions. The NY Times presumes to be America’s global newspaper and the standard setter for its industry worldwide. When it falls badly short of its own principles and criteria, those who care about the future of media need to be aware.

      • Norman, I agree, and even more so with regard to the Time’s political and foreign policy reporting. The paper has too often shilled for the government on its war and national security state policies, and while the paper got huge exposure, and likely made a large amount of money publishing Wikileaks disclosures, it also went out of its way to discredit Julian Assange. So, I think you could probably write a book – no, a trilogy- about the NYT.

        There is an exception, however, within its team of music critics. I’ve always found Anthony Tomassini not only musically astute and insightful, but also very civilized and humane in his criticism- i.e., no chip on his shoulder. The Times ran a series of videos recently, at least three or four where he did some nice analysis at the piano, and, I believe some or all of the clips are also viewable on YouTube.

    • I suppose Norman is on a campaign against the Times, and I suppose he looks for fault, but in the larger picture I think his general concern is justified. The Times’ music editor, James Oestreich, suffers from a rather narrow view of the world that is not appropriate for America’s paper of record. Nor does it suit a paper in a city that presumes to be the cultural capitol of the world. Where, for example, are the articles in the Times looking at the larger pictures surrounding the US orchestral crisis? Where, for example, are the international comparisons? The scanty international reporting on a broad range of topics leaves Americans with a rather blinkered and parochial understanding of music in the international scene. It limits our intellectual life. This is especially apparent if one compares the Times to other papers like Le Monde, La Corriere della Sera, the Guardian, or Die Zeit. In short, Oestreich’s narrowed worldview harms the cultural life of New York and the USA. That at any rate, is worth criticism.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        I look forward to the full essay about the NYT, and hope it will be argue about the big picture.

  4. Emil Archambault says:

    By the way, the NYT is a New York newspaper, covering the local arts scene; why should they cover extensively the Minnesota Orchestra? I certainly haven’t seen anything about it in other newspapers outside of Minnesota.

    • Amy Adams says:

      Emil, even though this post refers to MO, there is orchestra trouble across the country. Significant media outlets would do well to cover regional situations…with an apparent nationwide trend of management playing hardball with the arts.

    • Because they presume to be a national newspaper, and the situation in the Twin Cities – both worldclass orchestras – certainly has ramifications for the national music scene.

    • Terry Carlson says:

      And because it is a good example of Republican ideologues taking over an orchestra board and using phrases like “fiscal cliff” to justify massive salary cuts. “We’re running out of money, we’re running out of money!” they shout, just after spending $50 million on a new lobby. What the board of directors needs is a new crop of music-loving fundraisers to replace the current group of social-register wannabes.

  5. Methinks the NYT’s music editor must go. I refuse to believe that Dan Wakin hasn’t pitched a story on this to him yet.

  6. Ghillie Forrest says:

    “The rich families still give,” the composer told me, “they realize it’s a public responsibility…. But they just don’t love the music the way their parents did.”

    Not the root cause of the problem, but the nature of the problem germinating in more orchestras than are yet in public trouble.

  7. Bryn Gerard says:

    It is plain as the nose on your face that the arts are undervalued in the UK and US, this makes them an easy target in times of austerity. It is also a world seen as being full of ‘money burners’ employing people with pointless job titles and job descriptions. To some degree this is valid criticism but by and large it points to a deep disregard for the value found in the arts.

    It is of course a narrow view of what is to be a human that promotes this thinking because the evidence of its value is documented if people care to look. Liverpool’s RLPO had an education programme in a neighbourhood school that saw astronomical increases in the grades achieved for all subjects. Learning to play an instrument and read music was a stimulant for greater academic achievement. Smarter, happier kids are a great benefit to the future economy and society at large. I don’t think it is funded any longer.

    So I see the attack on funding for the arts as very much the ‘Barbarians at the Gate’ and the reality that the world is broke and sick people are dying after being kicked off welfare support in the UK. Everyone is taking a hit.

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