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London orchestra pays musicians less than cleaners

We have been shocked to find one of London’s brighter start-ups paying its musicians less than the national minimum wage.

The letter below offered, in the calculation of our correspondent,  £100 for 18.5 hours work (assuming 3 hours for the concert) – or £5.41, significantly lower than the minimum wage. We (and, no doubt, you – and possibly the Musicians Union and Dame Judi Dench) would be interested to hear from the Orpheus Sinfonia, a registered charity dedicated to ‘supporting the finest musicians of tomorrow’, how they justify paying slave wages.

orpheus-foundation2

Dear [name redacted],

I would very much like to invite you to join the Orpheus Sinfonia, to play Principal [position redacted], for our final concert of the season on 11th July 2013, 7:30pm at Cadogan Hall. The grand finale programme is Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – concluding our Beethoven Symphony Cycle, and the world premiere of Stephen Goss’ Triple Concerto for Saxophone, Cello and Piano – a wonderfully accessible and jazz influenced work, which is attracting a good deal of press. Thomas Carroll, Artistic Director, is conducting Beethoven 9, Toby Purser the Triple Concerto, we have a stellar line up of soloists and this concert will also inaugurate the Orpheus Sinfonia Chorus. It will be a remarkable and very exciting concert, and I very much hope you will be able to join us – please could you reply to me as soon as possible.

Tuesday 9th July - St James’ Paddington

10:30 – 1:30 and 2:30 – 5:30 Rehearsals

Wednesday 10th July - St James’ Paddington
11:30-1:00 Goss
2:00-6:00 Beethoven
7:30-8:30 Beethoven with choir and soloists
Thursday 11th July - Cadogan Hall

2:30 – 5:30 TUTTI
7:30pm - CONCERTRepertoire:

Goss – Triple Concerto for Saxophone, Cello and Piano
Beethoven 9th SymphonyOrpheus Sinfonia

Max Baille (Goss) /Akiko Ono (Beethoven) – Leaders
Orpheus Sinfonia Chorus
Peter Whyman – Saxophone
Thomas Carroll – Cello
Graham Caskie – Piano
Toby Purser (Goss)/Thomas Carroll (Beethoven) – conductors
Fee: £100
I look forward to hearing from you. And please don’t hesitate to get in touch, should you have any questions.All very best wishes,

Orpheus Sinfonia, 442 Linen Hall, 162-168 Regent Street, London, W1B 5TE, UK
+44 (0)20 7734 6650 | www.orpheusfoundation.com

Patron — Dame Judi Dench
President of the Friends — Aled Jones

Supporting the finest musicians of tomorrow

Supported by the Orpheus Foundation Trust, Registered Charity Number:  1126059
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Comments

  1. What would you consider a reasonable, or dare I correct that to realistic, hourly rate for a freelance musician then Norman?

  2. Is it professional outfit or amateur?

    • professional

      • no name says:

        Thats not quite true. I played in this orchestra from when it was started and continued to for over 5 years, as an orchestral player and as a soloist with the orchestra until the change over of management. The orchestra was set up to give students at the London music colleges more of a chance at getting orchestral playing experience while still studying and after they have graduated. The orchestra and the Musical Director of it never made it out to be a professional orchestra but always strived for the highest standards, which the orchestra regularly achieved. When the orchestra started to get more money through sponsorship and the incredible hard work of its founder, the pay increased. It was, until the all the changes took place, the priority to support the musician as best they could with the finances they had. When this was no longer the most important part, the founder moved on and has started a new, successful orchestra.
        The only financial support this orchestra used to get was from donations from concert goers and the support from local business, both of which came after incredible amounts of hard work from the founder and his team. In the time i played in the orchestra there was no financial help from the arts council or lottery or government.
        There were never any contracts for musicians to play in the ensemble and it was entirely up to the musician if they decided they wanted to play or not and to accept the small fee, which in the time i played was never referred to as a fee, more of a thank you for playing.
        Having also had a great amount of experience at dealing with the arts council for funding, they would not be interested in this venture as it does not shift the boundaries of music making and does not appeal to the masses. It is virtually impossible to get any funding from the arts council to support mainstream classical music.

        • They claim to be professional, seek to employ professionals and then insult them with a slave’s wage.

          • nomenlos says:

            From their website:
            ‘The Orpheus Foundation is an organisation that supports wonderful young musicians in that crucial phase between conservatoires and the profession.’
            http://www.orpheusfoundation.com/about-orpheus/orpheus-foundation.html

          • At what point do they claim to be professional? The players are neither employees of the organisation nor are they bound by contract. I have made many valuable contacts and friends through Orpheus Sinfonia since, what is actually truly refreshing about startup orchestras such as this; the players aren’t simply doing it for the money. They do it to maintain great friendships, and to continue to perform orchestrally to a high standard when such opportunities might be lacking to them in the months immediately after leaving music college. I have never felt ‘insulted’ by the lack of money available, more grateful that someone is giving up their time (unpaid, by the way) to organise concerts that give valuable ongoing orchestral experience to players trying to break into what is a desperately oversubscribed profession.

          • They want to be considered professional. They charge professional-type ticket prices and apply for ACE grants. Those aspirations are incompatible with paying musicians next to nothing.

          • Thank god someone finally has the courage to say this. It’s organisations like this which keep musicians in poverty – they hide behind the idea of ‘helping people to gain experience’ to get away with fleecing young musicians who are too desperate to say no to work, no matter how badly paid it is. It’s one thing to be a ‘startup’ group and genuinely not have the budget to pay proper fees, but this group has been going for years and by now it seriously should know better. I wonder if Dame Judi Dench is aware of what she’s putting her name to.

          • No thanks says:

            Norman, you should look into Southbank sinfonia.
            I was paid £120 as a final cheque for 2 and a half months work. This was meant to be £1200 (which quite frankly is still ludicrous) but because I got my first call from the Philharmonia which clashed with a day of rehearsals they said they had to take me out of a month long project. As a result I did 24 concerts for £120. It worked out at just over £0.80 an hour. Then I had my rent, council tax (as they’re not officially registered with the government as an apprenticeship scheme so you don’t get an exemption)

            I’m grateful for the opportunities to perform that my time at Southbank gave me I just think its immoral that they paid me in total £4250 for 10 months work. Especially when Simon takes a £40000 salary for [redacted] conducting around 20 concerts. Also over the last ten years they’ve built up a surplus of £500000 in the bank.

    • Halldor says:

      Perhaps the reason they’re charging professional-type ticket prices and applying for ACE grants is because they DO aspire to pay musicians a decent fee. Orchestras of this kind – run on goodwill and enthusiasm, by and for fledgling professional players who value the opportunity to gain experience and earn not much, but something, while they build a career – exist in major cities all over the UK. Given the opportunity to operate on a professional basis – with guaranteed public or private funding sufficient to pay players at MU rates – most of them would jump at the chance.

      But without subsidy, that isn’t going to happen. These are orchestras operating entirely in the free market – paying the only kind of rates that can be paid when ticket sales are genuinely the sole source of income. What we’re seeing here is the actual, un-subsidised market value of classical musicians. Draw your own conclusions.

      • I cannot draw my own conclusion unless I am presented with itemized accounting for everyone, yes, every single person who is compensated as a result of a performance. That includes every management, soloist and conducting type, government or private, directly or indirectly.

        Free market implies a gainful, for-profit enterprise, and it is for some in the business, but less and less so for naive, gullible or increasingly fearful rank and file musicians.

        I am not the one to absolve those musicians from a fundamental responsibility to their peers, their art and their self esteem. If they value themselves less then the cleaners, then that is what they deserve and what they will be paid.

        Unfortunately, it hurts all of us, but especially those who believe we are worth more then the cleaners. Even if they are smarter then us.

  3. Mark Pemberton says:

    Not an ABO member, I should point out!

  4. freelance_musician_london says:

    This is certainly not just a problem for the orchestra mentioned above. At least two other ‘bright young start-ups’, the Aurora Orchestra and the London Contemporary Orchestra, started on such foundations. Lots of rehearsals with a set minimal fee that was well below MU rates. Just because these orchestra’s are now gaining fabulous reviews, these issues should not be forgotten. Players however were jumping to be part of these groups as they wanted to be part of something exciting, and the participation at that age is more important then the financial compensation.

    I think a very important question is how these groups would be funded (and if they would exist) if it weren’t for young players being willing to work for peanuts. I don’t see the Arts Council or private funding helping these groups in their early years.

    ** I have no knowledge of the current rates paid by the Aurora Orchestra or the London Contemporary Orchestra **

  5. freelance_musician_london says:

    Professional is a loose term.
    Are all the players in the orchestra full time freelance players? No.
    Are many of them students or recent graduates crying out for orchestral experience as these opportunities are so thin on the ground? Yes.
    Is this pay an insult? Yes.

  6. Wow. Abominable. Any chance they left a zero off the fee? I can’t believe that any musician would work for that pittance, much less a principal player!

  7. One big question here really:

    Would you prefer that this orchestra and others like it didn’t exist, leaving the musicians who benefit from this admittedly small income another £100 worse off?

    Would we like it improved? Of course we would, but would we want to lose the enjoyment of making music and the small fee just because that fee is not commensurate with the professional standard being aimed at?

    I would venture to suggest that the most successful members/ex-members who succeed in attaining their goal of a permanent position in a fully professional orchestra are/were grateful of the occasional extra £100 that helped them keep a roof over their head. In an average year every one of the major UK Conservatoires turns out enough players to fill every orchestral vacancy, not to mention the hundreds/thousands of former graduates and freelance musicians similarly working for their big break. In this situation, £100 is surely better than £0 and the loss of a whole host of excellent young musicians and their value to our culture. To vilify an orchestra that is most definitely not a professional orchestra based on international reputation etc merely because it cannot offer the same professional rates as LSO/LPO/RPO/Philharmonia etc rather misses the point of their existence, by my reckoning at any rate.

    It should be noted that the players who play for this orchestra and others like it choose to do so, not always because they can’t afford to turn down this “insult” of a payment.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Yes, but a decent, say, 250 £ (for 20 hours of work), is better than £100. Your argument could work against ANY minimum wage legislation…

      • Of course, but if the orchestra cannot afford that increase for whatever reason I would rather take a small reward for my years of hard work to make myself employable than none at all. Similarly your own argument is somewhat all-encompassing…

        • ColLegno says:

          Of course £250 is better than £100 but it is more than double their current free. Times that by the number of players in a symphony orchestra and I’m pretty sure you would bring the orchestra well over budget and shut them down. The Orpheus Sinfonia have been foolish describing what is really a ‘reimbursement’ as a ‘wage’ but expecting them to pay MU wages is ridiculous. This whole argument is nonsense and completely ignoring the impossible contexts in which young musicians and artists are working.

  8. StanzaBone says:

    Welcome to the United States.

    • I worked in London for several years and most of the gigs I played were for £100, regardless of how many rehearsals there were. (I always appreciated the gigs with day-of rehearsals only.) When I moved back to the US, I was amazed to find that people are paying per-service rates. I’m pretty sure I’ve more than doubled my income from gigs in the short time I’ve been back. People have this idea that the UK is a utopian place where music is appreciated by all and there is more than enough work to go around– it isn’t. There is a huge expectation for people to work for free.

  9. Linda Emmanuel says:

    I agree, the wage is more of an honorarium than a wage and could easily be considered insulting. However as a singer, I assume that the chorus for the Beethoven is not being paid at all. The privilege of singing a great work is likely their only reward. Many choruses that sing with orchestras are volunteer – the Tanglewood Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for example. It certainly does make one feel undervalued but sometimes it is better to ply your craft for slave (or no) wages than not at all. Unfortunately, that is not a sustainable business model for musicians. Almost every singing musician I know needs a “day job” to support their music making.

    • Malcolm Wood says:

      Exactly what I wanted to say. I’ve spent a lifetime singing in such performances. Never any fee.

  10. Freelance cellist says:

    I’m surprised that this surprise is so delayed. I could reel off a handful of similar orchestras who pay that rate or less. Another orchestra in London, which uses many of the same players as Orpheus, pays £80 per player for that same amount of work. A sad state of affairs, but a widespread reality.

  11. Few points from the view of somebody who played with this group and others like it.

    None of these groups are professional – therefore they do not have to pay anything, let alone minimum wage.

    I always viewed the ‘fee’ as expenses and a few pints after the concert rather than a professional wage.

    I loved playing in these orchestras, as a student it gives you a great chance to play new rep, meet new people, and earn a little extra cash. Especially if you’re finding chances at RAM/RCM etc hard to come by. (That’s a whole other issue..)

    I was by the way also starting my career playing with all of London’s top orchestras whilst playing with these groups. I still chose to do these gigs because I enjoyed it, not for the money.

    As my career started to progress, I stopped doing these groups, and a younger student got to take my place, and they in turn gained experience and a few extra ££.

    I really don’t see an issue here. The only slight gripe I ever had was wondering what the soloists/conductors fee’s were.. but that’s the same in any level of music!

  12. Tristanos says:

    Unfortunately Norman in this case you are frightening incorrect. You are totally going after the wrong target. But I’m sure you realise that now after hearing from musicians who played in the orchestra. Unless you think their opinion isn’t valid?

    And actually, how dare you post something that could damage a reputation of an orchestra without even getting in touch with them first. Shocking journalism in my view, and certainly not done for the benefit of the London music scene, as surely you should have allowed the orchestra to defend themselves. Shocking. I won’t be reading any of your articles again after this.

    • Goodbye. They have been invited to respond. We’re waiting…

      • After seeing endless articles which are compassionate and balanced (such as those which commented on Harry Ogg’s illness last Autumn) I must point out that this is somewhat misjudged and unfair.

        This is a young organisation who struggles to make ends meet in even more extreme ways than many of the bigger orchestra and opera houses which you mention in your articles. They used to pay no fee at all so surely £100 is an improvement on that?

        In my view it is a tremendous achievement that the Orpheus Sinfonia has managed to not only to survive such a harsh economic climate, but they have developed into an orchestra which can pay their players £100 each for their time. Of course, this is not ideal, and their decision to market themselves as “professional” was also a misjudgement.

        However, this orchestra provides essential performance and networking opportunities to young musicians. The problem is the lack of state funding which results in there being fewer orchestras in th UK than there are appropriately skilled players to fill the spaces in these orchestras.

        Norman, you should be damning the lack of state funding and the economic climate for causing this, not trying ruin the reputation of an organisation who’s tenacity and quality need to be celebrated.

        Just as you await Orpheus’ response, I await yours.

        • You make a valid point: young musicians need opportunities to get a foothold in the profession. However, when an organisation with charitable status and in pursuit of state funding offers them – as well as established professionals – negligible reward for their effort then the damage it does is greater than the benefit. It devalues the profession of music, the market for music and the art itself. It also sends a signal to private capital and the providers of state subsidy that others may be paying their musicians too much – which is the last thing you or I would wish to countenance.

          • Indeed.
            However, this is a catch 22 situation which is not Orpheus’ fault.
            Orpheus does not employ people full time, it offers one off opportunities (which are not dissimilar to unpaid/poorly paid internships in the city) for which they do their best to reward their players for there time with a nominal fee of £100. The orchestra cannot raise the funds to pay their players MU rates until they’ve built up a reputation first.
            For this reason, I would urge you to write another article clarifying that your intention was not to ruin Orpheus’ reputation, but to point out the sad situation which the economy has created for young musicians. Given the strength of the comments on this board, it might help your reputation as well, as these comments put that into question to.

          • To add to this point – you frequently describe Orpheus as offering “slave” wages. Since the players can choose not to take Orpheus’ poorly work and instead take on teaching or other paid performance work (of they’re lucky enough to get it), I do not concur that they are being treated like slaves. The vast majority of young musicians pay their way through “day jobs” (i.e. teaching work etc) and take on work such as what Orpheus is offering in order to further their performance careers, in the hope that one day they can build up enough income from performance to not need a “day job”. Orpheus is not trying to take advantage of young musicians as you suggest, they are trying to help them, just as Orion Symphony Orchestra, Southbank Sinfonia and Sinfonia d’Amici.

            Norman, I fear that this will turn into a witch hunt which could destroy the reputation of these orchestras who bring decent opportunities to young musicians who’d otherwise have no performance opportunities at all, and joy to the audiences who watch them.

            Your point about poor pay is valid. However, the solution is not to destroy these orchestras through smear campaigns. It is to encourage your readership (many of whom might be potential sponsers) to support these orchestras by attending their concerts, donating money to them so they can pay their players a living wage and celebrate the young talent which the UK should be proud to have. Please, Norman, I urge you to clarify your intention in another article – this is not fair on Orpheus, or any other young aspiring orchestra.

          • Freelancer says:

            Spot on – thank you very much! My income usually averages out at not much more than a grand a month from teaching and performing, so £100 really helps! I am glad that awareness is being raised of low pay for professional musicians, but it does worry me that articles like this will lead to well-intentioned but misinformed boycotting of orchestras like Orpheus, which wouldn’t help young professional like me in the slightest!

          • Worth noting that they’re not offering a fee at all to the singers…

    • Freelancer says:

      Agreed! Can’t help but feel slightly like they are the ones targeted due to the fact that they don’t have the same political connections as some of the others…

  13. Freelancer says:

    I am a professional freelance musician, and often play for Orpheus. To be fair, as the above poster pointed out, the pay used to be a lot worse, and has increased as the orchestra has become more successful. The standard has also vastly increased, making it a valuable opportunity to meet and play with other talented musicians. I can’t speak for my colleagues, but the low pay is easier to accept when one sees that the money the orchestra gains is being invested in its future: for instance, they have recently undertaken a recording, and performed a premiere of a work by BBC Principal Horn Nicholas Korth, alongside members of the BBC Symphony. It goes without saying that it is a struggle to afford to dedicate two full days for £100, but I am confident that the fee will be raised in line with the orchestra’s success and I feel proud to be part of the ensemble’s progress.
    Somebody above mentioned the original founder of Orpheus, who has since left to found another orchestra. Not only has Orpheus improved greatly since his departure (and are considerably more pleasant and reliable), but they do at least pay what they can. Marc has approached me several times to ask me to play for his new orchestra, and every time there has been no fee at all. I played in one concert for free as a favour to a start-up group, but he has never since asked me to play in one of their paid concerts.
    Another ensemble I’d like to highlight is the Orion Orchestra. They do big glitzy concerts, but have consistently offered only £70 for years, with double the amount of rehearsals Orpheus ask for. In one instance, they reduced the fee to £50 with very little notice. They have also arranged a week at a festival in Wales this summer with a fee of £150. Thanks to the insultingly low fees and the often rude attitude of those in charge, the standard has steadily declined (meaning rehearsal time has to be increased).
    There are many ensembles out there that take young professionals’ time and skills for granted, but from my point of view, Orpheus isn’t one of them.

  14. Violinist says:

    Orpheus Sinfonia clearly exists as a training orchestra or an academy for young professionals. Their amateur status should be made clear (just like Southbank Sinfonia’s is) so that they do not compete with orchestras who try to pay their players properly. It is lovely that students should be given the chance to play core repertoire, but trying to employ professionals and only paying expenses does the industry no favours. At all.

  15. Recent Graduate says:

    It’s all been said really… Just wanted to add my opinion.

    These orchestras attract enthusiastic students and recent graduates who universally accept that the fee is terrible – this may render them naive or desperate, but it’s this acceptance that enables these orchestras to exist. Not surprising really – with the expense of living in London going up and up every year (reasonable rent and travel costs have gone well out of the window), we’re likely to do pretty much anything for money. It’s sad to admit, but it’s completely true and all these orchestras know it. It can be loosely justified by arguing that taking these engagements builds personal contacts and leads to other work; it may do, but the fee won’t be much better. To get the real work you have to fight, work hard, know the right people, then audition.

    In any case, where on earth do you expect the money to come from? There’s no way a young start-up orchestra (whether billing themselves as ‘professional’ or not) or something similar can muster the rates of the top London orchestras.

    How does anyone expect to survive as a musician starting out in this country? It seems completely nuts to me that we’re all prepared to get ourselves into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt just to struggle for the rest of our lives to make ends meet. Our profession has been completely devalued in this country and our audiences should count themselves lucky that we, at heart, do it for more than just the money.

  16. Rosalind says:

    I think one of the key things is that this orchestra is describing itself as a: ‘…young professionals’ orchestra, supporting exceptional musicians emerging from music college as they begin their careers, becoming the stars of tomorrow.’ If an orchestra is described as professional then of course one does expect the players to be paid professional fees – standard MU rates for example.

    Perhaps there would be less controversy if they rather more appropriately said they were a ‘training orchestra’ for students and recent graduates and stated clearly that players are only paid a small honorarium, or received expenses only.

    Of course young musicians are desperate for any experience and money they can get, so there will always be a flood of people wanting to play for peanuts, which is the sad reality of being a musician in the UK… But it is vital that there is a constant push to ensure fees are set at an acceptable level for the work involved. £100 for one rehearsal and concert, maybe OK, but the case above – absolutely not.

    • Rosalind – there is also a need to market the group and make sure people come to concerts. I think that describing themselves as a “young professionals” orchestra, whilst a bit aspirational rather than core factual, is acceptable enough. Certainly it will turn on more potential audience members than a “youth training orchestra” ever would; and since it’s only with those audience members present tat the orchestra can pay what meagre fees it does, that’s fairly essential, no?

    • David F says:

      Rosalind – from there web site

      “Orpheus Sinfonia provides vital performance opportunities to exceptional young musicians emerging from music college. As a training orchestra with charitable status, Orpheus Sinfonia believes in the importance of nurturing and supporting a new generation of musicians at the start of their orchestral careers.”

      Please point me to where they describe themselves as professional.

  17. What dreadful journalism. Presumably you were paid for writing the article? No? Well that’s the point, it’s all about choice. Who are you angry at? The musicians accepting the work? The orchestra for reinvesting any (no doubt minimal) profit?
    This orchestra has a purpose where musicians can network, play to a good standard a receive expenses. All you will do is make the organisers think twice about putting their time in.
    Musicians should be paid more but the money has to come from somewhere. Your simplistic views are very damaging. As for freelancers calling the fee an insult, you are self employed. If the gig insults you, just say no.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Some people will work for 4-5$ an hour in a supermarket because they have no other choice. That does not mean we should accept that situation.

  18. young oboist. says:

    I’m really glad this point has come up, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time!

    I can see both sides but I take Norman’s view, which I think if more Freelance Musicians would take after they’ve had their first standard MU rate gig.

    As someone who worked at a supermarket before college and then various pubs whilst at college, a text saying “£80 for 3 rehearsals and a gig” seemed really appealing. I would have earned more money at the pub as it happens. So then you would say “it’s for experience, contacts, repertoire etc..” But surely the conservatoire should be providing all of those aspects of musical life. (leaving the rest of the time to practice or earn the rent)

    In the past James Blair’s YMSO (unpaid, auditioned 2 year positions, 4 concerts a year) was the hub for people meeting from across the conservatoires. Once a term they would play an excellent programme in a top London venue. It’s an orchestra that is mentioned at auditions I have attended by orchestra principals more than any other. The orchestra has struggled to attract string players in recent years and I believe it is because of these below minimum wage orchestras.

    For me, projects like YMSO seem a lot healthier than these other orchestras!

    My philosophy, i’ll help out for a pint and i’ll work for a real fee.

    • Exactly. A gig should be either paid or unpaid. If paid, it should be an actual fee, and not a slap in the face.

      • Right – so you’d prefer that Orpheus offers a few pints instead? I’m sure their fundraisers are happy not to have to work so hard, but is that really true for most of the players, that they would prefer to be helping out for less?

        • Yes, I think a few pints would be less of an insult than £100 and far less damaging to the profession. If this genuinely is an opportunity to gain experience then students should apply, audition and not be paid. This group fixes desperate musicians largely for the benefit of their conductors and as someone else mentioned above, they undercut real professional groups who are trying to pay their musicians a living wage. It’s despicable.

          • Fine, so you can take the gig, take the £100 and donate £80 back to the orchestra, using the remaining £20 to have a few pints.
            But why should you preference dictate what others are offer reed? If someone else would prefer the £100 instead of some beer, what’s wrong with them making their own decision to accept, or decline, that?

          • I am actually amazed that anyone is defending the idea of £100 for 18.5 hours work. £33 per day! Annual wage of £8360, working 50 weeks a year at that rate.

  19. Cellist says:

    I was paid £240 for playing in a musical theatre band – one dress reahearsal, one band call, and 5 shows – about 18 hours = over double the price.

    • Likewise, got a similar fee recently for an amateur production of a show, this was an amateur theatre company that pay a small professional orchestra each year for their summer production. I’ve done it every year for three or so years. If you take out from the fee travel time too, it works out pretty terribly like most things in life, but the point is really that I get a chunk of money at the end of the week, I’m occupied playing every night from 730 and can fit in some other rehearsals for other things and teaching during the early evening and afternoon.

  20. Is there not a huge amount of hypocrisy on display here too? What musician hasn’t accepted the odd undeclared cash job? If not enough money goes into the pot there will inevitably be cuts in funding.

    Engage the next generation, make arts important to young people and then see musicians paid what they are worth. Maybe even spend some time setting up a semi professional orchestra offering a stepping stone into the profession for musicians who want to be in an ensemble offering just expenses?

    • most of these orchestras aren’t cash anymore, so you do have to declare it. I declare all those types of gig, as if you do enough of them it does add up to quite a bit and they are all run (financially at least) probably quite thriftily and hand info over to the tax man for their own tax affairs.

  21. Musician says:

    This complex issue comes up time and time again, but I do think you miss the point here slightly, Norman.

    -Would you rather the orchestra didn’t exist?
    -Where are the legions of young orchestral graduates going to gain their orchestral experience from? No wait you’re right, everybody gets into the LSO and RPO after their first audition, which of course is plain sailing.
    -Are you suggesting musicians should apply for cleaning jobs instead of trying to build up their orchestral repertoire? We all know how much scrubbing toilets aids your professional chances. Why bother learning all that potential audition repertoire when you can bleach your way to success?
    -Slave labour? How many unpaid hours do you spend maintaining this blog, Norman?
    -I’d love for you to spend a day in a 20-something year old’s shows in this day and age and see what you come up with.

  22. Anyone here who is somehow condoning this orchestras actions needs to go ‘do one!’ It’s people like you who have made the arts the mess it is in. More and more people are believing they shouldn’t have to pay musicians a lot because music is fun for everybody, and good fun practise. Completely forgetting the years and years of practising, rehearsals, lessons etc to get to the standard they are at, more hours than any doctor, politician, any profession you can think of combined probably. Maybe if people realised this, they would spend more to see amazing art, therefore there would then be the wages these artists deserve. Idiots!

    • Interesting points Gaz but completely void of any usefulness in how to improve the situation. Just to clarify, I don’t believe anyone here thinks musicians are paid enough. We have all put the practise in, been to music college, had bar jobs, etc, etc.

      All the professionals you mention are in industries that generate money. Classical musicians are not. Wake up and do something about it.

      • Maybe there’s a reason musicians are not in the same category of generating money as these other professions (it’s not just classical musicians who struggle on this). I firmly believe it’s to do with the overall attitude towards art in general – that artists enjoy their job more than other jobs and therefore should do their job for less, sometimes for free. If the overall opinion changes, and people realise life is nothing without art, people would pay more to see musicians (who are able to create amazing art no one else can). How is this a void argument in improving the situation?

        A separate argument is big companies such as Universal, Sony etc also need to come down harder on piracy and ticket touts so the money goes to the artists who deserve it. But you’re right, it’s one thing moaning about this on an internet forum…

  23. tony robb says:

    The other point that seems to be being missed here, is that very often these “stepping stone” orchestras are really no more than a cheap vehicle for the self promotion of conductors who are unable to get their careers off the ground with fully professional outfits. That is not to say they are unworthy conductors necessarily.
    They also have the capacity to “steal” work from regular fully paid orchestras as unscrupulous promoters see a way of increasing their own profit margins by engaging them for festivals etc.

    • Musician says:

      I agree Tony, this is exactly the point. As long as these groups are undercutting the market, the value of culture will continue to decline. Soon the only people performing in London will be these ‘young professionals’ after which their careers will peter out and they will wonder why.

      • So if these groups charged the same ticket prices as “professional” groups, would you agree that they weren’t then undercutting the market (the market being the audience who pay to attend), and as such there’s no problem from your point of view?

        • tony robb says:

          The ticket prices are usually irrelevant as no classical orchestral concert can be financially viable unless the prices are astronomical. In Europe (especially Germany) Ticket prices are subsidised so as to make concerts affordable to all. That is the case to some extent here for the funded orchestras, but independent organisations are dependent on sponsorship and other forms of private funding. Festivals are increasingly using these training orchestras because they underpay the musicians and therefore give more budgetary freedom, i.e. bigger margins. The market is not the audience in this case, but the promoter.

          • Sorry, Tony, but I don’t think this holds. Your argument only works if there is a profit-making promoter at the end of the chain; and for any festival I can think of that would employ such an orchestra, there isn’t. Classical festivals are every bit as much based on sponsorship, philanthropic support, and so on.
            Many of such festivals wouldn’t exist were it not for these players, either – so say the Presteigne Festival, or some of the small opera festivals in France… the musician’s pay is poor, but they get other things from it. Or would you prefer that these arts events simply didn’t happen? Because there’s no way they can afford to have the LSO. And when they can afford a better ‘professional’ orchestra, some are guilty of fielding the “C Team” for such out-of-town dates and the results are not the best anyway, but that’s a different issue.

  24. Hi Norman,
    Well if you think this is bad you should see the world actors join. Very often unpaid, and sometimes profit making.

  25. Violinist says:

    The most successful new orchestras and choirs in recent years have started small, dreamt big and honoured their performing members with promises they could meet, pay increases and a clear artistic vision. A Beethoven cycle culminating in the forces needed for Beethoven 9 seems ludicrous for a group such as Orpheus. Why not start out with exciting chamber programmes, offering the audience something fresh like the aforementioned Aurora Orchestra and London Contemporary Orchestra do? The pay might soon be stretched further! It quickly becomes obvious when an organisation is built for the musicians and for the audience, rather than as a vanity project and vehicle for individuals.

  26. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    For all here who argue that £100 is better than nothing, and better than having the orchestra fold, SHAME ON YOU! shame indeed….orchestras that claim to be professional should pay a musician professional fees. It’s as simple as that. If they cannot raise this, then they deserve to fold. Rather than ‘support’ musicians such organisations only perpetuate an ever lowering state of freelance salaries….there are even some top orchestras who are getting away with low fees. No names, but even the highest symphony orchestra in London, and the Uk has been reported not to pay expenses after inviting a player from over 200 miles away, and I have known of a top ballet company only paying £66 for a concert…..many amateur orchestras pay more, and often twice this. In many cases fees have remained unchanged in 20 years, and in some cases have even decreased! Orchestras such as this one here should be ashamed as all they are doing is encouraging this downward spiral in musicians salaries!! They are supporting a Dickensian culture of poor musicians …

  27. You have written quite a bit on this topic of what musicians should be paid and which organizations ought to be allowed to operate based on their pay rates.

    Let me put it this way. In a situation like this, a young musician can get valuable experience and networking opportunities, and get paid some wages for doing so.

    In America at least, most musicians, in the absence of jobs, simply keep on going to school, paying tons of money for the privilege, in order to get more ensemble experience, learn rep, and have some, any, opportunity to play at a high level. Many musicians, especially singers, get a good chunk of income from church gigs, and that might be as little as $50-75 for a three hour service – certainly below the rate of the NY Phil, or whatever, but one rehearsal and one mass per week is probably enough to pay rent. Meanwhile, in the non-musical world, most young [insert career here] have to do endless unpaid internships for a shot at an entry level job, possibly even paying their school for the credit they’re earning doing so.

    Your attitude about this entire topic seems to be that if any given organization can’t pay some rate that you determine to be fair, they don’t deserve to exist. How many ensembles would disappear if this were the case?

    How many fewer musicians would have ANY opportunity to play professionally at all?

  28. This is a horribly difficult grey area. Speaking personally, as a conductor and sometimes/fixer, I would never have the nerve to pay musicians this pittance. Whenever the funding can be had (from whatever source) I would always try to pay MU rates (albeit sometimes without doubling or sit up fees – because that will reduce the rate for ‘rank and file’ players) However, in practice, some of my work involves charity linked funding – a universal good-will clause that will inevitably be abused on occasions, and even extracting a rather token fee that is double the one discussed here is difficult and, I have to say, sometimes embarrassing to offer to players. I am not going to pass judgement on the intentions of the management of Orpheus – because I am not party to enough of the history that has been described, but put like this – it doesn’t come across well. There is not enough made of the distinction between a ‘subsistence expenses gratuity’ type payment (maybe analagous to an apprenticeship) and an actual fee. When such a payment is accepted as a fee (maybe just to confer some coveted but notional status of ‘professional’ ) the downside is that people outside of the immediate loop can perceive that a fully trained (if less experienced) player – often malleable, yet at something near the height of their technical facility – can be ‘bought’ for that amount. This is why unions are still necessary. Increasingly the majority of young people going to music colleges are from families, wealthy, successful and educated enough to have provided private music lessons in the first place, and paid handsomely for an orchestral instrument (or instruments) good enough to take their child into the profession. From that perspective, this becomes another internship scenario for the products of wealthy middle-class families. I feel compassion for these young players, but the truth of their ‘continued professional training’ is that it is often just a platform for an aspiring conductor, with more chutzpah than conscience, to launch their own careers. Just as donating your services to a charity event as a conductor or soloist is sometimes a good career investment, because of the exposure, so is this kind of undertaking potentially ripe for such abuse. The individual string players may gain some more repertoire, but who is going to ‘spot’ one of them at a performance by one of these orchestras. You can invite any number of conductors and their agents, though, just as you can if you are a concerto soloist. I have always been uncomfortable about pimping musicians out on the cheap. I’m sure that has not helped my own profile, but in the end I care more about the dignity and well-being of the players in my fixing book. Fortunately I am far from alone in this attitude, and amongst players – it is a small world. Often a musician’s professional status ( a declaration of faith and committment to something higher) is their essential spiritual core. I think that abusing that is pretty cynical, although I will not blindly assert that it is the case here. From a marketing perspective, could you sell one of these orchestras as effectively to a SouthBank public if you called it ‘an entirely amateur orchestra made up of the 95+% of conservatoire graduates who don’t make it straight into a professional symphony orchestra’? Maybe someone will try that, but in the meantime – if there is no money for the players, I don’t even pick up the phone.

  29. Sadly exploitation of musicians is as old as music itself, and because most musicians love their art more than money they are unfortunately an easy target for exploitation. But Norman, are you not being a little hypocritical with this post, having previously lavished praise on professional music organisations (many with world class reputations) that have a well known record of exploitation of musicians without once voicing any concern? Alas, every musician under the sun has plenty of ‘amusing’ anecdotes concerning the exploitation of their work, and nothing much is likely to change so long as there is a declining interest in serious music, coupled with musicians who are prepared to put their love of music before everything else (as they always will and should).

  30. Naughty Nigel says:

    Try being an Organist….

  31. Sinead O'Carroll says:

    As a regular reader of your page, I am extremely disheartened at your resorting to the cheapest of journalism tactics – the tag line above the truth of the story. Having worked both as a musician and having had many years in orchestral admin I know, as you should, the serious budgetary difficulties that all orchestras face. It’s not rocket science to work out the finances – you pay £100 to 100 payers and it costs you £10,000. You add on marketing, admin expenses (very little in terms of Orpheus, even their office is donated), music hire, hall hire, insurance, a tiny fee for the conductor (because he is also doing it for the love of it and for the experience), a tiny fee for the soloists (because they are also doing it because they believe in the philosophy behind the orchestra), piano tuning etc etc etc. Their next concert is in Cadogan Hall on 11 July (most of them take place in the far smaller St George’s Church). So let’s say 905 seats at an average of £22.00 = £19,910. Currently, looking at Cadogan’s website, the concert is about 25% sold so currently an income of nearly £5,000. Even if they sold every ticket they would still not break even Hmmmm…as you can probably work out there is a lot of effort going into this concert for little financial return, the concert is subsidised by the very generous individuals who wish to see young people coming out of conservatoires and actually having somewhere to practice their skills, to train further, apprentice if you like on their way to an orchestral job. And what is your response to this, Norman? You are quick to criticise but slow to offer any solutions. I know this orchestra and I have met many of the hard working, honest and diligent people behind it, almost all of whom give their time completely voluntarily and tirelessly, all of whom do it because they believe in opportunities for young musicans. It is innovative, forward thinking and provides somewhere for young musicians to sharpen their teeth in an ever increasingly difficult musical world. If they received more funding they would pay more. Your solution seems to indicate that if the orchestra are unable to pay more, we should criticise them, shut them down, pour our scorn on them. Disgraceful. I for one will vote against you with my feet and will be encouraging everyone that I know to go to their concert at Cadogan Hall on 11 July (a new commission by Stephen Goss paired with Beethoven 9). Time to support and encourage rather than put down.

    • Musician says:

      Find the funding first, then pick up the phone.
      The musicians shouldn’t be penalised because your organisation can’t fill a premier London venue, i.e. can’t manage to steal audiences away from the fee paying orchestras (I notice that the Cadogan resident orchestra has been moved to Harrogate that evening). Do it properly or don’t do it at all. These musicians won’t thank you when they realise that there are no jobs to move on to.

      • Halldor says:

        @sinead: Well put.

        @Muscian The Cadogan Hall’s resident orchestra was founded by a millionaire conductor out of his own pocket. If you know, today, of a funder – public or private – who will award five-figure grants to an orchestra that has yet to give a concert, the entire sector, professional, student and amateur, would like to hear from you.

        Oh, and no orchestra “steals audiences” from another. The audience decides for itself, and – like it or not – the contractual arrangements of the orchestra rarely have any bearing on that. If professional London musicians genuinely, seriously think that they are losing audiences to amateur, student and semi-pro groups – then they need to ask themselves why.

    • @sinead

      £100 for 3 days work (3x6hrs) is £33 per day. At this rate, working 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year, a musician would earn £8,360 per annum. Surely that is indefensible.

      If you can’t raise the sponsorship to pay a fair fee to your musicians, don’t put on the gig.

      • Tristanos says:

        Al, isn’t it up to the individual musician to decide if they do the gig? If they think it’s worthwhile let them do it! It seems pretty obvious to me and actually arrogant to think otherwise.

        • The point is that this orchestra takes advantage of people’s desperation to pay them fees which are an absolute insult. People accept work like this only if they are desperate, the organisers know that there will always be someone desperate enough to do the gig. That doesn’t make it right.

          • Halldor says:

            Clearly, this needs spelling out again: orchestras like this (and they exist in every musical centre in the UK) do not exist to exploit the players. They exist for the benefit of – and are often run by – their players; who would otherwise have very few opportunities to play serious orchestral repertoire. (Read the numerous posts here from players who have chosen to undertake this work. One young professional I know took time off her West End pit work specially to play in a low-fee orchestra like this: why? Because she felt the repertoire experience was genuinely valuable).
            No professional concerts are being undercut here; no-one feels like they’re being taken advantage of. And the idea that unscrupulous people are doing something as demanding and labour intensive as putting on orchestral concerts purely for profit- seriously, profit, from promoting classical music!? – is straight out of cloud-cuckoo land. There’s no story here, just – at worst – a dog-in-the-manger attitude from older pros, and at best, a basic misunderstanding of the lives of new graduate professional musicians. Norman’s not alone here in that misunderstanding.

          • I am a recent graduate young professional. I assure you that there is not one among us who would prefer to do 18.5 hours work for £100 than 18.5 hours work for a proper fee. The orchestra is taking advantage of the desperate plight of recent graduates and making them work for next to nothing.

          • Halldor says:

            But what “advantage”, precisely, is being taken here? This is very clearly not a profit-making enterprise. The objective of the charity is to provide orchestral experience. In that sense, playing for this group is not actually “work”; it’s an experience being offered on very clear terms to those who feel they may benefit from it.

            No-one is obliged to participate; clearly many feel that it is, nonetheless, worth being involved with. If this orchestra did not exist, 18.5 hours of work for a “proper fee” would not somehow materialise from the ether to take its place.

            Paid work in the sector is out there, but it’s scarce, and fiercely sought-after. The situation is clearly not ideal. No-one likes that, but…welcome to the life of every freelancer, in every artistic profession, in Britain in 2013. This charity appears, at least, to be doing something constructive to help people get ahead, in however limited a way.

          • If you can’t see how a fee of £33 per day is taking advantage (particularly for something as highly skilled as playing a classical concert, for which musicians have gone through gruelling training of 15-20 years) then I’m afraid I cannot explain it to you.

            Playing a mediocre to dreadful gig with an inexperienced conductor for almost no money does nothing to help people get ahead. If anything it actually damages their reputation, because they’re seen as someone who values themselves at £100 per 18.5 hours. The question we should ask is not “if this orchestra did not exist” but “if this orchestra wasn’t allowed to get away with paying such outrageously low fees” – the organisation would then have to decide if they wanted to make the effort to raise enough sponsorship to pay people properly/ play fewer but better paid concerts/ downsize slightly, or fold.

  32. Dougie Freeman says:

    I think the key thing here is whether or not the organisation is profiting from it’s use of proficient young musicians to produce high quality performances.

    I know that I for one am more than happy to perform for free if a) if is for charity or b) where an enjoyable or beneficial event is put on purely for the love of the music – (i.e. it is a subsidised event or it breaks even).

    If there is somebody who’s aim is to make money out of one of these events, like a promoter, who is trying to get musicians on board for even a slightly reduced fee, then I consider that to be blatant exploitation and I totally deplore it.

    It’s like when a multi-millionaire gets married and wants to book a function band for their wedding – but argues til the death over a few hundred quid to try and get the band to drop their prices because they can’t for the life of them understand why musicians are “so expensive – I thought you guys just loved to play?”

    I don’t know enough about this particular organisation to know whether it is profitable or not – I do think though whatever the answer to that question is will outline the morality of the £100 gig fee on offer as stated in the article.

    • Musician says:

      I agree with you but I think you already have this information from Norman’s correspondence. There is no mention of it being for charity or for the cause of helping young musicians on the offer of work above. It simply says it is “attracting a good deal of press” and is going to be “remarkable and very exciting”. Therefore it must be trying to attract good players for a tiny fee and ticketing at normal prices in order to make money for the organisation.

      • Dougie Freeman says:

        I agree from the information that is advertised on the website that it seems that way.

        But upon reading people’s experience of working with the orchestra and their thoughts – and some of the comments about the cost of putting on such concerts, I couldn’t say for sure whether I thought the organisation was ultimately for profit or not.

        What I will say is that Cadogan Hall is a particularly expensive venue to put a concert on in and I can think of a handful of other venues that would be more suited to an orchestra that is financially limited.
        It strikes me that they are trying to make out that the orchestra is professional to the public through choice of venue alone – regardless of whether they have the revenue to pay their musicians professionally or not.
        Personally, if I were running the gig, I would sacrifice venue quality to ensure my musicians were more fairly compensated.

        • Dougie Freeman says:

          *** I should probably re-word that to ‘venue status’ rather than quality… Makes more sense..

          • Halldor says:

            Advertise yourself explicitly as being an amateur or student group, or play in an obscure venue, and your likelihood of selling tickets – and therefore of becoming sustainable, attracting funding and ultimately paying MU rates to players – is hugely diminished. Whether or not a group like this plays at a professional standard is for the audience and critics to decide (and has nothing to do with the players’ fees); clearly this group aspires to do so. But unless they genuinely fall very far short of that aspiration, there would be no business sense whatever in their selling themselves short.

  33. Rosalind says:

    Perhaps the absolute least this orchestra could do, would be to pay their musicians the legal minimum wage. Which in the UK is currently £6.31 an hour for adults over 21.

    There are some really excellent posts above, particularly about the advantage of starting small with such organisations. For example, a chamber orchestra less than half the size – loads of fantastic repertoire out there – and with reduced forces, the opportunity to pay a better fee to your players. Why does every conductor want to do Beethoven 9?

  34. Eric Edwards says:

    My question is if the management is getting paid more than the musicians? Is all or a majority of the ticket fees going to the musicians payroll? Or is it being squandered and hoarded by the managing board?

    It is a sad reality that live Professional music is NOT being supported by the general public, and really hasn’t been for a LONG time.

    Major Orchestras are generally supported with large corporate grants, sponsorships & subsidies, not by the paying audience members.

    Yes we would ALL love to make our living by playing our instrument, but it’s simply not the case anymore.

    • Please do just realize that there is an established system for musicians to make money in a variety of ways, from different gigs as well as teaching and so on, and none of them are obligated to take this gig if the terms aren’t to their liking; whereas if there are one or two managers of this orchestra, it could (perhaps – I don’t know this org) amount to a full time job’s worth of work and most management-types don’t have a freelance option unless each gig is quite small. They might even need a living wage for running the organization. I mean, let’s be honest, running an orchestra is just as much work (if not more) as being one of the players, and yes I know they spend hoouuurrrs practicing and all that. But I do frequently see a kneejerk reaction that one section violin player ought to make X proportion more than the guy who spends 40+ hours a week raising all the money, or what have you, and I think this is odd. And if I may add, in an organization this small, it is highly highly unlikely that anybody is “hoarding money” or giving themselves a fat paycheck.

      • Halldor says:

        @tomas2 Hear, hear. Thank you for saying this; a vital point, and one that is frequently ignored or denied, even by the people who benefit most from this behind-the-scenes work.

  35. Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner says:

    Just wondering how many people posting here have any knowledge of the Orpheus Sinfonia other than what has been posted by Norman? It seems a lot of people are just jumping on the bandwagon to say that the efforts of the orchestra and its management are shameful, pathetic and the like, but I wonder how many of those have actually experienced the life of a young freelance musician in the UK either at the moment or at any point in their lives?

    I for one would find it insulting to be regarded as anything but a professional musician, a status backed up by the preparation and execution of my work as a performer and teacher. I have absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of my recently graduated colleagues feel the same, many of whom regularly play with the Orpheus Sinfonia.

    A point that has been made elsewhere is that an orchestra marketing itself as a “training orchestra” would struggle to attract a) an audience, b) funding and c) would be unable to charge the necessary ticket prices to cover the cost of an acoustically satisfactory venue for fear of turning away their already limited audience potential. What has not been mentioned is that the tagline of a “training orchestra” actually ceases to attract the most ambitious and promising talent past a certain point in their musical development. The reason why? Because it implies that they are incapable of top quality performances.

    Is it then the case that the performers of the Orpheus Sinfonia (since they have been singled out for vitriol) are not capable of professional performance and should therefore themselves be reduced to the status of “trainees”? If you believe this, you are at odds with many of the full-time professional orchestras in London and the UK, for whom many of the OS performers have worked and continue to work. Similarly, if you haven’t heard them, who are you to judge the standard of the ensemble? If they were to be re-branded as a training orchestra, with a £100 expenses payment/honorarium, the issue would not be solved. It would probably become, rapidly or not, similar to countless other orchestras obliged to put on bigger works to attract the best players, in its own way exacerbating the problem of funding.

    Sadly, I do also think that while the initial diatribe may be valid in some instances, this ensemble is definitely not the most deserving target. I could name a number of ensembles that are guilty of much more serious abuses at the expense of desperate young musicians, with unpaid fees or unexplained contract terminations, yet these seem to be going completely unnoticed in favour of an attack on an ensemble that by all accounts seems to be viewed very favourably by those who have actually had dealings with it. I wonder also Norman what your position on the most widely recognised training ensembles is? I very much doubt that they bear up any more favourably, certainly not based on someone else’s account above on the Southbank Sinfonia, for example. If all you do is crunch numbers on the issue, there would surely be virtually no paid work for any musician not fully employed by a professional orchestra.

    As a side note to those touting their work in musicals etc as a lesser evil, I wonder how much money you spent on travel, food etc for the week’s work? So how much was your actual hourly rate? I’ll wager from my own experience that you’d be struggling to make much of an improvement on what ensembles like Orpheus offer.

    To those telling young, needy and willing musicians to “Do One” or similar, you are living in a naive utopian fantasy. Classical music is virtually incomparable with other forms of music, regarded by much of society from a position of complete ignorance. The fact that a well-played symphony is capable of a great deal more emotional expression than any pop song does not change the fact that the money in music is elsewhere. A sell-out concert for any of the top orchestras in any venue in the world loses them money.

    • Freelancer says:

      As someone who plays with Orpheus, other (less scrupulous and rewarding) ensembles of this calibre and top pro orchestras, I completely agee with all the points you make!

  36. Another case of misplaced outrage from Mr. Lebrecht.

    I don’t know much about this particular ensemble, but it does seem to me that nobody is forcing these players to work for such a low amount. They’re doing it because (presumably) the repertoire is fun, the orchestra sounds great, and they get to work with wonderful soloists. When I finished school, I participated in several projects like this one. It was immensely satisfying from a musical perspective, not to mention great fun collaborating with my peers on an equal level.

    Whenever I’m asked to play for something, I ask myself if it meets any of the following criteria:

    1. Is the pay worthwhile?
    2. Is it potentially career-advancing?
    3. Is it musically satisfying?

    If I can answer ‘Yes’ to just ONE of those, I’ll take the gig. Of course, one has to make a living, but it’s not always about the money. We didn’t become professional musicians to get rich!

  37. I think it would be interesting if Orpheus Sinfonia’s management were to engage with this debate directly, as it’s beginning to resemble Belshazzar’s feast with Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, several of the nobles, the chief official, their wives and concubines, the queen: everyone, in short, except Belshazzar himself!

    Actually, come to think of it, I’m not sure that Shadrach and co attended that particlar banquet…but in any case, it would still be good to hear from the principals in this matter!

  38. Roland Roberts says:

    Orpheus Trust Foundation’s declared income from donations, legacies and grants for 2010 – 2011 was £186,000
    No breakdown of expenditure unfortunately
    http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends59/0001126059_ac_20110831_e_c.pdf

    • They put on some twenty events that year, ranging from full symphonic programmes to a piano trio and some farmyard concerts to boot. So it should be possible to have a stab at what, for example, the conductor got paid…ummm…

  39. Erwin Wieringa says:

    Minimum wage!!

    In my opinion the question of how fair the reward is for a given service is one that starts from the point of what we all agree to be the absolute minimum.
    As Mr. Lebrecht rightfully points out, the pay for this, and possibly other groups, lies beneath that. Even though I agree that pay or any reward should be decided by factors like demand and quality of work, training required etc. it seems to me that minimum wage is something that is seen by us all (or at least the governement that represents us) as the absolute minimum.
    I am not familiar with internships and their payment system, but I guess that if the pay lies beneath minimum, that must be an exception and thus treated very carefully.

    If we could be compassionate with people in menial jobs and giving them the assurance of the smallest, but “fair” reward for a given work time, how is it possible that this compassion dissapears when we talk about music and the musicians that play it???

    Please remember that we are not talking here about any extra money or such, this pay is lower then what we in England agree to be the lowest amount of money for any kind of work for a given period of time.

  40. I think there are a few things which need to be considered here.

    Having worked with the orchestra I can tell you it is certainly not professional, but this is something which has always been blatantly apparent.
    No-one who considers themselves to be a fully fledged professional musician would accept this gig. The orchestra is well below par of a professional band and the fee is worse than I get paid by most amateur choral societies. What this orchestra does, and there are many others just like it, is give students/recent graduates the opportunity to learn new repertoire and gain the ensemble experience which many struggle to come by whilst they’re at college. There are so many string players that I know who during their time at college were only given 2-3 chances to sit within an orchestra. How invaluable do you think this could be to them? They get to sit in less hours of rehearsal than they have to for a music college orchestral project and are even compensated for their time.
    Now I don’t pretend to be impressed by the fee – it is dismal. I’m also not impressed that my name is on the website as a principal player yet I haven’t been contacted at all to play in this gig (I’ve changed my name). What is professional about that? This is quite blatantly a semi-professional band,but I have to say, I’d rather be out networking, having a laugh, playing music and earning something very small than being sat at home earning nothing – if you don’t want these kind of gigs then you don’t have to say yes!
    If you feel there is a real issue here then you may want to look at the way in which music colleges develop their players now. I cannot stand sitting in rehearsals which go over the same thing time and time again with very little development, yet in a recent project at college, I had to do more than 30 hours of rehearsal for a 50 minute performance. Conversely a recent professional commitment had a 4 hour rehearsal for a 2.5 hour performance. Is it any wonder that there are some young classical musicians who lap this up when its exactly the way they are taught?

    • Lindsay Ryan says:

      Jimmy, if I could just pick up on your points about repertoire and giving string players chances to sit within orchestra, I would like to mention my orchestra Harmony Sinfonia in SE London.

      We are a designated an amateur group and a charity (certainly no profit!), yet attract some very high quality pros, semi-pros and music teacher players due to our variety of repertoire. When founding it, based on my experience as a young pro in Melbourne, I thought that I would have floods of young players flocking to play some great orchestral repertoire, as my music college experience was similar to the situation you’ve described. Unfortunately, that hasn’t transpired, and we have to work really hard to recruit extra folk for the day of performance. Our fees to these guest players are so limited it’s embarrassing, but as MD I receive a tiny honorarium per term – no whacking great management fees here!

      My point is, that if young players want repertoire experience, then they could look to other orchestras, not just Orpheus, to gain that experience, and not necessarily be dictated to by fees. I know we all have to live on more than bread and cheese, but we’ve just performed the whole Three Cornered Hat ballet – how many people do that?

      On another note, I’ve also been a fixer for a youth orchestra that used to pay in wage bands depending on player experience (high school, college, pro) and have recently changed to a standard MU fee. They are in a very strong financial position, so were able to do so.

      The economic climate is something we’re all struggling with – I say that as a mum with four jobs, but Harmony Sinfonia is my love, even if it doesn’t pay the bills, I get to conduct some of the best orchestral music with a great bunch of people, and I hope that some young musicians reading this feel that they can take amateur gigs for peanuts without feeling that their reputations/careers will be tarnished by not playing in the LSO day 1 after graduation. Orpheus is in a tricky position all round, but I wish them well for their upcoming concert.

  41. Musiker says:

    Here’s the response of the Orpheus Sinfonia’s artistic director:

    http://www.gramophone.co.uk/blog/gramophone-guest-blog/in-defence-of-the-orpheus-sinfonia

  42. All charities have a legal duty to act in the public benefit, they are held to account in this by the Charities Commission. It would certainly be worthwhile asking the charity’s trustees http://www.orpheusfoundation.com/about-orpheus/who-s-who-organisation.html
    how it is in the public benefit for youngsters (who have completed their training) and are subject to the National Minimum Wage law to be paid in the manner. Furthermore how it is in the wider public benefit ie. society and musicians in general for poor wages to be lowered and normalised for youngsters in this manner.

    • The point is…well, my point is….do the players actually benefit from this kind of musical experience? After, say, a year with the band, do they play to a higher standard than before they joined? And does this kind of training orchestra really help them find positions with professional orchestras? I’m sure there are musicians out there who can confirm otherwise or not. Maybe I’ve lived in Germany too long, but there is a dearth of such schemes here, just as well one might argue. From the outside, always a dangerous position, it looks like the conductor is gaining more experience than the players. Sorry for my scepticism…

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