2007 Compensation Report: ICSOM Concertmasters

The final installment of the 2007 Adaptistration Compensation Reports will examine the compensation levels for International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) concertmasters…

Who Is This Concertmaster Person?

For those not already familiar with what the concertmaster position is in any given orchestra, this is the title reserved for the principal seat among the 1st violin section. It is also, more often than not, the individual you see walking out on stage at the beginning of the concert to initiate the orchestra’s tuning process before the conductor comes out.

Although concertmasters are included within every orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement, they also negotiate a separate contract with the orchestra detailing compensation and additional duties exclusive to their position. For example, it isn’t uncommon for a concertmaster to be featured as a soloist with their orchestra at least once a year. As such, their annual income will fluctuate based on the number of solo appearances they negotiate with their organization.

Additionally, concertmasters are required to perform any of the numerous internal solos incorporated into any given piece of music (such as the famous violin solo from Scheherazade). Beyond actual performing duties, concertmasters (along with other principal seat string musicians) are usually required to perform some additional duties such as bowings. Bowings are markings placed throughout a string player’s sheet music that indicate which direction to move the bow. This allows each section of strings to move their bows in unison and enhance to the sense of phrasing a conductor wishes to use.

A common perk associated with many concertmaster personal contracts is the clause excluding them from having to perform during some non-masterwork oriented concerts (such as holiday, pops, or educational concerts). As this clause is not uniform, the frequency and type of concerts concertmasters are excluded from participating in vary from one musician to the next. It is also one of the reasons why orchestras may have one or two additional violinists within the orchestra who serve under the title of associate or assistant concertmaster.

Regardless of the additional clauses a concertmaster negotiates in their personal contract, they are afforded the same base protection and representation guaranteed all musicians under the organization’s collective bargaining agreement.

Where The Numbers Come From

All data presented in these reports coincide with the corresponding documentation from the 2004-2005 season. In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, data is gathered from the following sources:

  • Concertmaster Compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2004-2005 concert season.
  • Total Ensemble Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2004-2005 concert season.
  • Musician Base Salary figures were obtained from compensation records collected by the American Federation of Musicians and International Guild of Symphonic, Opera, and Ballet Musicians (IGSOBM) for the 2004-2005 concert season.

Unlike the musician base salary figures, the concertmaster compensation figures include the combined amounts reported as what the IRS classifies as “compensation” and “contributions to employee benefit plans & deferred compensation”. As such, the amount paid toward benefits such as health care and disability are included in the figures presented in this report. However, each orchestra does not always report figures for the latter category.

The Musician Base Salary figures collected by the AFM for ICSOM ensembles are done so on an annual basis and reported in a booklet entitled Wage Scales & Conditions in the Symphony Orchestra. Figures for the IGSOBM ensemble (Seattle) come directly from their respective orchestra chairperson.

Adaptistration makes no claim to the accuracy of information from documents compiled or reported by external sources. If you have reason to believe any of the information is inaccurate or has changed since reported in any of the above sources and you can provide documentation to such effect, please feel free to send in a notice.

What The Numbers Don’t Show

It is important to remember that the numbers shown do not always convey a complete compensation picture. For example, a concertmaster may have had a large increase in salary because they had twice the number of featured solo appearances for this season compared to last. Likewise, they may have left the position after the 2003-2004 season and, per terms of their individual contract, received a sizeable severance or deferred compensation package. As such, the cumulative compensation reported under those conditions may artificially inflate or reduce their annual earnings.

Additionally, even though there are indications noting when individuals were not employed for a full season, the documents used to gather data do not indicate how much of the season an individual received a salary.

The “Musician Base Salary” figures do not include any additional payments offered by some organizations such as voluntary outreach services, and minimum overscale and/or seniority payments, all of which are more common for ICSOM musicians as opposed to their ROPA peers. Finally, these figures do not include any of the opera or ballet organizations which are members of ICSOM or IGSOBM.

Top Men

Who Earns The Most?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of the concertmasters in the top rung of compensation are from the largest budget orchestras and unlike the 2003-2004 season, there were two individuals who broke the $400,000 mark. Here’s a list of every concertmaster who earned more than $300,000 in 2004-2005:

  1. New York Philharmonic’s Glenn Dicterow earned $428,860
  2. San Francisco Symphony’s Alexander Bratschik earned $410,163
  3. Boston Symphony’s Malcolm Lowe earned $383,182
  4. Cleveland Orchestra’s William Preucil earned $362,494
  5. Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Martin Chalifour earned $360,985
  6. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s David Kim earned $330,000


Although the average ICSOM concertmaster experienced a fraction of a percentage increase in annual compensation, they still earn more than an average ROPA executive director or ROPA music director.

With regard to the issue of value, it is more difficult for the average patron to accurately gauge the effectiveness of a concertmaster. Since so much of their required duties is something the average listener will never get to witness, one of the most useful ways for an orchestra’s executive board to measure a concertmaster’s usefulness is through a combination of input from the music director, conducting staff, librarians (those are the folks responsible for making sure concertmasters turn the bowings in on time), and musicians.

The result of having such a diverse group of individuals expressing input is that many concertmasters evolve into becoming very politically aware. Nevertheless, a concertmaster’s ability to attract local ticket buyers as a featured soloist as well as a member of the orchestra comprises a large component of whether or not they can negotiate a favorable contract at best and remain employed at the very least.

In the end, a concertmaster’s individual contract can be a double edged sword. Although they are still protected under the organization’s collective bargaining agreement, they may also end up serving at the pleasure of the board of directors due to language included in their individual agreement. As such, that which affords concertmasters great pay, exposure, and attention also provides a more tenuous state of employment as compared to their colleagues.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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