2010 Compensation Reports: Concertmasters

The 2007/08 season was an odd year for concertmaster compensation. Although one individual shattered previous all time high records, it was due in most part to undisclosed terms related to contract buyout. At the same time, the second highest paid concertmaster still beat last year’s high by a few thousand dollars. Overall, the average concertmaster enjoyed a higher than normal bump in annual compensation…


For those not already familiar with the concertmaster position, this is the title reserved for the principal seat within the 1st violin section. More often than not, this is the musician you see walking out on stage at the beginning of the concert to initiate the orchestra’s tuning process before the conductor emerges.

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 are clauses 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 workplace protection and representation guaranteed all musicians under the organization’s collective bargaining agreement.


All data presented in these reports coincide with the corresponding documentation from the 2007/08 season. In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, data for the 2007/08 season is gathered from the following sources:

  • Concertmaster compensation figures were obtained from the individual’s respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990.
  • Total expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990.
  • Base Musician compensation figures were obtained from compensation records collected by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and the International Guild of Symphonic, Opera, and Ballet Musicians (IGSOBM).

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.


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 2007/08 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 annual earnings.

The Base Musician compensation figures do not include any additional payments including but not limited to outreach services and minimum overscale and/or seniority payments, all of which are more common for International conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) musicians as opposed to their Regional Orchestra Player Association (ROPA) peers. Finally, these figures do not include any of the opera, ballet, or festival orchestras which are members of ICSOM, IGSOBM, or ROPA.
Top Men


ROPA concertmasters have been incorporated into this report due to how few are actually reported on their respective IRS Form 990. There are two primary reasons why this is the case. First, the IRS only requires nonprofit organizations to list the top five employees and private contractors paid over $50,000 on their Form 990. Second, because ROPA musicians earn so much less than their ICSOM peers, there are only a few ROPA ensembles that pay their concertmaster enough to warrant including that individual on the Form 990. Furthermore, concertmasters in other ensembles who do earn over $50,000 may not earn enough to be considered in the top five paid employees.

As a result, there are only a handful of ROPA concertmasters included in this compensation chart; however, due to the nature of how the data is compiled, they have been filtered from the overall averages.


In order to obtain a clearer picture of changes in average compensation, compensation data from orchestras that did not pay a concertmaster for an entire season or paid incoming and outgoing concertmasters in the same season are factored into a “real average.” Although this is not a definitive figure, it does assist in proving a more comprehensive picture of compensation. When applied to this year’s data the average change in concertmaster compensation decreased from 9.41 to 6.12 percent.


Top Men

  • The concertmaster for the Atlanta Symphony set a new all time high compensation level at $578,436 which was also the largest single percent increase (159 percent). However, this was likely due to terms related to a one time, negotiated buyout.
  • Compared to figures from the previous season, the average compensation for the Top 10 highest paid concertmasters increased by 9.8 percent to $418,324.
  • For the first time in the history of the annual orchestra compensation reports, the number of ROPA concertmasters listed on a 990 increased by one (the new addition was from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra).


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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