2011 Compensation Reports: Music Directors

Looking for Glenn Dicterow’s concertmaster compensation? It’s available in the concertmaster installment from this series. 

We all know that the 2008/09 season was the first to endure the brunt of the economic downturn but that doesn’t mean the average music director didn’t enjoy at least a small bump in compensation just under two percent. At the same time, compared to executives, and to a lesser degree base musician compensation, music directors experienced the smallest increase of any stakeholder…


2011 Compensation Reports: Music DirectorsThanks to the use of dynamic sorting tables, the 2011 Orchestra Compensation Reports can combine and display all of the data from both ICSOM and ROPA executives in a single chart. This means you can interact with the data and arrange it in a variety of ways; high/low compensation figures, total expenditure, conference or group, alphabetic by name, etc.


In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, data from the 2008/09 season is gathered from the following sources:

  • Music director compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2008/09 concert season.
  • Total Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the2008/09 concert season.
  • Base Musician compensation figures were obtained from records collected by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and International Guild of Symphony, Opera, and Ballet Musicians (IGSOBM, Seattle) for the 2008/09 concert season.

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 submit a notice.

All but a handful of the IRS Form 990’s provided by guidestar.org had a notice indicating that some of the compensation information may not be accurate.

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GuideStar has been informed by the IRS of processing errors on IRS Forms 990 filed electronically between January 1, 2009, and December 3, 2010, for form year 2008. These processing errors resulted in inaccurate data appearing on the scanned images of the affected returns that are posted on GuideStar and do not reflect the information filed with the IRS.

These errors include:

  • Part III, line 1, organization’s mission description—may not reflect what was originally submitted by the nonprofit organization.
  • Part VIII, line 8a, gross income for special events—values may have been transposed.
  • Part IX, line 7c, other salaries and wages, management and general expenses—may show a blank where a value was originally reported.
  • Schedule D, Part V, line 3a(ii), endowment funds and possession by related organizations— checkbox values may have been transposed.

GuideStar is working with the IRS to obtain a corrected copy of its form year 2008 Form 990. GuideStar will replace this Form 990 if, and when, the accurate return is made available from the IRS. For more information, please visit http://www2.guidestar.org/rxg/help/form-year-2008-returns.aspx


It is important to remember that the numbers shown do not always convey a complete compensation picture. For example, a music director may have had a large increase in salary due to leaving a position and per terms of the employment contract, may have received a sizeable severance or deferred compensation package. As such, the cumulative compensation may artificially inflate annual earnings.

Furthermore, these figures may not reflect bonuses or other incentive payments, therefore underreporting what conductors may actually earn nor do they include combined salary figures for conductors serving as music director for more than one orchestra. Also missing from the figures are expense accounts and other perks; as such, the cumulative compensation for music directors may or may not be more than what is listed. Additionally, the documents used to gather data do not indicate how much of the season an individual received a salary. As such, excessive adjustments in the percentage change from the previous season’s compensation may be artificially adjusted.

Although the music director compensation figures include the combined amounts reported as what the IRS classifies as “compensation” and “contributions to employee benefit plans & deferred compensation,” each orchestra does not always report figures for the latter category. Additionally, some organizations list music director compensation among the five highest paid private contractors as opposed to employee compensation. In these instances, no information about benefits or deferred compensation is available. Finally, in instances where music directors also perform as a featured soloist with their ensemble, these fees are sometimes negotiated under separate contract for others, they are included in their music director contract.

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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. Finally, these figures do not include any of the opera, ballet, or festival orchestras which are members of ICSOM or IGSOBM.

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As for Regional Orchestra Player Association (ROPA) musicians, unlike the vast majority of their peers in ICSOM ensembles who all earn no less than the musician base salary, all ROPA ensembles use a tiered system of salary and/or per service payments. For example, although an ensemble with a multi-tier system like this may list a base musician salary of $30,000 more than 60 percent of the musicians earn less than that base salary figure. Those players are paid via sliding per service tier system and may earn as little as a few thousand dollars per season.

In the strictly per service ensembles, the figures listed in the Base Musician compensation column are actually the average annual income earned by section string players (or section wind players if no information for the string players was available). This figure is reported by the AFM because it best represents annual earnings for the musicians who perform the greatest number of services in any per service orchestra; string musicians. However, those compensation figures are not always guaranteed. Additionally, the Base Musician figures do not include any additional payments offered by some organizations such as voluntary outreach services, and minimum overscale payments. Finally, opera or ballet organizations are not included in these reports, only symphonic and chamber orchestra ensembles.

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For the first time in the history of the Orchestra Compensation Reports, an orchestra not only failed to provide music director compensation in their respective IRS Form 990 but they refused to acknowledge direct requests for the information. In this case, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra did not list any music director compensation nor did their finance department return multiple telephone messages requesting the data and/or an explanation why it wasn’t included in their IRS Form 990. Unfortunately, I am very sad to say that if I don’t hear from the organization by the end of business today, I will have to file a complaint with Internal Revenue Service, TE/GE Customer Account Services department via their established guidelines.

This is something I sincerely do not wish to do.

However, it is fair to point out that with a few minor and infrequent exceptions, the vast majority of organizations I have contacted over the years with requests for compensation information and/or clarification have been more than happy to provide the information.


From the 2007/08 to the 2008/09 season…

  • the average ICSOM music director compensation increased 2.20 percent. This figure may be slightly higher or lower due to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra failing to provide Music Director compensation data on their 990 (as well as failing to respond to inquiries).
  • the average ICSOM base musician compensation increased 3.36 percent.
  • the average ROPA music director compensation increased 0.78 percent.
  • the average ROPA base musician compensation increased 1.04 percent.



  1. New York Philharmonic: $3,291,791
  2. Boston Symphony: $1,767,748
  3. San Francisco Symphony: $1,588,816
  4. Los Angeles Philharmonic: $1,195,145
  5. Philadelphia Orchestra: $1,161,000
  6. Cleveland Orchestra: $1,124,033
  7. Minnesota Orchestra: $1,039,479
  8. Saint Louis Symphony: $837,628
  9. Seattle Symphony: $785,113
  10. Baltimore Symphony: $711,626


  1. Pacific Symphony: $354,260
  2. Grand Rapids Symphony: $240,921
  3. Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: $194,000
  4. Hartford Symphony: $185,368
  5. Dayton Philharmonic: $163,619
  6. Rhode Island Philharmonic: $156,123
  7. West Virginia Symphony: $140,486
  8. Omaha Symphony: $135,800
  9. Knoxville Symphony: $133,408
  10. Chattanooga Symphony: $130,888


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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