2013 Compensation Reports: Music Directors

For the average music director, the 2010/11 season was a good year financially. Experiencing an average increase of 12.02 percent in compensation, conductors gained more than either executives or concertmasters; in fact, the average music director compensation reached an all time high of $480,037. Worth noting is the 2010/11 high earner, San Francisco Symphony’s music director Michael Tilson Thomas, experienced a staggering 33 percent increase in his compensation; although that still lags behind the heavy weight champion earner, Lorin Maazel who earned higher fees for each of his years with the New York Philharmonic from the 2004/05 season forward.

The Data

compensation-reports-icon-musicdirectorsIn order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, data from the 2010/11 season is gathered from the following sources:

  • Music Director compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2010/11 concert season.
  • Total Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2010/11 concert season (due to their relationship within a larger performing arts structure, Total Expenditure figures for National Symphony and Atlanta Symphony are unavailable).

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.

Did you know? Direct links to most of the orchestra’s financial disclosure documents at guidestar.org are available in the Orchestra Financial Reports.

What The Data Doesn’t Show

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 because they were leaving a position and per terms of their contract they 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.

Also missing from the figures are expense accounts, lodging expenses, 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.

How Terms Impact Compensation

Unlike executives, concertmasters, and musicians, music directors are sometimes employed as private contractors. In these cases, orchestras will list the music director among the five highest paid private contractors as opposed to sections devoted to employee compensation. In most of these instances, no information about benefits or deferred compensation is available.

Likewise, some music directors receive separate payments for duties associated with their position. For example, for several fiscal years the Seattle Symphony Orchestra paid Gerard Schwarz via two separate private contractor listings: once for music director duties and the other for principal conducting duties. At the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, when Daniel Barenboim was with the organization, he was often paid separately for services music director and then again as conductor and soloist.

In instances such as these, those figures have been combined into a single figure in the table below. For details about each individual conductor’s compensation, please consult the orchestra’s respective IRS Form 990.

2010/11 Season Music Director Compensation

[tab title=”Executive Compensation”]

Top Men

[/tab] [tab title=”Total Expenditures”]

Top Men

[/tab] [tab title=”Top 10″]

  1. San Francisco Symphony: $2,412,662
  2. New York Philharmonic: $1,562,417
  3. Philadelphia Orchestra: $1,468,814
  4. Boston Symphony: $1,207,300
  5. Minnesota Orchestra: $1,078,350
  6. Dallas Symphony: $1,025,692
  7. Los Angeles Philharmonic: $985,363
  8. Saint Louis Symphony: $959,337
  9. Cleveland Orchestra: $958,597
  10. Seattle Symphony: $746,028


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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