2014 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Music Directors

Compensation Reports Music DirectorsFor the average music director, the 2011/12 season was a good year financially and from a historical perspective, it was the first time that average annual compensation broke the half-million threshold ($517,649 to be precise). Although a few high profile positions left vacant brought the average increase down from previous seasons, most music directors saw their earnings increase by at least 2.46 percent.

The Data

In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, data from the 2011/12 season is gathered from the following sources:

  • Music Director compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2011/12 concert season.
  • Total Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2011/12 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 use the following form 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.

A New Trend

One unusual occurrence in the 2011/12 season was an uptick in the practice of a paying music director part of his/her compensation as a private contractor and part as an employee. This is a bit different than the scenarios listed above in that there is no distinction regarding which duties and responsibilities were assigned to both types of compensation. As of this season, it was limited to three organizations (Baltimore, Chicago, and Kansas City) but it will be interesting to see if this trend continues.

2011/12 Season Music Director Compensation

Top Men

An Alarming Practice: Orchestras Refusing To Disclose Compensation

When the orchestra compensation reports started nearly a decade ago, the majority of organizations had no problem listing music director compensation. There were always a few exceptions to the rule, let’s call it habitual omission disease (I’m looking at you Spokane and Elgin) but even those groups would release the information when contacted. Every now and then a group attempts to push back against requests for information but unquestionably, the lion’s share of organizations have actively engaged in a policy of transparency that remains true to the intent of the rules governing nonprofit compensation reporting.

Unfortunately, this ethical practice is slowly eroding and this year’s music director report witnessed what is, to date, the most egregious violation to the field’s long standing routine of transparency. Specifically, this infraction involves the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and their decision to refuse requests for music director compensation figures for Leonard Slatkin during the 2011/12 season. Details continue to unfold but you can be certain that this will be examined in considerably more detail next week once the reports have concluded.

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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12 thoughts on “2014 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Music Directors”

    • Excellent question: all of the groups included in the reports must have at least $2mil listed in Total Expenditures (which is a bit different than traditional “budget” figures), maintain a collective bargaining agreement, and have their musicians be a member of ROPA, ICSOM, or IGSOBM. A couple of groups from last year were cut out this season because their total expenditure figures dipped below the $2mil threshold (Fresno, Delaware, Louisville, and Orchestra Iowa).

  1. Certainly not a reflection of orchestra performance standards and quality. Example: Cincinnati outperforms all but a handful of the orchestras on this list (and on a good night is untouchable) but the music director pay is rather modest relatively speaking.

  2. As one of the Big Five, the omission of Boston seems rather significant. Between the importance of the role, the wealth (cf. San Francisco) and the incumbent’s tenure, I would expect Ozawa to be top 5 if not top 3 in compensation. (Unless of course he’s being compensated in other ways, such as recording royalties). Is Boston a chronic offender, or did they just leave off the number this year?

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