2016 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Music Directors

If you were a music director (MD) during the 2013/14 season, odds are you generated pretty much the same amount of income as the previous season. Having said that, you may have also enjoyed one of the largest average increases in the past 15 years. Confused? Don’t worry, you should be as it was a very odd season for MD compensation. But first off, let’s cover some of the basic info related to where the compensation figures comes from.

The Information

Orchestra Compensation Reports 2016 Music DirectorsIn order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, info from the 2013/14 season is gathered from the following sources:

  • Music Director compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2013/14 concert season.
  • Total Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2013/14 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 Numbers Don’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 former music director 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 music director services 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.

The Trend Continues

One unusual occurrence that began with the 2012/13 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 not always the same degree of explanation surrounding duties and responsibilities assigned to both types of compensation. The 2013/14 season continued this trend with a few more organizations following suit.

Let’s Get To The Heart Of What Makes This Season Different

Simply put, the 2013/14 season shattered all previous records for all time high music director compensation. This was thanks to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) paying music director Jaap van Zweden $5,110,538 (via his company, Bajada Productions LLC, as can be found in Part VII, Section B. Independent Contractors).

DSO 2013-2014 990 Part VII Section B

Previously, the highest single season compensation outlay was $3,291,791, paid to Lorin Maazel during his final year as music director at the New York Philharmonic.

In order to confirm the $5,110,538 figure was accurate, I contacted Denise McGovern, DSO Director of Communications. According to Ms. McGovern, the $5,110,538 payment to Bajada Productions LLC is correct.

“Regarding Part VII, Section B: the Music Director’s salary for 2013 was $1,788,997, with the bulk of the remainder being a signing bonus for a long-term contract extension executed in 2013,” Ms. McGovern wrote in an email message. “The long-term contract extension now goes through the 20/21 season and includes three years as conductor laureate. The bonus amount was funded entirely by a restricted gift given exclusively for this one-time occurrence. The bottom line operating budget of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was not affected at all.”

If you haven’t done the math yet, that’s a $3,321,541 signing bonus; nearly double his salary for that season. If you look at just the salary portion of his 2013/14 compensation, it still came in at $283,945 more than the 2012/13 season (nearly a nineteen percent increase).

2013/14 Season Music Director Compensation

Top Men

Top 10 Earners

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Top 10 list was shaken up a bit thanks to the new record breaking DSO compensation.

  1. Dallas Symphony: $5,110,538
  2. Chicago Symphony: $2,309,837
  3. National Symphony: $2,274,151
  4. San Francisco Symphony: $2,105,920
  5. New York Philharmonic:     $1,751,570
  6. Los Angeles Philharmonic: $1,661,493
  7. Saint Louis Symphony: $1,043,313
  8. Cleveland Orchestra: $977,496
  9. Baltimore Symphony: $914,747
  10. Detroit Symphony: $800,957

Additional Irregularity

The Spokane Symphony continues it alarming trend by once again failing to list its music director as an employee or an independent contractor. Requests for compensation data or reasons why it was not listed were ignored.

Update 7/3/2016: in an email, a representative of the Spokane Symphony indicated their music director was paid $130,000 in salary for the 2013/14 season. It is not known if the music director was paid as a private contractor or an employee. If the latter, there was no indication if that figure is for salary only or if it represents the cumulative amount that must be reported via executive compensation (and the figure used for these reports).

Food For Thought

The Orchestra Compensation Reports have always been designed to provide a dispassionate overview of key stakeholder remuneration. This information is designed to get people thinking about the current system of nonprofit governance and how it relates to setting compensation levels. In essence, it’s a system that is entirely self-governing with no independent oversight and when combined with an environment where just about everyone is working harder than ever before, how the task of accountability and review become easily co-opted by the lure of rewarding effort over achievement.

In the end, it is important for stakeholders and the community in general to have a better understanding of what’s involved with maintaining a professional orchestra and insist on accountability. Questions lead to transparency and ultimately (hopefully?), improved governance.

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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17 thoughts on “2016 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Music Directors”

    • Although that information isn’t provided in something like the IRS 990, it would be a fascinating addition. Having said that, it would only really be useful if it included time spent in non-artistic duties such as fundraising, board governance (assuming the MD participates), outreach, education, etc.

  1. Hard for me to see why so many orchestra managements cry poor when negotiating with their orchestra musicians when I see some of these dollar numbers for Music Directors. These directors are also picking up fees when they guest conduct which adds to their total compensation package. The use of the labeling these positions as contractors is a convenient method of creating haze where there should be transparency. Very unfortunate in terms of building trust within an organization.

      • I’ve always wondered about the correlation between MD salaries and musician base pay but too lazy to do the math – if there are any generalizations that base is X% of their MD salary and which orchestras are much closer/further from that percentage. Adding concertmaster compensation to the mix will definitely shed some light on those figures.

  2. Certainly no one here is suggesting that these music directors are not worth every penny? I hear the outrage from the populace, “why oh why do they pay these athletes millions and the artists and teachers are paupers…”

    I hope the intent is to find ways to emulate and expand the success of organizations like the DSO, not ridicule or demean them.

    If Atlanta or San Antonio could find suitable donors, certainly they’d pay $5M – it would likely be indicative of their ability to pay everyone in the organization better and bring with it higher quality arts to the community.

    I am proud to be from Dallas – and prouder still we can attract the best conductors from around the world.

    • Throughout all of the discussion threads I’ve been reading, I have yet to encounter any opinion that music directors shouldn’t be paid that amount. I’d be curious to know where you’ve seen that sentiment. Instead, the discussions cover the gambit of those who feel this conductor either is or is not worth that amount while other conversations focus on the larger institutional impact. For instance, the season where van Zweden received the $5,110,538 compensation package, the musicians were in the second year of a two season pay freeze, staffers were laid off, and the organization was amidst cost cutting measures desperately trying to reach a balanced budget.

      Dallas’ 2103/14 season also witnessed a tremendous amount of labor tension and accusations of an “extraordinarily uncomfortable with the work environment, and they feel at times like they’re being browbeaten excessively in rehearsals by the music director.” An article by Michael Granberry highlighted those accusations and more in an expose article from 11/29/2016 in the Dallas Morning News.

      So yes, this is a positive sign that pushes back against claims that large donors are tapped out. But questions emerge when those donors funnel money directly toward a single individual rather dividing it between the entire organization.

    • Not sure if Brian’s comment is made in sarcasm or serious, but while everyone is worth what they can get from the free market, to put so much of the total budget percentage wise into the MD salary does not seem justifiable to me. I doubt most concert goers (if blind folded) would be able to tell who is conducting if you did a test with say 5 different conductors.

      In the private sector, where salaries are higher, the justification seems to be that CEOs are capable of creating shareholder wealth through their special management skills (ie Jack Welch or Michael Eisner). Not sure that is true, but at least there the stock price is used as the measurement of success or failure.

      Similarly in sports, one can add up numbers, look at wins vs losses and then LeBron’s salary seems justifiable,

      But it is hard for me to see the value of paying someone that high a percentage of the overall budget even if he is one of the top conductors in the world.

    • No argument there but that is a good example of limitations based on available time. The other potential wrinkle is adding additional columns makes the table very unwieldy on mobile device size screens. I used to use a plugin that converted table data into a nicer responsive layout but it was enormously labor intensive and ended up crossing that ROI threshold. So in the end, we could have gone with old school images of tables that included the extra info but making the content copy/paste seemed like a far better user-friendly solution.

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