2020 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Executives

When it comes to executive compensation, the 2017/18 season saw a sharp uptick in skewed averages since we started tracking numbers thanks to an all-time high number of CEO vacancies and interim appointments. These occurred across the entire budget spectrum but most notably, three of the usual suspects in the Top 10 earners were between executives. As a result, the average change in compensation was artificially low.

The Information

In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, info from the 2017/18 season is gathered from the following sources:

  • Executive compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2017/18 concert season.
  • Total Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2017/18 concert season (due to their relationship within a larger performing arts structure, Total Expenditure figures for National Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, and Dayton Philharmonic are not as readily available).

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.

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    Did you know? Direct links to most of the orchestra’s financial disclosure documents at guidestar.org are available in the Orchestra Financial Reports or you can save yourself dozens of hours by picking them up by season at the Adaptistration Store.

    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, an executive director may have had a large increase in salary due to a severance or deferred compensation package owed when the position was vacated. Additionally, the documents used to gather figures do not indicate how much of the season an individual received a salary. As such, the cumulative compensation may artificially inflate annual earnings.

    Conversely, reported figures may not reflect bonuses or other incentive payments, therefore underreporting what executives may actually earn. As such, the cumulative compensation executives may differ from what is listed.

    If you’re curious about exactly how much of a difference can exist, the Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy proceeding shed a sliver of light onto the river of unspecified compensation executives can garner by way of perks and benefits. Details were reported in an article published on 3/2/2012.

    For additional details about any individual executive’s compensation in any given season, you should review the corresponding IRS Form 990 for any statements, notes, and/or addendums provided by the organization to explain compensation abnormalities.

    2017/18 Season Executive Compensation

    Did you know? Direct links to most of the orchestra’s financial disclosure documents at guidestar.org are available in the Orchestra Financial Reports or you can save yourself dozens of hours by picking them up by season at the Adaptistration Store since the information is no longer available here.

    Top 10 Earners

    1. Boston Symphony: $1,050,596
    2. Philadelphia Orchestra: $770,708
    3. Cleveland Orchestra: $578,617
    4. Chicago Symphony: $537,541
    5. Seattle Symphony: $484,982
    6. Detroit Symphony: $467,857
    7. Pittsburgh Symphony: $431,015
    8. Saint Louis Symphony: $427,176
    9. Utah Symphony : $407,519
    10. Minnesota Orchestra: $383,681

    Items Of Note

    • The executive shuffle impact among higher budget orchestras is especially pronounced among the Top 10 earners. For example, in the 2016/17 season, this group saw an average compensation figure of $713,011 and it dropped to $553,969 in the 2017/18 season. This was due to big earners at the LA Phil, New York Phil, and San Francisco Symphony not having a single executive in place for the entire season.
    • Even with the lower number of high earners not included in this season, the highest paid executive still managed to break the $1 million mark: Boston Symphony.
    • Assuming figures for the 2018/19 season fill many of the existing executive openings, historic increases indicate we can expect the average compensation figure to shoot back up around 18 percent into the $325k mark.

    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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