2020 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Concertmasters

For the third year in a row, the 2017/18 season produced a positive gain in the average concertmaster’s compensation level. Having said that, and not counting years with negative growth, this was the third smallest average increase since the 99/00 season.

The Information

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

  • Concertmaster compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2017/18 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.

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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.

    An Important Note About Concertmaster Compensation Reporting

    Due to the changes in the IRS Form 990 several years ago, there are fewer concertmaster figures to report as compared to executives and music directors. Up until the 2008/09 season, nonprofit organizations were required to list a fixed number of employees who earned over $50,000/year, but the IRS increased that threshold to $100,000 for the 2008/09 season.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, quite a few concertmasters earning more than $50,000 but less than $100,000 no longer appear on their respective orchestra’s Form 990.

    As a result, concertmaster compensation figures tend to only appear for larger and mid budget size orchestras. Any orchestra in that grouping not reporting concertmaster compensation is likely a sign that:

    • their concertmaster position was unfilled for that season.
    • the concertmaster earned over $100,000 but because didn’t earn enoughto be included in the threshold of employees listed in the 990.

    An unusual byproduct of the IRS reporting threshold modification in the 2008/09 season is average compensation values after that point are comparatively higher than before thanks to missing all of those sub $100k values. Consequently, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect that average compensation figures would increase following that season but as you can see in the following chart, those averages initially dropped then fluctuated between a series of increases and decreases.

    Who Is This Concertmaster Person Anyway?

    For those not already familiar with the concertmaster position, this is the title reserved for the principal seat within the 1st violin section. More often than not, this is the musician you see walking out on stage at the beginning of the concert to initiate the orchestra’s tuning process before the conductor emerges.

    Although concertmasters are included within every orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement, they also negotiate a mutually exclusive agreement with the orchestra detailing compensation and additional duties exclusive to that position. For example, it isn’t uncommon for a concertmaster to be featured as a soloist with the orchestra at least once a year. As such, their annual income will fluctuate based on the number of solo appearances and respective fees they negotiate with their organization.

    Additionally, concertmasters are required to perform any of the numerous internal solos incorporated into any given piece of music (such as the famous violin solo from Scheherazade). Beyond actual performing duties, concertmasters (along with other principal seat string musicians) are usually required to perform additional duties such as bowings (which are markings placed throughout a string player’s sheet music that indicate which direction to move the bow. This allows each section of strings to move their bows in unison and enhance to the sense of phrasing a conductor wishes to use.

    A common perk associated with many concertmaster individual contracts are clauses excluding them from having to perform during some non-masterwork oriented concerts (such as holiday, pops, or educational concerts). As this clause is not uniform, the frequency and type of concerts concertmasters are excluded from participating vary from one musician to the next. It is also one of the reasons why orchestras may have one or two additional violinists within the orchestra who serve under the title of associate or assistant concertmaster.

    Regardless of the additional clauses a concertmaster negotiates in his/her personal contract, they are afforded the same base workplace protection and representation guaranteed all musicians under the organization’s collective bargaining agreement.

    If you’re interested in learning more about a concertmaster’s duties and responsibilities, read It’s More Than Wearing Pretty Shoes by Wichita Symphony and Chattanooga Symphony concertmaster Holly Mulcahy.

    2017/18 Season Concertmaster Compensation

    EnsembleConcertmaster CompensationDifferencePercent Change
    Alabama Symphony$139,444NANA
    Atlanta Symphony$244,154$4,6801.95%
    Baltimore Symphony$311,108$18,3566.27%
    Boston Symphony$497,444-$34,592-6.50%
    Chicago Symphony$565,670$10,9141.97%
    Cincinnati Symphony$308,346$14,9235.09%
    Cleveland Orchestra$634,277$55,2479.54%
    Colorado Symphony$117,995$1120.10%
    Dallas Symphony$302,568$11,9304.10%
    Detroit Symphony$226,329$18,3718.83%
    Fort Worth Symphony$136,928$35,92835.57%
    Houston SymphonyNANANA
    Indianapolis SymphonyNANANA
    Kansas City Symphony$213,236$26,52814.21%
    Los Angeles Philharmonic$547,061$7,3221.36%
    Milwaukee Symphony$151,709-$42,176-21.75%
    Minnesota Orchestra$265,908-$1,798-0.67%
    Nashville Symphony$213,841$24,41512.89%
    National Symphony$422,543$20,7435.16%
    New Jersey Symphony$190,910$17,39710.03%
    New York Philharmonic$687,955$65,534NA
    North Carolina SymphonyNANANA
    Oregon Symphony$176,677-$4,196-2.32%
    Pacific SymphonyNANANA
    Philadelphia Orchestra$452,543$14,2903.26%
    Pittsburgh SymphonyNANANA
    Richmond Symphony$108,081-$6,445NA
    Saint Louis Symphony$298,453-$6,365-2.09%
    San Diego Symphony$238,349$25,11211.78%
    San Francisco Symphony$594,522$5,2500.89%
    Seattle SymphonyNANANA
    St. Paul Chamber Orchestra$224,740-$11,978-5.06%
    Utah Symphony$234,867NANA
    Average$315,024$10,4903.44%

    * Due to their relationship within a larger performing arts structure, Total Expenditure figures for these organizations are not as readily available.

    Top 10 Earners

    1. New York Philharmonic: $687,955
    2. Cleveland Orchestra: $634,277
    3. San Francisco Symphony: $594,522
    4. Chicago Symphony: $565,670
    5. Los Angeles Philharmonic: $547,061
    6. Boston Symphony: $497,444
    7. Philadelphia Orchestra: $452,543
    8. National Symphony: $422,543
    9. Baltimore Symphony: $311,108
    10. Cincinnati Symphony: $308,346

    Items Of Interest

    • This is the final season of William Preucil’s tenure as Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster. He was removed from his position following the results of an investigation into sexual misconduct. Typically, you could expect to see one, sometimes two, more seasons of pay as part of a severance package but given the circumstances of his departure, that may not be the case. We’ll be keeping an eye out for this in next year’s reports.
    • This is the first season where all concertmasters in the Top 10 earned more than $300,000 per year.

    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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