2021 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Executives

When it comes to executive compensation, last year’s artificially low average change (-11.62%) was offset by an equally artificial increase (19.74%). Having said that, the two-season average falls right in line with historic norms to continue the upward trend.

The Information

In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, info from the 2018/19 season is gathered from the following sources:

  • Executive compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2018/19 concert season.
  • Total Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2018/19 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 this 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 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.

2018/19 Season Executive Compensation

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

The “Not Reporteds”

Typically, whenever an organization’s 990 is missing compensation figures for one or more stakeholder and the reason isn’t something easily verified, I reach out to inquire. In most cases, the organization promptly responds, confirms the oversight, and provides the information along with any corresponding clarification.

The 2017 reports tried something new: each article was published with notes indicating any unreported figures and the respective organization was contacted for the missing information afterward.

The goal was to provide a more realistic sense of how often information is missing and confirm an organization’s commitment to the spirit of compensation transparency. It turned out to be an enormously effective approach and will remain in play this year.

Once each group can provide requested information and provide the missing figures, the respective articles will be updated accordingly.

Missing information is labeled as “Not Reported” inside each respective report. Speaking of groups with “Not Reported” labels, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra (CSPO) receives the dubious distinction of being the only orchestra to earn that designation. On one hand, it wasn’t surprising to see an uptick in the number of orchestras that didn’t have any 990 show up in the initial searches.

The pandemic has left the IRS short-staffed and over-worked and as a result, I had to reach out to five different groups to request a copy of their public inspection filing: Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Dayton Philharmonic, National Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, and the Toledo Symphony. With the exception of the CSPO, each and every group responded quickly and provided the requested content. That’s exactly the sort of transparency that helps the field as a whole build a positive reputation. But it only takes one or two groups to tarnish an otherwise good rep.

Top 10 Earners

  1. New York Philharmonic: $1,455,594
  2. Boston Symphony: $1,040,949
  3. San Francisco Symphony: $968,107
  4. Cleveland Orchestra: $952,523
  5. Los Angeles Philharmonic: $897,508
  6. Chicago Symphony: $564,516
  7. National Symphony: $475,846
  8. Detroit Symphony: $467,857
  9. Dallas Symphony: $457,138
  10. Pittsburgh Symphony: $437,343

Items Of Note

  • The move from LA to New York didn’t seem to put a dent in Deborah Borda’s earning power. Her first full season at New York generated a $1,455,594 payout, which is just about $38k more than her last full season at LA ($1,417,633).
  • Cleveland saw a sizeable uptick in executive compensation, with their latest CEO drawing a few hundred thousand more than their predecessors.
  • The Top 10 figures are missing one usual suspect, the Philadelphia Orchestra, thanks to that group not having a CEO in place over the course of a full season.
  • There was a noticeable uptick in the number of orchestras reporting sizable payouts reported as deferred in on the prior year’s From 990. this is notable in that it provides a way for an organization to mask compensation that should otherwise be known during something like a labor dispute where employees are being asked to take similar reductions to executive cuts.

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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