Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Should top musician's fees be disclosed?

'My wife has taken part in a recent production at a major European opera house in the extra chorus. Whenever she spoke of her colleagues, I cannot but be surprised at the difficult life that musicians have. If you are at a level just a tiny bit below the big names, there are many people there, and you go from one engagement to the other without having much control of your life. Do musicians have social security and care about retirement? - and I know your posts on this last topic. What also is amazing is that some of them just come, sing or play and go but many still love the works and the ability to perform. But it is a very tough life …'
This email arrived recently from a reader who has asked to remain anonymous. In welcome moves towards transparency the Federal Trade Commission requires bloggers to disclose payments and the Freedom of Information Act forces the BBC to disclose senior executive's salaries and their staggering expenses. Public subsidies for classical music can exceed £75,000 per concert . So why aren't the fees paid to the performers and their agents from these subsidies disclosed?

It is no surprise that the rewards for top classical musicians are well kept secrets despite much of their income coming from the public purse. Back in 2002 the Guardian reported that Simon Rattle's starting salary with the "well-funded" Berlin Philharmonic was £500,000, to which should be added other substantial earnings including record royalties and guest conducting fees. It may be 45 years old, but this list of EMI's top eight royalty earners for the first quarter of 1964, when 'Beatlemania' meant rock and roll was reaching its peak, sheds some light on the rewards for leading the Berlin orchestra:

The Beatles ~ £46,983
Cliff Richard ~ £18,848
The Dave Clark Five ~ £13,535
Herbert von Karajan ~ £10,903
Maria Callas ~ £10,022
The Shadows ~ £7,760
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau ~ £7,165
Otto Klemperer ~ £6,234

The amounts paid to classical music's superstars may still be eye-watering. But, as my correspondent points out, it is the differentials between them and the others that really matter.

As I write 1 British pound = 1.59 U.S. dollars and = 1.08 Euros. Photo of Karajan at the controls of his Falcon 10 private jet is by Emile Perauer and is reproduced from Deutsche Grammophon publicity material from 1983. Royalty details from Richard Osborne's out-of-print biography of Herbert von Karajan. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

2 comments:

Pliable said...

The high level of Klemperer's royalties in that list is interesting considering his relatively low profile compared with Karajan or Callas today.

On another subject it is rewarding to see today that this opinionated and unfashionable little blog from rural (Old) England has achieved its highest ever ranking in the influential invesp.com ranking of classical music blogs.

http://www.invesp.com/blog-rank/Classical_Music

Help! - people might start sending me free CDs and concert tickets.

tom rose said...

It is simple. If a concert is subsidised out of public funds (tax) then ALL financial details, including performer's fees, should be disclosed. If a concert is privately subsidised, or costs are covered entirely out of ticket receipts (unlikely) then they need not be.