Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Are top musicians sharing the financial pain?
Everyone in classical music is talking about funding cuts. But no one is talking about how dwindling budgets continue to be top-sliced by the fees charged by high profile musicians. In my recent post I used an estimate of Gustavo Dudamel's fee for a BBC Prom taken from an identified and reliable source. But it remains an estimate because the musicians, agents and concert promoters involved keep such information a closely guarded secret; even when , as is the case with the BBC Proms, they are paid from public funds. But now a concert promoter who has suffered savage funding cuts and considers some of the current fees "outrageous", has supplied details of what top musicians charge. And, more importantly, has agreed I can publish them anonymously.
So here are the fees and associated on-costs. They are as requested by the artist's management for a single concert appearance unless otherwise stated. It should be emphasised this is simply available information and these musicians have not been identified as demanding higher than average fees. It is also worth remembering that fees charged to the most prestigious venues may be higher. Convert currencies here.
Hélène Grimaud - 16,000 euros
Kronos Quartet - 23,000 US dollars
Philip Glass - 36,000 US dollars plus transatlantic flights for solo piano concert
Patricia Kopatchinskaja - 10,000 euros
Dawn Upshaw for pair of concerts - 57,000 US dollars plus additional presentation costs.
Twelve cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic - 24,000 euros plus flights for twelve people plus twelve 'Mr Cello' seats.
The Sixteen - 14,000 pounds sterling euros plus 24 flights (includes one instrument), local transport, hire of chamber organ and one night's hotel for 23 people.
Steve Reich - 18,000 US dollars to attend a series of concerts but not perform, performance fee additional. Also requires business class transatlantic flights.
My source also points out that some other leading musicians are far more accommodating in their demands, but it is not possible to identify them without compromising anonymity. I am also told that Gidon Kremer, who has recently criticised "distorted values" declined to discuss appearing for reasons the promoter believes may include the relative lack of prestige of the venue.
Those fees confirm that the estimate of £20,000 for a Gustavo Dudamel concert is credible and maybe even low. So are top musicians sharing the current financial pain? It is a not a simple question to answer and we must beware of jumping to conclusions. Artists perform a limited number of concerts every year, and unpaid practice and travelling time must be taken into account, as well as the cost of pension and other provisions. The fee charged by The Sixteen for instance is not immoderate when shared between twenty-three singers, and, of course, the performers have to travel and sleep.
But then this path does again highlight the role of the middle feeders in the classical music food chain. For one of the single artist projects the two management agencies involved would receive a combined commission of an estimated 10,000 US dollars without having to do one minute's practice or leave their offices. Then there is the contentious issue of the disparity between the earnings of the celebrities and those of rank and file musicians, contemporary composers and others lower down the food chain.
Yes, governments and arts organisations must take their share of the blame for funding cuts. But is it surprising that classical music is not first favourite with funding bodies when a pianist can earn the price of a new family car for a single evening's work? There may not be a conclusive case that top musicians are failing to share the current financial pain. But with the level of funding cuts in the public domain, why, when public money is involved, are top musicians' fees not similarly disclosed?
* My thanks go to anon for courageously making this article possible. If other concert promoters feel moved to share artist's fees with Overgrown Path readers please forward them to me by email and they will be published on the same anonymous basis.
* More on the role of agents here.
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