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.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Version 1.1 14/08 with changes to Gidon Kremer section - see comment.


But the funny thing is promoters certainly consider these fees outrageous, but they don't seem interested by lower-fee artists as they are not as media-friendly.

A few months ago, I developed an initiative to help presenters suffering from cuts : I still have a couple of these already funded recitals in stock. I really believed in this offer, but it seems that promoters don't like it. I don't know why.
Pliable said…
Pierre-Arnaud, you make a very good point, thank you.

In fact the promoter that supplied the fees information made a very similar point to me "The more times promoters pay these fees, the more they will be demanded".

I did not include the comment in my post and now wish I had done so.
Pliable said…
A freelance player has sent details of their fee for a recent out of London orchestral concert for sharing anonymously -

Performance fee: £94.50

Travel: £63.36

Porterage: £10.20

Total: £168.06
David said…
Taking into account 'pension' is a bit complicated, no? In general composers work until they can no longer. The main reason for this is generally death. This isn't the case for performers, who need better physical health to continue to perform.

Not all too important, just a note. I'm not advocating that these very successful composers forgo their own deserved money to afford the best healthcare and retirement.

What is clear is to me is that younger composers, myself included, are constantly trying to find ways to make ends meet. This may always be how it has been. I'm told this. But the way my generation seems to be making ends meet is not through composing, its through grant-writing and other non-composing activities. To think that a composer would demand to just show up and comment on their piece and be paid all this cash is, well, a dated model. I see it as unsustainable, and its difficult to justify it continuing as things change so much in other sectors.
Pliable said…
Via Twitter:

I disagree with this! These people are at the top because they've worked for it. Nobody is being forced to hire them.

@ccampb85 Casandra Campbell
Pliable said…
James Weeks, founder of Exaudi, has left the following comment:

With regard to the post about monster concert fees (which especially in the case of many top conductors I think is absolutely worthy of exposure - it's a disgrace how much more they get than the orchestral musicians), I would say that the odd one out is The Sixteen. £14,000 looks to me like an absolutely fair figure for that number of people, whether or not this includes Harry Christophers (maybe it doesn't), each of whom has to paid for every prior rehearsal plus concert day fee plus per diems, with admin (office, staff, business overheads) and agents' fees and rehearsal venue hire costs on top - all in all, a bargain for a world-famous ensemble, I'd say!

Are they on the list to provide a contrast with the others? I notice you say this is not a name-and-shame list specifically.
Pliable said…
Thanks for that James. The Sixteen are on the list simply because their fee was one of those provided, and not specifically to provide a contrast with the others.

But as you quite rightly say and as I pointed out in the post their fee is not immoderate when shared between twenty-three singers.

And as you also quite rightly say this is not a not a name-and-shame list. It is purely a tool to raise the profile of a subject which the mainstream media are terrified to touch because of the power of the musician/agent/promoter cartel.
Pliable said…
Good to see someone in America at last sticking their neck over the parapet - composer James Primosch writes on his website:

"Surely I am naive about this, but I was astounded by the fees that Glass and Reich are said to command in this post. Ned Rorem used to be considered outrageous for insisting on a small fee to attend performances of his music, but this is quite a different matter.

George Rochberg used to tell us that, “If money corrupts, you [composers] are incorruptible.” I am not saying Glass and Reich are corrupt! Nor am I saying that their fees are undeserved. But there does seem to be less of a distance between them and $$ than is the case for many composers, including some pretty famous ones."

Their is also coverage on the Musical America website, but as I am not a subscriber I cannot read it -
Pliable said…
Here is the Musical America article courtesy of a reader -

Of Big Name Soloists and Big Bucks Fees
By Bob Shingleton
On An Overgrown Path
August 10, 2011

As opera companies and orchestras cut back, lay-off staff, negotiate for lower rates with their unions and otherwise tighten their collective belts, one wonders whether they are still paying exorbitant fees for soloists and whether the Big Names are still getting now what they were, say, five years ago. It’s a closely guarded secret writes Bob Shingleton in his blog “An Overgrown Path.”

“No one is talking about how dwindling budgets continue to be top-sliced by the fees charged by high profile musicians,” he writes, adding that Dudamel’s fee for a recent BBC Prom was £20,000.

Shingleton prints a list of fees supplied by an (anonymous) concert presenter. Among the more alarming are those of Philip Glass -- $36,000 plus expenses -- and Dawn Upshaw -- $57,000 for a pair of concerts.


Note that the word "alarming" is Musical America's, not mine.
RWAM said…
The key phrase is "as requested by the artist's management for a single concert appearance" since what is asked and what is gotten may be two entirely different things! Presenters routinely negotiate lower fees than those "officially" stated ones. Plus many engagements may be part of a multiple booking or tour where fees are lower overall. But in any case, the high fees received by the few high profile artists is extraordinarily frustrating to the rest of the high-quality musicians available.
Jeff Dimmerman,
New York, NY
Daina Svabe said…
Hello ! I have been reading this blog for a number of years, and thanks for sharing the interview with Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds ! Unfortunately, on this occasion - I consider your comment regarding Mr. Gidons Kremers inappropriate, because you do not provide any evidence. If you are not willing to disclose your "source", you have no right to tarnish the reputation of one of the world's greatest musicians.
P.S. In order to save your time by Googling me, I'll just say directly that - yes, I'm from Latvia ! But it doesn't even matter.
Pliable said…
Daina, thank you for that and I am sorry that you find my use of an anonymous source inappropriate.

There was a lot of agonising before I published the story, and its anonymous format would not in normal circumstances be my preferred approach. But the fees charged by celebrity performers are controlled by a cartel of musicians, agents and concert promoters who, for reasons of self-interest, keep such information a closely guarded secret. Anyone who makes fees information available will not be popular, to put it mildly, with the cartel, and is likely to find future business negotiations "difficult".

My information came from a trusted source that has made a valuable contribution to classical music, and neither of us wanted to jeopardise the continuation of that contribution. That is the unavoidable reason why an anonymous format was used.

The worldwide interest in this article has shown that the subject of musicians fees has been off limits for too long. It is unfortunate that some feathers have been ruffled in the process of bringing this important topic to a wide audience. But it is a price I will accept if it contributes to greater future transparency.
Pliable said…
I have received another email from Daina Svabe and have also received copy correspondence from my source regarding Gidon Kremer's appearance at the promoter's venue.

Having seen the correspondence I am satisfied that no realistic attempt was made by Kremer or his management to negotiate an appearance. But I also acknowledge that the wording in my original article was less than felicitous.

Accordingly I have re-worded that section and noted the amendment as a version change.
Pliable said…
Jeff Dimmernan makes a fair point above about fees being negotiable, and for this reason I was careful to use the wording "as requested" in the article.

But my source does point out that there are also fees on the list which are non-negotiable.

Respect goes to Jeff for being the only agent willing to enter the debate.

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