Some thoughts on classical music's double standards
Norman Lebrecht is leading a chorus of self-righteous indignation about James Levine's $27,000 (£20,300) performance fee at the Metropolitan Opera. This per performance fee is in addition to a not insubstantial $400,000 annual salary for his artistic and administrative role as music director of the Met. But the furore about Levine's fee is still puzzling because, whether we like it or not, fees of this order of magnitude for celebrity musicians have been around for some time, and Levine prior to his fall from grace was a celebrity conductor par excellence. In 2011 a post here about a Gustavo Dudamel BBC Proms appearance asking Is a miracle maestro worth £20,000 a concert? prompted no self-righteous indignation, while another post revealed that Philip Glass' agent asked $36,000 US dollars plus transatlantic flights for a solo piano concert at an unpresuming European festival. Moreover, way back in 1991 an authoritative music journalist explained that:
In the past two decades, there has been hyper-inflation in conductor's fees, increases that are out of all proportion to general inflation and the economics of musical activity. The increase is notable in their salaries, but most strikingly in the fees that conductors command for guest performances. Any of the top dozen maestros can expect around twenty thousand dollars a night for appearing on a major American podium, slightly less in West Europe countries, and up to four times as much in Japan.Who was that authoritative journalist? It was a certain Norman Lebrecht in his book The Maestro Myth. So now classical music has a double standard. A fee of $20,000 plus is acceptable, but only if you keep your nose clean.
Gross remuneration differentials between celebrities and rank and file musicians are invidious and must be tackled. Sexual abuse is a terrible crime that must be eradicated from classical music. But shamelessly exploiting the lamentable Levine saga to impose a double standard with the sole aim of producing juicy morsels of click bait is also abhorrent. When will someone from within the classical music industry finally have the balls to say that?
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