For Top Salaries in Classical Music, Head to Los Angeles

Monday, November 07, 2011 - 01:59 PM

In the worst case scenario, a poorly-managed orchestra cuts musicians' pay to compensate for budgetary shortfalls. In the best case scenario, you are the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Newly available tax returns reveal the generous compensation the Los Angeles Philharmonic awards its top artistic and chief executives: Gustavo Dudamel and Deborah Borda, respectively. The numbers were reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The orchestra's 2009 return shows Borda’s annual compensation at $1,397,746. Dudamel’s annual salary for his first full year, 2010, won’t be made public until next year, but salary and benefits for a partial year (the conductor took up his post as artistic director in October of 2009) totaled $394,580. While the Philharmonic's chief operating officer made it clear that Dudamel’s 2010 annual salary wouldn’t simply be his partial salary times four, his predecessor Esa-Pekka Salonen, made upwards of $1.5 million, indicative of the orchestra’s financial well-being.

Borda is largely to thank. Admired among colleagues and a veteran of the New York Philharmonic, her record in Los Angeles includes increasing orchestra assets from $7.3 million to $134.7 million over her ten-year tenure. The growth in concert revenue, donations and general publicity through the completion of Walt Disney Hall and the hiring of Dudamel -- a young and charismatic figure -- all allowed Borda to increase staff and musician compensation 29 percent in real dollars over the last decade.

In addition to showing the most growth in net assets, L.A. also enjoys the largest spending budget ($96.9 million) amongst its competitors -- the Boston Symphony ($83.7 million), the New York Philharmonic ($77.3 million) and the San Francisco Symphony ($71.6 million).

The corporate-level compensation plateaus a bit when put in context with the salaries of high-paid music directors, whose 2009 earnings also became public recently:

• Charles Dutoit, $1.83 million
• Michael Tilson Thomas, $1.8 million
• Deborah Borda, $1.39 million
• James Conlon, $1.23 million
• Franz Welser-Moest, $1.07 million
• Gustavo Dudamel, $395,000 for partial year
• Alan Gilbert, $539,000 for partial year
• James Levine, $1.49 million from the Met Opera, plus $1.32 million from the Boston Symphony

While Borda and Dudamel seem to be proving their worth, salaries like these clearly represent the "one percent” of people employed in classical music. What do these numbers mean to you? Leave your comments on these financial findings in the box below.

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Comments [14]

Ron Arnason from PORTLAND


Dec. 20 2015 02:21 PM
Ed Papson from NY/NJ area

I applaud the financial success of Gustavo Dudamel,Deborah Borda and anyone else that benefits from their Art. We cannot have anything without money and
need the public to repeatedly buy tickets, obtain sponsorships from business and accumulate generous private donors & benefactors. This is a competitive world and only the best survive. I hope their example will inspire other artists to work hard and excel. There is nothing wrong with being a millionaire musician and having a great life. Ignore the critics.

May. 12 2015 03:28 PM
AL from Planet Earth

Simply disgusting. Everything seems to come down to money and greed these days.

A reason why as an orchestral player I left and never went back to this profession. While we are the ones who actually make the music onstage, glorifed bandmasters and orchestral management make fortunes. Where is the logic in this?

Mar. 05 2013 04:01 PM

Lily -- in fact the LA orchestra players and leads are among the highest paid in the country as well, and make a very comfortable living. Many of them also hold positions as professors, too. How else would you suggest retaining the best musicians to create a great orchestra? As Carlos from Venezuela says, baseball players or football players earn ten times as much. Perhaps I am biased, but I think being a musician requires just as much (if not more) intensive training, and much more brain activity.

Winston... sounds like you have an axe to grind... Not quite sure what point attacking Dudamel makes for you, or what it has to do with Hollywood culture. Mostly, it just makes you sound uneducated. You talk about Dudamel's "false humility." What makes you think that it is false? I think he's actually a really genuine, nice guy. And although he is not a perfect English speaker, he manages to communicate his ideas to the orchestra extremely well -- they all comment about that when you ask them about what it is like to work with him. In fact, I haven't heard anybody who has performed under his baton complain about not being clear about what he wants. A vibrant personality like his is just what is needed to bring in new audiences, and he has done that exceedingly well during his time in Los Angeles.

Aug. 15 2012 11:20 AM

We know the LA Phil is trying to get all the milk out of the cow to break even, however if we have to read any more nonsense about this albino dwarf with the dimples and the afro, we are going to vomit. Oh! who are we? the unpaid lovers of classical music, this shit is getting old.

I have a suggestion, instead of Gustavo's false humility, (on our dime, paying every Venezuelan to travel with him) teach that overpaid, 31 year old adolescent, carpetbagger to at least be able to articulate about the art he is getting paid so well to perform, the Dude hasn't a clue, that boring smile and acrobatic is getting old. The money the LA Phil is spending on this joker is insane. A free music program is nice,but faux free for the poor lines the pockets of the snakes,much like war makes the rich richer murderers with no conscience, you classical thugs should be ashamed of yourselves. Hollyweird the land of human bile, filled with phonies,pedophiles, closet gays with wives for curtins, and drug addicts, where most classical low living is covered up with NFP money. Debbie you and your gladd administration are nothing but classical sewage and all the designer cloths, gliz, faux glamour and blood money will not erase the bath house behavior of this rotting cesspool.

May. 02 2012 12:52 PM

Carlos, i forgive your comment, because you are from Venezuela.

Apr. 21 2012 09:16 AM

Lilly, i assume when you say playing other composers music you mean having no abilities to compose. I agree with you these conductors are playing the same music by the great composers of yesterday, but thank God some of it is so beautiful it stands the test of time, the only way to ruin it is the conductor not intelligent enough to convey the piece. All orchestras should be set up like Berlin and Vienna and get rid of the Gelb, Volpe, and the like that hemorrhage the funds, i would love to see them all in jail and their stolen possessions auctioned off, because they stole it from the players and people. As for Pletnev, his kind always go to poor countries to rape little boys, that low life septic tank, he should die in jail, to prey on children, he is no better than the catholic church, disgusting.

Apr. 18 2012 09:52 AM
lilly from U. S. A.

For a non profit organization the salaries of these overpaid pampered conductors is disgusting, what do the orchestra leads and players receive? I love music like most people but these nfp orchestras go bankrupt because of greed and half of the conductors don't know when to retire because they are living large of the people. These baton waving charlatans need to die, Classical music? they need to change the name the word class does not apply, this klan of greedy, surly, pedophile (pletnev) over pumped, over paid , racist, head bobbing, lolly pop licking, untalented, playing other composers music make the art a bad smelling septic tank, they care nothing for art they are artless dressed up zombies, that at best should be digging graves, preferably their own.

Apr. 17 2012 11:04 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

Perhaps Ms. Borda would be willing to share her expertise with the ailing Los Angeles Dodgers franchise.

Nov. 10 2011 07:01 AM

David, thanks for the alert on the typo. It's been fixed. Our copy editor clearly wasn't getting his usual conductor's salary today.

Nov. 09 2011 01:01 PM

I doubt anyone will ever go into classical music for the money, but it's good to hear that it can be rewarding. I'm with Carlos.
BTW, typo on the home page: But highly-paid conductors are are a more universal phenomenon.

Nov. 09 2011 09:43 AM

I'm sorry to hear it. My admiration suddenly has dollar signs in front of it.

Nov. 09 2011 09:39 AM
Carlos Bendayan from Caracas, Venezuela

Their salaries are well deserved.
Any mediocre baseball or football player earns much more than these distinguished musicians.

Nov. 08 2011 12:03 PM
Michael Meltzer

You know, these days, break a thousand-dollar bill and it's gone !

Nov. 07 2011 06:49 PM

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