In my post yesterday I was trying to make the point that when you compare top conductor salaries to other persons in elite positions throughout the professional world, they don’t look so massive. Also I made the point that in professional orchestras, the difference between front-line employees (orchestral musicians) and top management (MD and ED) is quite small compared to other fields. I think this is a good thing- the differences between the haves and have-nots in this society have become truly obscene. I do think that in music the gap between haves and have-nots across organizations are unseemly at best.

In my last post on this, I made the argument that the folks at the top of the food chain deserve to make big money- just as their peers in other fields do. However, being at the top of the food chain in any field carries an awesome responsibility. When a world famous soloist comes and plays a recital in a university town, he or she might charge as much as $70,000 for a single performance. That is probably twice what the full-time music faculty in the community make in a year, and more than the music-department budget for rentals, guest artists and master classes for a decade. If they happen to play magnificently, even transcendently, it can lift the whole community’s sense of what music is worth and spur investment in local music education, the university, the orchestra. However, should that instrumentalist come in and play like they are bored to tears and anxious to get back to their burgeoning conducting career (everybody has one these days!), or, worse yet, if their intonation sounds like they’ve been studying scores rather than practicing scales, the effect on the whole community can be catastrophic.

I guess the interesting question for me when looking at those who have the good fortune to be paid extraordinarily well is this– Are they lifting the boat for everyone by making their work a beacon to the industry and the larger society, or are they not delivering the goods?

Take an instance which is more subtle than just money. Gergiev is one of the few conductors out their who really rules his own castle- Kirov marches to his tune top to bottom, but when you look at what that institution has done over the last 15 years it is hard to say he hasn’t delivered the goods. He’s become an example of how letting the artists control, or at least have a visionary voice in, the direction of an artistic institution can work not only artistically but financially, and maybe that means that other organizations are more likely to go that route as opposed to creating layers of bureaucracy in administration.

However, how many boards, orchestra musicians, volunteers and music lovers have been let down by someone who didn’t deliver the goods?

Concerts matter. Results matter.

We’ve got to deliver. The best way to advance classical music is to give better concerts.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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