posted by James Reel
Americans routinely decry the multi-million-dollar contracts awarded professional athletes, yet remain fixated on pro sports. I wonder if Americans would be more interested in classical music if we threw more money at the leading conductors; at least we'd have something more to complain about.
Not that the nation's top-tier music directors are making nearly as much as America's top athletes, but neither are they in any danger of applying for food stamps. The Los Angeles Times has posted an interesting article about how the L.A. Philharmonic's bottom line has risen--coincidentally or not--along with the salary of music director Gustavo Dudamel, who pulled in a bit more than $985,000 in salary and benefits in 2010 (the latest year for which nonprofit tax records are easily available for public inspection). As they say, you've got to spend money to make money, and it seems to be working on Los Angeles.
Dudamel is by no means the highest-paid music director in America. The newspaper offers as a sidebar a summary of the compensation for some other high-profile conductors (note the presence of Charles Dutoit at the Philadelphia Orchestra; he makes big bucks, even though he is not filling the position of music director). Of the conductors listed (the table omits several leading figures), the man who's raking in the most dough from a single job is the San Francisco Symphony's Michael Tilson Thomas, who earned $2.41 million, according to the most recent available tax returns.
Compare that to the more common world of regional orchestras. According to the Tucson Symphony's 2009 report, George Hanson earned $117,434 in salary and $4068 in other compensation. (Susan Franano, who was then the orchestra's executive director, drew a salary of $87,841 and other compensation of $19,553.)
Oddly, the salaries for the music director, executive director, and chief financial officer are not listed in Part VII of the TSO's 2010 Form 990, although they ought to be. Surely they're not working for free? Maybe it is time for them to apply for food stamps.