Magazine article The Spectator

Music Counting the Cost

Magazine article The Spectator

Music Counting the Cost

Article excerpt

The arrival of the Proms prospectus, with its glamorous pictures of the stars of today, makes me wonder how much those very palatable-looking people are costing the BBC.

The question is prompted by the style of the photography - the sexing up of the Weapons of Mass Destruction dossier has nothing on how string players enjoy curling round their instruments. It is all a far cry from the stolid, besuited look classical musicians used to affect, as if one could trust them to get their passagework right while delivering mature interpretations of intellectually taxing repertoire. The modern version says nothing if it doesn't say expensive.

The issue of what the leading names in classical music can charge was addressed recently in an article in Classical Music magazine. It is acknowledged that getting precise figures out of agents on this topic is an inexact science, but I'll jump in straight away and recount my own experience of about ten years ago with those who represented a leading soprano of the day who we wanted to sing alongside us at a world premiere in Birmingham. The standard cost was about £50,000, to which had to be added a small publication of extra conditions, stipulating class of travel and accommodation, down to what should be in the refrigerator backstage. Just for good measure it transpired that she couldn't sing the part, which the composer had to rewrite for her. The concert was cancelled.

One might have thought that after all the financial crises of recent years the asking rate might have come down, and in every category outside the super league it certainly has. But for the lucky few the sky seems to be the limit: the highest earner listed is Yo-Yo Ma at £63,275 per appearance, followed by Lang Lang at £47,485. Two violinists - Maxim Vengerov and Anne-Sophie Mutter - come in at £31,645 and £33,330 respectively. Antonio Pappano is reputedly on a salary of £600,000 at Covent Garden.

Add Dudamel, Barenboim, Gergiev, Jansons, Rattle, Domingo, Nigel Kennedy and Dawn Upshaw, and you have a very special society.

What interests me about this is that although these people are sometimes paid dream sums of money - I guess they are the highest earners classical music has ever seen - they are not as absolutely famous as some of their predecessors. I don't have figures for what Karajan was paid, but it is true to say that no one working now is as internationally pre-eminent as he was, and never will be. …

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