Even when making music in Virginia horse country on a summer evening, maestro Lorin Maazel can still grab Manhattan’s attention.
Last Friday, the 80-year-old conductor took the stage at a music festival he hosts on his 550-acre farm in Castleton, Virginia, leading George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”
A few hours earlier, the New York Philharmonic released its tax return for the year that ended in August 2009. The last page of the e-mailed document revealed that Maazel earned nearly $3.3 million in his final season as music director of the orchestra.
That was a $514,038 raise from a year earlier. The Philharmonic itself didn’t do so well: During the same period, it incurred an operating deficit of $4.6 million.
“It’s outrageous,” said Alan Gordon, the head of the American Guild of Musical Artists, a union that represents singers, dancers and production staff and doesn’t do business with the Philharmonic. “While symphonies, dance and opera companies are having financial difficulties, for the Philharmonic to pay that kind of money to anyone is outrageous.”
A Philharmonic spokeswoman declined requests to explain why the retiring senior podium champ received a 19 percent boost. (The pay was nearly six times the $501,519 earned by Concertmaster Glenn Dicterow.) The orchestra’s other big payouts included $457,712 to Opus 3 Artists, an artist management firm, and compensation of $334,842 to Philip Myers, the principal French horn player and soloist.
The orchestra would not reveal the compensation of Maazel’s successor, Alan Gilbert. This will, however, be documented in the fullness of time, at the latest by the next tax return. Gary Parr, a vice chairman of Lazard Ltd. and chairman of the Philharmonic, didn’t return an e-mail request for an interview.
Maazel’s compensation illustrates that even after financial markets pummeled endowments, seven-figure paychecks survived at the country’s premiere performing-arts organizations.
Michael Kaiser, president of Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and a consultant to cultural organizations, said that leaders are responsible for maintaining fiscal health as well as creating great art.
“Are they paying me too much?” asked Kaiser, who earned $1.1 million in the year that ended in September 2008 and has presided over consistent budget surpluses. “That’s for the board to decide. If I were running deficits, I’d say absolutely they’re paying too much.” He added that he isn’t familiar enough with the Philharmonic organization and board to comment on their situation.
The Philharmonic is projected to run another deficit of about $4.6 million this season, which ends on Aug. 31.
Zarin Mehta, 71, the president and executive director of the Philharmonic, earned $1 million in 2008, according to the return. He made $807,000 this season, the spokeswoman said.
The case for rich salaries in the nonprofit-arts sector is based partly on the small pool of available stars. Organizations must pay up to attract top talent.
That argument in U.S. classical music has lost some steam. Kaiser points out that the recording industry remains in the doldrums, offering less competing work for conductors and soloists. And European symphonies, another competitor, are under pressure as governments reduce subsidies.
Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, a Mahwah, New Jersey, nonprofit that evaluates the financial health of other nonprofits, argues that it’s seldom necessary to pay top dollar.
“It presumes that the primary motivator is dollars and cents,” he said. “The evidence I see is that there are many motivators.”
Indeed, Maazel himself is exhibit No. 1 on this point. The evidence is the tax return for the Chateauville Foundation, Maazel’s labor of love that stages his annual Castleton Festival and offers master classes for conductors. It ends this weekend.
Maazel’s pay there, according to the return and confirmed by a festival spokeswoman: $0.