You can't put a price on genius. But when it comes in the form of a world-renowned maestro, the bill usually tops $1 million.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is no exception: Superstar conductor Riccardo Muti earned about $2.2 million in salary, performance fees, and recording and broadcast fees in 2011, his first full calendar year with the symphony, according to a CSO estimate provided to the Tribune this week -- the first time Muti's annual pay has been made public.
CSO Association President Deborah Rutter said Muti, who became CSO music director Sept. 1, 2010, "has brought to the CSO and Chicago a musical genius and charisma that has transformed the musical landscape of our city and the classical music world."
Contributions and ticket revenue reached all-time highs this year at the CSO.
"The musicians continue to be head over heels in love with their music director," Rutter said, "and we have seen that pride extend throughout the city."
Conductors' responsibilities vary widely from city to city and from conductor to conductor. For example, Muti's predecessor, Daniel Barenboim, earned $1.9 million in his last full tax year, 2005, but some of that payment was for work as a soloist. In addition to conducting the CSO, Barenboim, who left the CSO in June 2006, was also a renowned pianist.
San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas earned $2.41 million, and the Metropolitan Opera paid conductor James Levine $2.06 million in tax year 2010 (which lasts from mid-2010 to mid-2011). Orchestras in Boston, New York and Philadelphia also paid out more than $1 million to conductors that year.
Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel earned $985,363 in salary and benefits for tax year 2010, also his first full year.
Muti's contract runs through August 2015. When he missed five weeks of concerts in late 2010 and early 2011 due to illness, he continued to receive his music director salary but did not receive performance fees.
Oak Park-based arts consultant Drew McManus said Muti's pay is "entirely in line with comparable budget size orchestras."
McManus said that in an ideal situation the benefits of a good maestro more than pay for its cost, since "that artistic momentum will help ticket sales, donations, and -- especially important for an orchestra of the CSO's size -- (attract) national sponsors."
Whether that happens, he said, is "the $2 million dollar question, and it really depends on each individual group."
Rutter said Muti's arrival "has bolstered earned and contributed revenues for the CSO."
Like many orchestras around the country, the CSO faces some financial difficulties, including two straight years of operating losses and a 48-hour musician strike in September.
The current base salary for CSO musicians is $145,860, a spokeswoman said. Principals can make well over $200,000 with benefits, tax forms show.
Muti's job entails conducting 10 weeks of subscription concerts per year (about one third of the CSO's season) as well as domestic and international tours. His compensation includes performance fees paid for all such appearances. (Conducting the CSO at Ravinia is not part of his job.)
The maestro also participates in auditions and appointments to the orchestra and in "community engagement programs," according to a CSO statement, and he is responsible for programming decisions and "the overall artistic vision for the institution." A spokeswoman noted that Muti donates his performance fees for two concerts per year back to the CSO.
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