As I mentioned in the previous post on musicians' earnings, it's not easy to find out how much British orchestras pay. But from what little information is publically available, the conclusion must be that it's a lot less than the six-figure salaries offered in the US.
The majority of British musicians aren't even salaried as such at all - freelance arrangements prevail in many of the top UK orchestras. That means they are paid only for the concerts (and related rehearsals) they play in. Freelancers' pay may on the face of it appear a little higher, but they tend to do without certain benefits that salaried employees take for granted - pensions, sick pay and paid maternity leave amongst them.
A few British orchestras do put their musicians on the payroll. They include the BBC Orchestras, CBSO, ENO Orchestra, Hallé, Opera North Orchestra, RLPO, RSNO, Scottish Opera Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra and Welsh National Opera Orchestra. In these organisations, the majority of the musicians are salaried, and freelancers will be brought in as and when necessary to cover.
The wage agreements of these salary-paying orchestras are not publically available, but a look at their annual financial statements gives a good idea of what pay levels are like.
The Halle Orchestra's accounts, for example, show that for the year to 31 March 2009, there were 107 employees, including 77 orchestral musicians, with a total salary bill of £3,231,000 - making an average of about £30,000 a year. The CBSO's accounts (which also include a detailed costs breakdown) show a similar picture, with an annual orchestral pay bill of about £3m.
For some other organisations it's harder to work out what's going on. Amongst the most secretive are the ENO, whose accounts for the year to 31 March 2008 (the most recent they have made available), show there were 391 employees including 82 music staff with a total pay bill of £10,847,000. That's it, no further details.
But for the majority of orchestras, freelance arrangements prevail. Many of these organisations subscribe to the pay agreement of the Association of British Orchestras (ABO). This provides for minimum basic rates, which individual orchestras may exceed if they wish. Names who have signed up include the LSO, LPO, RPO and Philharmonia, as well as more specialised ensembles such as the OAE, BCMG, London Sinfonietta, Britten Sinfonia and English Baroque Soloists.
The ABO freelance arrangement is that musicians get paid a flat rate for a concert plus rehearsal, with additional half-rate pay for extra rehearsals, and various allowances for expenses such as travel, subsistence, instrument porterage and so on.
The 2008/9 agreement imposes minimum rates varying between £81.45 (a tutti player with one of the smaller ensembles) to £149.20 (a Section Principal with one of the big London orchestras).
That's not per hour.
It covers a concert of up to 3 hours length, plus an associated rehearsal of up to 3 hours - basically a full day's work. Together with additional rehearsal pay and expense allowances, the total earned over a year would be broadly similar to the salaried arrangements already mentioned. And of course musicians of all types may in some cases be able to earn extra income by teaching, recording or moonlighting in other ensembles.
With British orchestras struggling to fill halls and keep ticket prices down to a level audiences can afford, it's hard to see how they could realistically pay more. But it must be hard for British musicians not to look enviously upon the comparatively astronomical pay of their American counterparts.