Orchestra pay plan would make Johnny One Note really poor
Date: March 25 2004
By Joyce Morgan
"Too many notes," was the verdict of Austria's Emperor Franz Joseph II after Mozart premiered his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio.
And now the string section of a German orchestra has taken a leaf out of the emperor's book, declaring it wants more money than the brass section because it plays more notes.
The claim has caused discord and amusement among colleagues in Australia, who came up with alternative ways to calculate pay.
Among their suggestions were waiting time for timpani players who, like taxi drivers, sit around for long interludes on the job, or payment by tremolo for fiddlers.
The claim, by Bonn's Beethoven Orchestra, was unlikely to succeed, according to the Sydney Symphony's principal viola player, Roger Benedict.
"The brass are the bully boys of the orchestra," he said. "Once they hear about it they'll make [the strings] retract it." He suggested violas, not brass, should be paid the top dollar. "Because we have to listen to their jokes. We're the butt of them."
The Bonn musicians, who have asked the courts to rule on the claim, are paid more than double the Sydney Symphony's starting salary of about $60,000.
No one disputes the string section plays the most notes, but quantity is not the point. Brass and woodwind players are potential soloists. If they hit a duff note or miss a beat it is far more noticeable.
The pressure on them is far greater, according to Peter Kyng, a former Sydney Symphony bass clarinettist and ex-president of the players committee. "If you're one of 10 [violin] players playing exactly the same part, there's nothing like the stress on you as if you're the principal trumpet, where every single note is heard," Mr Kyng said.
He recalls how colleagues' jibes about how Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony was a goldmine for the bass clarinettist. "The bass clarinet only plays five notes, but they are totally solo, the whole orchestra stops. They all used to joke that each note was worth $200."
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