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Boston Symphony Orchestra to cut musician pay, furlough staffers

BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons led a concert at Symphony Hall last year. Musicians will take an average pay cut of 25 percent through August while Nelsons won't be paid for canceled concerts.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Boston Symphony Orchestra announced a series of cost-saving measures on Friday, including pay reductions for musicians and furloughs for full-time staffers.

The news followed a steady stream of BSO concert cancellations due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. First to go was a February tour to Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Also canceled were the Boston Pops spring season and the last two months of the 2019-20 subscription season. BSO ranks as the state’s largest performing arts organization with a planned budget of $104 million for fiscal year 2020. With a total of 130 events lost between March 12 and mid-June, the organization reported more than $10 million in revenue losses. The BSO says concert cancellations alone cost the 139-year-old orchestra $6.2 million.


Unionized BSO musicians agreed to salary reductions through the end of August, averaging 25 percent per player. Musicians also restructured vacation time for the next two years, which will lead to “significant savings” according to the organization’s announcement. And they tweaked the media rights agreement in their contract, allowing the orchestra to use archival footage during the concert hiatus.

Additionally, the organization will furlough 70 full-time staffers starting April 20 through May 31. A significant portion of workers will take a five to 15 percent salary reduction, with 80 percent of the staff being affected by furloughs and cuts. Four hundred part-time employees were previously furloughed due to concert and event cancellations.

“I am forever grateful to everyone here at the BSO who has expressed such grace and understanding regarding the difficult measures we’ve needed to take,” said BSO President and CEO Mark Volpe in a prepared statement, “...though I don’t underestimate in the least the hardship and challenges these cutbacks will create for many of my colleagues.”

Volpe also took a 50 percent pay reduction through Aug. 31. According to the BSO’s most recent tax filings, he made $995,320 in the fiscal year ending August 2018. Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart will also “take a substantial cut in his compensation,” according to the statement. BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons will not be compensated for canceled performances. According to a spokesperson, Nelsons is paid a music director fee but makes more from per-concert earnings.


The BSO’s payroll cuts follow a barrage of similar announcements from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Ballet, and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. According to two statewide surveys conducted in the past month by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, arts organizations are planning to layoff, furlough, or cut hours for over 15,000 employees due to the coronavirus shutdown.

“To everyone affected by COVID-19, we extend our most sincere wish that this period of health crisis passes soon," Volpe said in his statement. “We look towards a brighter future and returning to our cherished experiences of music’s power to unite us again as the BSO community.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_.

Diti Kohli can be reached at her @ditikohli_.