The New York Times raises the question of just who benefits from a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall:

Christoph Eschenbach will conduct Sunday at the benefit featuring the Chinese pianist Lang Lang, top, and Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra.

Even if the event’s nearly $200,000 worth of tickets sell out, less than $8,000 from the sales will go to the cause. The concert, though, is expected to raise some money, thanks mainly to a $50,000 subsidy by the Montblanc company and $10,000 by CAMI Music, the concert’s presenter and Mr. Lang’s management agency. Montblanc had promised to help pay for the concert well before it was transformed into a benefit, a decision made at Mr. Lang’s request. The performers, including Mr. Lang, are waiving their fees.

…If anything, an examination of the Carnegie Hall concert’s finances demonstrates just how expensive it is to make music in New York, especially at the hall.

…Overhead at Carnegie accounts for about one-third of the expenses. The hall costs $13,785 to rent. Then there is $6,315 for ushers; $2,300 for security; and $42,535 for stagehand labor, long recognized as a major cost of doing business at the institution.

Carnegie is donating the $1,875 cost of a sound system and $780 for other audio equipment, both added when Wyclef Jean, the Haitian musician, agreed to join Mr. Lang in a duet. Most of the other expenses are for marketing, publicity and transportation.

…Marketing costs include $52,000 in advertisements in The New York Times at discounted nonprofit rates, Ms. Boudanoque said. The Times, a spokeswoman said, does not comment on advertising rates because of the many variables involved.

Stagehands at Carnegie make a lot of money, as insiders know. Advertising in the New York Times is expensive, which most people would probably assume. I wonder if the promoters of this concert tried to make a case to IATSE and the NYT that they should donate their services.

This story does provide a cautionary lesson to musicians, though: when donating services for a benefit concert, it’s worth asking if everyone else is donating their services as well. In some circumstances, at least, the answer should be “yes” before musicians agree to work for free.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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