Deborah Borda, general director of the L.A. Philharmonic, makes more than $1 million per year.
  • Deborah Borda, general director of the L.A. Philharmonic, makes more than $1 million per year.
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Is nonprofit status a good thing for classical music? It’s the standard model in the United States, but does that mean it’s the best model?

I’ve been watching some content from an entrepreneur named Gary Vaynerchuk. His energy and message are starting to gain significant traction.

I believe the appropriate term is that he is "blowing up." I must admit that I find his approach to be inspiring. I began thinking about whether or not classical music organizations could benefit from his approach.


Simon Sinek

"Your Why versus the Company's Why & Always Being Yourself"

"Your Why versus the Company's Why & Always Being Yourself"

The initial thought I had was, “What if this guy ran an opera or orchestra company?” Then I realized it would never work because of the nonprofit thing. No one with that much juice is going to want to deal with being nonprofit.

Classical music could definitely benefit from having an entrepreneurial spirit, but what high level entrepreneur is going to go into an industry where only three executives make seven figures?

Follow the money has more than one meaning. An entrepreneur is going to follow the money and classical music is lagging when it comes to dollars.

Which three executives make north of $1 million per year? Deborah Borda of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Peter Gelb of the Metropolitan Opera, and former director of the San Francisco Opera, David Gockley.

Of the three, Deborah Borda is the superstar. According to the L.A. Times, as of 2011 she increased the orchestra’s assets from $7.3 million to $134.7 million in what was then a ten-year span that included the great recession.

As much success as the L.A. Philharmonic has had, how many will read that Borda makes over $1 million per year and think that it’s inappropriate? I’m guessing at least half and probably more.


I think there is a general perception that no one should get rich off of the arts because of the aspects of charitable donation and government support. This brings me back to the idea of whether or not nonprofit status is a good thing even though it is the thing.

Would a for-profit classical music company work? There have been a few cases where it has gone well. Andre Rieu comes to mind as does von Karajan’s Telemondial. Pavarotti and the Three Tenors also succeeded far beyond the opera house.

These examples all have a media component that appealed to popular culture beyond the standard orchestra or opera season subscription approach. Of course, a big part of the L.A. Philharmonic’s success is wrapped up in the Hollywood Bowl, which is also a long way from a traditional setting.

That the San Diego Symphony is developing a permanent home on the Embarcadero waterfront bodes well for the future of our local organization. If a Hollywood Bowl or Tanglewood type tradition can be established it will solidify the classical music presence in San Diego.

For now we are stuck with the nonprofit model, but it may have run its course. A for-profit organization that produces and markets its product as such might be the future. The problem facing classical music is not the music itself.

Generation after generation continues to respond to the music. The problem is how the music is packaged and presented.

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