Boston Symphony Orchestra flautist files lawsuit over unequal pay

Originally published at:


Good. I hope they do get raked over the coals for this. There is literally no reason for the pay gap to exist. None. This is only going to change if employers (in any field) realize that there are actual consequences to not paying people the same for the same job.



So how much is she being paid? Is that equivalent? Is the 75% number based versus the oboist or the concert master (which appears to be equivalent to the supervisor role). How often were the others used in promotional materials? What is the ratio to soloist performances to regular performances for them?

Not saying she isn’t worth more to them, but this snippet (NPR won’t play nice with my sane ad/script blocking so can’t comment on full article) doesn’t have enough numbers for a real comparison to make an informed opinion.


Sexism aside, I wonder how they come up with these salaries, is there some kind of graph that shows how important an instrument is in the repertoire, how long the musician has been with the BSO, how often they are features soloist, etc.? Seems to me flute would outrank timpani, and probably oboe too.


It’s bloody embarrassing that in the year 2018 this musician still has to file a lawsuit over such an egregious pay differential for what appears from the article to be equivalent work. A reminder to all (esp. in GA, VA, and NC) that the Equal Rights Amendment, as of 30 May, is one state away from ratification.


Yes, we always must cast doubt on a woman’s claims that a man doing comparable work is getting paid more than she is until all the facts are in. Harrumph!

insert favorite eyeroll gif


Plenty of those facts he wanted were in the article, so there was no need to wait on most of them before commenting.


So how much is she being paid? Is that equivalent? Is the 75% number based versus the oboist or the concert master (which appears to be equivalent to a supervisor role).

“Rowe’s having a similar job to Ferrillo but only making 75% of what he earns a year?” - BoingBoing excerpt, emphasis added

How often were the others used in promotional materials? What is the ratio to soloist performances to regular performances for them?

“According to her suit, she has been profiled as a soloist with the orchestra 27 times in the years since she was hired — more than any other BSO principal musician —” - BoingBoing excerpt, emphasis added

I’m all for digging for the details (and the NPR article does indeed cover additional details, and I’m not sure what script blocker is preventing you from seeing things because their site is all internal), but there was more than enough information from the excerpt right here on this site to say, “Yeah, something definitely doesn’t look right.”

There’s no need to make excuses or justify here. They are doing substantially similar jobs and are not receiving substantially similar pay. Furthermore, it appears she is even doing more and being used more to sell tickets and support than he is, which is part of what goes into the pay calculation for a first chair. Both of their instruments are consistently within the top 5 of top paid instruments in symphonies. So the only differentiating factor that we’re able to see is… gender. Funny thing, that.

The NPR covers more about blind auditions (where the hiring team does not see the auditioning musician, can only hear them) and how the BSO was involved in a documentary-episode regarding blind auditions and how BSO was on the leading edge of using them to increase diversity, so… you can see why this is a Thing.


Thing is, even THIS guy gets paid more than the head flautist who’s suing.

okay, just kidding!


Now THAT would be a convincing argument!!!

There are a lot of factors that go into principal pay in orchestras. The concertmaster one is irrelevant to this situation, because it’s a different job that would be considered a higher rank. The way this works is that section players are all paid the same pretty much according to a union scale. Principals typically negotiate a higher salary, and what that ends up being depends on, drum roll please, leverage. Looking at his bio, he was previously principal of the Met Opera Orchestra, and I was guessing that’s where the rub is. If you want to lure top talent from another top orchestra, you gotta match and raise. Looking at Elizabeth Rowe’s however, she came from National Symphony, which is top rank but not quite the Met (perhaps that’s more reputation than reality, but it matters in negotiations). My guess is she either didn’t negotiate well, or maybe she was more eager to leave her previous post than Ferillo was. Who knows. The bottom line is they are going to pay you as little as they can get away with, and you have the right to try to get as much as you can.

Another weird thing is that unlike complaints from other industries about pay gagging, most of these sorts will be pretty open about it, at least with other principals, either because they want their salary to be justified by everyone else’s (don’t want the new person coming in to settle for 1.5 scale when you have worked hard to make management think the job should pay double scale) or because they have ridiculous egos and love to brag about how valuable and irreplaceable they are.

Having said that, it’s hard for lower level players such as myself to feel bad for any of these egotistical prima donnas. I’d rather see the section players get a little more. If this lawsuit helps dismantle this system, more power to her, though it might end up having the effect of less money overall going to the musicians as a whole (orchestras aren’t going to pony up an exorbitant amount to lure a player from another orchestra if they know they will then have to pay everyone that amount)


Principal flute and oboe are equivalent, despite the occasional oboist (eta: or flautist!) who thinks they are the leader of the wind section.


Word, testify. Around here I hear constant moaning and whining about cultural institutions not being able to make ends meet because people are so uncultured, so it annoys me no end to see ludicrously high salaries paid to a few (typically egoist asshole) performers while team players get stiffed.

I mean, really, $415 grand for a concertmaster from $41.4 million gross event revenues? (note total salary outlay far exceeds concert revenues, only donations and grants are keeping BSO afloat.)


Oboes is heavy!/s


Take it easy, there. Any way you slice it, there’s 20+ violins and only 2 flutes in the orchestra. The ratio of violin to flute players in the “general public” is nowhere near 10:1. Competition and scarcity matter.

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I wish the journalism in the NPR article was more thorough. We are not told Rowe’s salary, but can more or less work it out for ourselves as we are given Ferrillo’s salary, and told that Rowe “is paid approximately 75 percent of his earnings”.
We are told that Rowe was hired with the symphony in 2004, and that Ferillo has been playing alongside her for 14 years, and was on the committee that hired her.
They do not say how initial salaries are determined, or whether seniority affects wages. Do Ferillo’s other duties ( such as being on the hiring committee) affect his wages?
I cannot tell from the data in the article whether her case is justified or not.
I do know that I want that sweet concertmaster job.


I think the stress that comes with the sweet concertmaster job is pretty huge. Plus, the competition to get it is monstrous.

Most orchestras have some form of seniority pay, but it is usually insignificant amounts. Being on an audition committee would similarly be a trivial amount.


If the BSO’s competition are paying women less than men in the balance, then that reduces the leverage of all women applicants, including Rowe. It remains sexist. The Invisible Hand doesn’t magically seek a just outcome, it seeks a socially tolerated outcome that emerges not from the actions of perfectly rational unbiased actors, but of participants embedded in prevailing cultural prejudices.

Sexism against the overpaid is still sexism and inextricably intertwined with sexism against the underpaid. Why would a desire to see headliners’ ability to negotiate for pay disproportionate to the rank and file dismantled prevent wanting sexist pay gaps at all brackets to also be dismantled? These don’t appear to be in any way contradictory, and while your empathy is entirely your business, surely not feeling bad about individuals doesn’t preclude taking exception to the sexism of gender pay gaps that effect everyone including those individuals.