Artikel Jan Pustjens en Jim Gordon

Submitted by Michel on 2/8/2012 1:25:40 PM   Last updated by Michel on 2/8/2012 1:34:49 PM






by Jan Pustjens and Jim Gordon


The Netherlands (also called

Holland) is roughly the size of the state

of New Jersey, yet the Dutch government

supports the activities of 21 professional

orchestras! Don't pack your

bags and buy a one-way ticket. There's

lots more.

The 21 orchestras are broken down

into the following groups: 13 of the orchestras

are considered symphony orchestras.

There is 1 ballet orchestra, 1

orchestra for the production of opera

in smaller cities, and finally I chamber

orchestra and 5 radio orchestras.

The basic 13 orchestras are classified

in still another manner. Four orchestras

represent the largest Dutch

cities. The Concertgebouw Orchestra

of Amsterdam is the national orchestra

as well as representing the city, but a

sister group, the Amsterdam Philharmonic

also exists and has just as busy

a concert schedule. In addition the

cities of Rotterdam and the Hague also

have their own orchestras. The big 3

(Concertgebouw, Rotterdam, and the

Hague) are allotted 114 players by the

government and include 1 timpanist

plus 4 percussionists, one of whom

acts as associate timpanist to fill in for

the solo player from time to time.

These groups have the most visible

profile outside of Holland and do a

regular amount of touring while the

Concertgebouw has the most recording

sessions in addition to concert and

touring services.

This leaves 9 orchestras which are

classified as provincial orchestras.

These are spread out all over the country

and have their own work terrain and

pUblic. The provincial orchestras

usually are around 72 musicians

strong although this varies slightly

from city to city. 1 timpanist and 2 percussion

is the standard set-up with one

of the percussionists doubling on timpani.

The provincial orchestras play in

those "places you've never heard of"

and do alot of short run-out concerts.

Furthermore these ensembles do

school concerts and quite a bit of

choral accompaniments with amateur



This is an aspect of European

musical life which boggles the mind of

most American musicians. Every coun.

try has a national broadcasting service

which has at their disposal at least one

musical ensemble. Hilversum, Holland

is a small Dutch town 20 minutes on

the train from Amsterdam, and the

home of the Dutch Radio. Every morn.

ing, close to 400 musicians invade the

various studios and form 2 symphonic

ensembles, 1 chamber orchestra, 1 orchestra

which does alot of operetta,

musical, and light music programs

and 1 jazz orchestra (complete with

strings) which does TV, etc. In the past

most of these orchestras were confined

to the studio but they are all now

giving a series of performances in

public concert halls throughout the

country. Much of the radio's work consists

of recording unknown and new

pieces, consequently they have an

enormous inventory of percussion instruments

available, and have a

budgetary freedom which would make

us all green with envy. Conductors

often come with pieces that not only

need 13 extra players, but 4 sets of

chains, 8 thunder sheets and 16 rototoms

as well! The radio orchestras are

truly one of the great differences between

American and European musical

life. To the best of my knowledge

nothing comparable has ever existed

in the United States. We will have a

chance to compare conditions with the

German Radio later in this article.


Holland does not have as rich an

opera tradition as Germany or Italy

however there are regularly scheduled

opera performances throughout the

year. There is an opera society in the

eastern city of Enschede complete

with their own orchestra which provides

opera for the North, East, and

part of the Southern area of the country.

The main activity though is

centered around Amsterdam which

supports the national opera company.

This company is unique inasmuch as

they have no permanent orchestra.

There was a permanent ensemble at

one time but internal problems forced

the disbanding of the opera orchestra

in 1965. Since that time the opera has

been able to secure the services of the

larger orchestras as well as the radio

ensembles. The Concertgebouw and

Rotterdam orchestras have provided

accompaniment for the Wagner operas

in recent years and the Radio Chamber

Orchestra, Radio Philharmonic and

Radio Broadcasting Orchestra also

contribute their share. This work involves

extra money for the players as

well as a pleasant diversion from the

regular concert series. Apparently it is

also a much more economical way for

the opera to function as a whole but

the disadvantages of not having a

regular orchestra are all too obvious at

times. Construction is about to start on

a new combination city hall-opera

house and there have been rumors that

an opera orchestra will be created in

order to give other orchestras time to

develop educational programs and

diversify their activities (something

that the government has been insisting

upon). Whether or not this will come to

pass is contingent on economic

growth or non-growth in the coming


Now that you have some idea how

the orchestras are set up and

classified we can turn to another important

aspect of Dutch orchestra life,

namely, who pays for it? Unlike American

orchestras who are largely dependent

on private contributions to cover

operating costs, the Dutch as well as

most European orchestras receive

some form of subsidy from the government

to cover partial or complete expenses.

The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra

and the Ballet Orchestra, for

example, are 100% subsidized by the

Government. By comparison the radio

orchestras are the exception to this

because their financing is generated

by commercial advertising on television

and radio (25%) and the rest

comes from a fee which every person

in possession of a radio and/or TV is

supposed to pay for the privilege of

having such a device in their homes.

The major orchestras receive their

money mostly from the government

and the cities themselves while the

provincial orchestras are able to draw

on these two sources and the contributions

from small towns within the province

which they serve. With the exception

of the Radio then, the remaining

ensembles are all government subsidized,

but the dispersing of these

funds are channeled through province,

village and individual cities.

The orchestras certainly do earn

money, mostly from ticket sales and

hiring the orchestra out to a chorus in

the case of the provincial groups. The

provincial orchestras have yearly expenditures

of roughly 4 million, of

which 5 to 10% is earned back from

ticket sales. The bigger orchestras

have about 6 million worth of expenses

and are able to earn 10 to 20% back

from ticket sales. Whatever is left over

after earned income from ticket sales,

is the amount which will be subsidized

by the various government agencies.


This section will be an eye-opener

for many readers, The orchestra

members are paid a 52 week salary

plus a 71/2% bonus which is called

"vacation money" and approximately

equivalent to I month's net salary, This

is always paid in May so it is like

receiving a double check for 1 month.

In addition the social benefits of the

Dutch orchestra musician are the

same as those of civil servants but

there the comparison stops. At age 65

you are required to relinquish your

position whether you want to or not.

The pension provisions amount to 80%

of your highest salary. When you come

into an orchestra your salary is based

on age and experience and you are

paid according to the number of accumulated

"service years." Thus if you

join the orchestra straight out of college

you are in service year 1. This

rises to 14 years where it is assumed

you are by now a seasoned veteran,

and this will be the maximum salary

that will be paid by the government.

Cost of living increases are

automatically added so those players

with 14 years service are still receiving

slight salary increases every few years.

The salaries paid to the players are

completely regulated by the government

with the additional provision that

the Concertgebouw Orchestra, being

the national orchestra, get 20% more

than the others, and Rotterdam the

Hague and the radio orchestras get

10% more than the national norm.


If by now you not only have your

bags packed but are frantically searching

for a Dutch phrase book let me

complete the picture. Holland is a

country with a strong social welfare

system, developed to a very high

degree, all of which has to be paid for.

On the surface and from a distance of

5000 miles it might well seem to be a

paradise. The average working musician

pays at least 40% of his salary to

the tax man. Yes, medical costs are 80

to 90% government paid for but you

pay for your pension, and everything

else that makes life enjoyable in

Holland comes in some form or another

from your salary. That is not to

say that you can't live here but if you

think that taxes are killing you there

they might kill you more than

figuratively over here.


The work week of the orchestras is

divided into 9 services per week, a service

being either a rehearsal or a concert.

All rehearsals are 3 hours with a

20 minute break. The provincial orchestras

do not in reality perform 9 services

every single week due to travel

time involved with the number of runout

concerts. An important difference

with American orchestras is that the

larger Dutch groups all have double

principals (except for percussion).

This means that there are 2 first flutes,

2 first clarinets etc. who are usually

contracted for 50% service with 100%



Unlike the American system, to be in

an orchestra here does not mean that

you have to be a member of the union.

The union has a useful but limited role,

and since the government pays the

wages, the union has no bargaining

function whatsoever. One of the foundations

of the European Common

Market, better known as E.C.C., is that

if you want to work in my country, I can

work in yours. If an English musician

can secure a position with a Dutch orchestra

he is free to begin at his or her

convenience. On the other hand the

U.S. is not a member of the EEC. This

means that if an American player

wants to work in a European orchestra

he must not only win the audition but

then the orchestra must petition the

government for a working and

residence permit (in this case the

Dutch government) explaining that

there was no suitable Dutch candidate

available. In this situation the union

may complain that a local player

should have been hired, but in reality

they have very little to say in the matter.

Once a player is accepted in an orchestra

there is a customary probation

period of 1 or 2 years. After that you

can rest assured that the chance of

losing your job is practically nil. Getting

fired in a socialist country is very

hard to do (if the orchestra folds, that's

another matter). The process of trying

to fire someone for whatever reason is

horribly complicated and usually

frowned upon by most employers.


Musicians are guaranteed a 6 week

vacation period. During the season

there are always extra days off

especially around Christmas and

Easter. Unlike the English orchestras

who play the famous "Proms" in London

during the summer, there are no

summer seasons for the Dutch orchestras

and the 6 week period is

usually July and August.

To conclude this survey of the Dutch

orchestral scene another interesting

fact: among professional musicians

there is no unemployment at this

writing. The orchestra players are trained

at any of the 9 music conservatories

offering a music degree. In addition

there are 3 music academies speci-

fically for the training of music

teachers. There is a feeder system of

over 150 music schools spread

throughout the country all subsidized

by the government. If a conservatory

graduate does a number of auditions

and fails to secure a place in either a

provincial or larger orchestra, he/she

can usually find a suitable teaching

position and this coupled with free

lance work can provide an adequate living

and keep one actively involved

within the music profession.


Trying to present a clear picture of

orchestra life in the German Federal

Republic is akin to opening a Pandora's

Box. Even our colleagues at the

Deutsche B~hneverein had difficulty in

verifying certain facts and were uncertain

as to the exact number of orchestras

performing at this writing!

This is not hard to understand when

you realize the following: Germany is

one of the larger countries in Europe

(roughly the size of Illinois, Iowa and

part of Indiana combined) and has

musical roots and traditions stretching

back many centuries which have influenced

every symphony musician

and will continue to do so for some

time to come. The arts have always

been a priority business in German

politics and the competition between

cities and towns to assure their

cultural niche is very keen. It is not surprising

therefore that for sheer

numbers and money spent on the arts

and music in particular, the Germans

have been the world leaders for many


To give you some impression we

managed to sift through the information

and produce the following facts:

There are 19 orchestras who are in

business to play symphony concerts.

Orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic,

Munich Philharmonic and the

Hamburg Symphony are typical of this

group. This doesn't seem like very

many compared to the fact that

Holland is much smaller and has 21 orchestras?

Well, now for the big news.

The opera is at the heart of German

musical culture. It is enjoyed, appreciated

and understood by millions

of people. Because of this support

there are 54 theater or opera orchestras

playing a lot of different

operas almost every night of the week.

The average house has a standing

repertoire of about 85 operas most of

which can be performed with limited


Lets examine this further through an

example. The city of Aachen has a

population of 500,000 and an opera

house. Many of the opera orchestras

also manage to play symphony concerts

and other related services. Here

is a breakdown of what the Aachen orchestra

played during the 1979/80


105 operas

3 ballets

54 operettas

21 musicals

50 childrens concerts

19 symphony concerts

This is typical and not exceptional.

Many of the opera orchestras perform

similar services throughout the year.


There are 10 radio broadcasting services

within the German Federal Republic

with the largest ones (Cologne,

Munich and Berlin) employing thousands

of people. Each radio station

has an orchestra and many of the

larger operations have a second

ensemble known as an "Unterhaltungs"

orchestra which specializes in

light and popular music. The big radio

orchestras record, give public concerts,

and tour. They have a similar

budgetary freedom as enjoyed by the

Dutch Radio which is multiplied by 10,

as every radio group has its own planning



Approximately 30 chamber orchestras

are at work in Germany, some on a

full time basis with government subsidy

and others supported by private

funds. The non-subsidized groups

come and go and are part of the reason

why it is difficult to keep tabs on all the



Many people spend part of the summer

taking in the salts and sulphurs of

the many health spas throughout the

country. For the entertainment of the

guests some of these spas provide

musical entertainment, usually dance

music combined with a shortened version

of an opera or operetta. In January

the German music magazine Das Orchester

begins to publish ads for these

summer jobs, usually looking for a

concert-master who doubles on tenor

sax or a drummer with a cello double!

These positions are usually filled by

free lance musicians and are supposed

to be lots of fun and a wealth of experience.

I remember seeing a shortened

version of Wagner's Das Rheingold

done with a 19 piece orchestra!


All the symphony and opera orchestras

are divided into either A, B, C,

or D ensembles with A being the

largest number of players and D the

smallest group. Salaries are also based

on this classification and a player in

an A orchestra earns more than a colleague

in an ensemble with a lower



By way of contrast to the Dutch

system, most of the orchestras'

budgets are provided by the cities in

which they play. This is often assisted

by financial contributions from the provinces.

The radio orchestras, like the

Dutch system, receive no money directly

from the government but are paid for

directly by the broadcast organizations

which employ them.


There is a wide variation in the actual

expenses incurred from orchestra

to orchestra. The Berlin Opera which is

one of the bigger companies spent in

the 1979/80 season close to 51/2 million

just on salaries for the orchestra and

chorus. Smaller cities, Cologne for example,

spent 21/2 million. When it

comes to the symphony orchestras the

Berlin Philharmonic being at the top of

the heap was allowed to spend 10

million on the players while a city like

Stuttgart was allotted just over 2


With the American dollar constantly

in motion against the European currencies,

it is difficult to give an accurate

report on what the players actually

earn. As of May 1981, a player in an A

orchestra could earn a monthly gross

income of 3,412 marks per month

which is about $1,600 as compared to

the D category which paid 2,488 marks

or about $1,150. By the time you read

this it may have fluctuated drastically

either up or down. In addition there are

bonuses for being principal, doubling,

etc., which many players receive. The

musicians at the radio stations earn

higher incomes than the other orchestras

but we were unable to determine

the extent of the difference. As in

Holland, all German musicians get a

13th month's salary or "vacation

money." The social benefits and civil

servant status are also roughly the

same as in Holland.


The orchestras have a maximum of 8

services per week.


44 days is the maximum with extra

time at Christmas and Easter.


Although the player is not required

to belong to the union, most do, and

the union is in a stronger position and

more powerful than the Dutch union.


65 is the age of retirement. German

orchestras also have a system of "service

years" and a player can usually expect

to receive 70% of his highest year

as pension payment. This varies

especially if a player has gone from a B

orchestra to the Radio for example.

The immensity of the German orchestra

world should be quite obvious

by now. Chapters could be written on

the education system in conservatories,

the many German music festivals,

repertoire, etc., etc. Hopefully this article

has put some perspective on events

on the other side of the Atlantic.

Jan Pustjens is principal percussionist

of the Amsterdam Concertebouw

Orchestra and head of the

)ercussion department of the Sweelinck

Conservatory. He has served as a

member of the PAS Board of Directors.

Jim Gordon is a student of Gordon

Peters and has been performing actively

in Europe for the past 10 years.