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Exploring the compensation issues at play in lawsuit filed by Boston Symphony Orchestra’s lead flutist

Flutist Elizabeth Rowe, performing as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2016.
Flutist Elizabeth Rowe, performing as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2016.
Winslow Townson/Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra

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The Boston Symphony Orchestra is world-renowned for being home to some of the top symphony orchestra musicians anywhere, and those who rise to the top positions in the ensemble often earn six-figure salaries.

But the BSO’s lead flutist is shining a light on what she claims is a serious pay discrepancy between her and her closest male counterpart in a lawsuit filed against the orchestra last week.

Elizabeth Rowe, who also teaches at the New England Conservatory and whose playing has been called “ravishing” by critics the New York Times, filed suit last week after a statewide equal pay law went into effect in Massachusetts. Rowe is seeking more than $200,000 in unpaid wages from the BSO and says that her salary is only 75 percent of that of her closest male counterpart, BSO lead oboist John Ferrillo.

AirTalk speaks with experts in musician compensation and employment law about how musicians typically negotiate their contracts, the factors that are important to both musicians and orchestras when doing so, and what role gender plays in those decisions and has played in the past.

For more on this story from NPR’s Anastasia Tsioulcas, click here.

AirTalk contacted the attorney for the plaintiff, Elizabeth Rowe, who declined our interview request. We also contacted the Boston Symphony Orchestra for comment, and a spokesperson sent us the following statement:

"The BSO is reviewing the complaint with its attorneys, and, as with all such matters, will not comment on pending litigation.  The BSO is committed to a strong policy of equal employment opportunity and to the practice of comparable pay for comparable work, as well as abiding by the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act."


Drew McManus, Chicago-based arts consultant whose work includes advising musicians on contract negotiations and author of “Adaptistration,” a blog about the orchestra business