If you haven’t seen it, there was a New York Times article about orchestration for the theatre and the economics of having orchestras for Broadway musicals. The article was well informed for the most part, but had some errors. Some of these errors were corrected by a letter from the composer, Stephen Sondheim.
But other errors, those dealing with the actual economics, have not been corrected. In the light of some of the author's conclusions, a letter to the editor was written by Local 802 to simply inform the public of the actual economics of paying for music preparation (orchestraters and copyists) and for orchestral musicians.
For some reason, the Times chose not to publish this letter alongside Mr. Sondheim's letter. But I have been informed that it will be published this weekend (8/31/08) on the Letters page of the Arts & Leisure section. Here is that letter (presented with the permission of Local 802)
To the Editor:
NY Times Arts Section
Thanks to Susan Elliot (Off the Stage, What’s Behind the Music, Sunday, August 17, 2008) for describing how glorious a full live orchestra sounds on Broadway and sharing with readers the important creative work of Broadway’s talented orchestrators. The cost of creating the wonderful music of shows like South Pacific or Gypsy each night on Broadway, however, are not as Ms Elliot suggests, “staggering.” For a $8 -$10 million Broadway musical (hardly an unusual budget today) the cost of orchestrating and copying; i.e. putting the music on the stands is typically less than $175,000, or barely 2 %. This is a tiny fraction of what is typically spent on sets, costumes, lighting, etc, which quickly runs into the millions. And the orchestra costs: As a part of a $120 ticket for a musical like South Pacific, the orchestra costs are about $15, a bargain by any standards and a compelling argument for the full “lush” orchestrations that Ms. Elliot and audiences so love.
President, Local 802 AFM