Tue, Jul 20, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Migration of talented workers is too lopsided

By Ku Er-teh顧爾德

The Taiwanese violinist Lu Kuan-cheng (盧冠呈), beating more than 400 competitors, has become the first Taiwanese to join the New York Philharmonic. According to media reports, members of the renowned orchestra earn an annual salary of US$100,000, which is far more than a musician in an orchestra in this country earns.

Before this announcement, media organizations had been discussing how the salaries of famous conductors and music directors of US orchestras kept increasing while musicians' salary increases are decreasing or stagnant. Well-known conductors often perform with two orchestras, earning salaries as high as US$1 million or US$2 million per year, although they only spend between four and five months with an orchestra. Musicians with world-class organizations earn at most US$100,000 per year, and senior musicians earn between US$200,000 and US$300,000 per year.

For example, the New York Philharmonic's music director, Lorin Maazel, earns an annual salary of US$2,840,000, but only has to conduct the orchestra for 14 weeks. The highest-paid musician, principal violin Glenn Dicterow -- who also is Lu's teacher -- earns US$360,000 per year. Other principal musicians earn just above US$200,000 per year.

By most people's standards, US$100,000 is considered a very high salary, but in New York it will barely allow you to maintain an upper-middle-class standard of living. Nor should we forget that these musicians have to shoulder the cost of expensive instruments.

In general, the number of ethnic minority musicians in orchestras is increasing, and almost one-half of these are Asians. This phenomenon is an indicator of the outstanding achievements of Asian artists.

But from the perspective of market economics and some Westerners, Asian musicians could be viewed as mere economic immigrants, "cheap" laborers who take away jobs from locals and decrease the opportunities for salary increases for all musicians. But the overall industry is still in the hands of locals, and immigrants are all but exploited as "cheap labor."

If it weren't for the supply of talented immigrant musicians, it would be difficult for US orchestras to maintain their musical standards. Classical music would decline without immigrants. The continued increase in the numbers of immigrant musicians will have a cultural impact on classical music in the US and Europe, leading to innovation.

Like most countries, the US and Taiwan face pressures of supply and demand. Without new immigrants and foreign workers, the economies of both countries would become unbalanced and unsustainable.

Some people will say that the US imports "first-rate" labor, while Taiwan is doing the opposite.

Ten years ago, Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲), now president of Academia Sinica, and others called for the inclusion of more technological talent from China and India, but revisions to Taiwan's immigration legislation to speed up this process have been delayed, to the detriment of the country.

From a market perspective, the fact that Taiwan bring in large numbers of foreign spouses and wage laborers instead of skilled and advanced workers has led to an imbalance of foreign talent here.

Don't forget that "advanced" and "inferior" are relative values. What we call talented musicians here are workers through the eyes of those in the US cultural industry.

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