‘I spent more on my piano than on a car’
Are you a saver or a spender?
A spender. My wife is brilliant at helping us with our finances. The organisation of money and how it should work for you baffles me.
I buy wine through a wine merchant and over the years he’s interested me in different things. I love all that. And holidays are a big expense for us every year.
Do you use cash, debit cards or credit cards?
All three. I feel seriously impoverished if I haven’t got much money in my wallet and embarrassed if I see somebody putting a tube of toothpaste on a card. It must be my generation. If it’s a big item I pay on the card.
Have you invested in property?
Only where we live. We have a loft apartment in Manchester and a house in north London.
Have you ever had trouble paying your bills?
Yes, particularly in the Nineties. In my profession you’re paid sporadically. You might do three concerts in a week but you’re not paid for three to four months. Some orchestras now have it in their contract that you will not be paid until three months after the event. You talk to the bank, but the people there change so frequently you have to keep explaining everything. It’s rather dispiriting.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned about money?
If it’s not in the contract you haven’t got a leg to stand on. If you’re concerned about the details it has to be discussed up front what will be put in the contract. If they refuse you have to decide, do I want to do this or not?
I have always been paid even if I’ve had to wait for it. But famous artists used to ask for their cash before they did the last act of an opera. Maria Callas shoved the lire down her knickers so that she could go on stage confident that she’d got the money. At the Metropolitan Opera in New York I get a cheque in the second interval of every performance.
Have you saved for retirement?
We have stocks and shares through a financial adviser. Conductors don’t retire, they just take more time off – that is the theory.
Does money make you happy?
What has been your best financial decision?
We bought a lovely house in Barnsbury, north London, in 1979 that cost so much money (£197,000) that it was a year before we told any of our friends how much. We stayed there until we moved to Highgate in 2000. By then it was worth over a million – it was incredible to realise that we’d been sitting on a nest egg.
We’d had to get a mortgage for that Barnsbury house. We were living on the edge and were often overdrawn.
What are the best and worst things you’ve ever bought?
The best, our house. I’d never had to buy a piano because the one we had was in my mother’s family, but last year I got rid of it and spent about £42,000 on a new Steinway. The guy there said, “Just think of it like a car” – but I’ve never spent anything like this on a car.
The worst? I lived for two years around 1973 in Sydney with a girlfriend and bought this mustard yellow suit that I thought was chic. The flares and lapels were enormous. I married her in this suit. I suppose I was trying to learn how to be a bit hipper – in the Sixties I was so square I didn’t know what square meant. To wear it up the aisle was a bold move.
Why does opera get 62pc of Arts Council England’s music funding when pop gets 8pc and jazz 2pc?
Opera is very expensive and the more subsidy there is the cheaper the seats can be. The problem is that England has never had the operatic foundation you find in other European countries.
In Germany every town the size of Wolverhampton has its own opera house and opera company. That’s why young musicians who want to become a conductor will get into the German rat race. It’s enormous – like our football league. The performing arts anywhere in the world will never survive without government support and a country with poor creativity is much less enriched.
What’s the oddest thing that has happened in your career?
I did this fabulously thrilling piece by Rachmaninov in China with the Australian Youth Orchestra. It lasted over an hour. As usual, at the end
I got the orchestra up on their feet and we took the applause together. I bowed and smiled and as soon as I walked off the stage for the first time the applause stopped immediately. The audience thought I’d gone home.
Sir Mark Elder says his worst buy was a mustard yellow suit in the Seventies– ‘I was trying to be a bit hipper’. Conducting the last night of the Proms in 2006, left