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New York Times

January 23, 2005

Pay to Play: A Musical Price List

THE cost of commissioning music varies broadly, depending on the work's length, the size of its instrumentation, and the reputation and experience of the composer and of the group performing it.

"The New York Philharmonic has very different resources than a community orchestra," said Fran Richard, vice president of concert music for Ascap, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

Although a full-length opera can cost nearly half a million dollars, a small work may go for a fraction of that, according to suggested fees in "The Individual's Guide to Commissioning Music," published by Meet the Composer.

In 1996, Kevin Beavers was a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan when an Oklahoma City physician asked him to write a cello sonata in honor of his mother's 93rd birthday. Mr. Beavers recalls being paid $2,000 for the 10-minute work, "Embers."

According to Meet the Composer's guidelines, the doctor might have paid from $2,000 to $6,500 for a work under 10 minutes, from $3,500 to $15,000 for a piece 10 to 25 minutes long or from $9,000 to $20,000 for an even longer work. A larger-scale work would have been more expensive: a quartet under 10 minutes, $4,000 to $10,000, or one longer than 25 minutes, $15,000 to $35,000.

Mr. Beavers - who has since won the Rudolph Nissim Prize, had his "Sinfonia" performed at Carnegie Hall by the Philadelphia Orchestra and received fellowships to the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire - might today charge a fee closer to the middle or high end of the suggested rates.

Like Mr. Beavers, the composer Bruce Adolphe, 49, received a commission from a doctor to write "Couple," a work for cello and piano to be performed by David Finckel and Wu Han at the La Jolla SummerFest in 1999. Mr. Adolphe was already widely recognized, his works having been performed by artists like Itzhak Perlman and Sylvia McNair. He received $10,000 for the four-movement, 20-minute work.

Both composers' commission payments fell within Meet the Composer's midrange fees. But the high end of the price spread increases sharply with the largest works. A chamber orchestra piece may run $7,000 to $63,000; a symphony, $9,500 to $103,000. Although a full-length opera or musical can cost $56,000 to $465,000, a one-act piece might be commissioned for as little as $20,000.