Curtis Institute Under Fire after Jascha Brodsky Sexual Abuse Allegations Made Public

July 25, 2019, 6:45 PM · The Curtis Institute of Music is under fire after an extensive article in the Philadelphia Inquirer Wednesday detailed allegations of sexual abuse by the late violinist Jascha Brodsky, who taught at Curtis from the 1950s until shortly before his death in 1997. The most serious allegations of abuse were described by well-known violinist Lara St. John, who was pictured prominently in the article, as well as allegations by four other former students, who were not named.

Brodsky Curtis

The school's reaction to the article -- sending an e-mail to Curtis alumni, parents, and students asking them not to speak to journalists about the story -- is under equal scrutiny. (Click here to see the Inquirer's article about the e-mail, which contains a copy of it at the bottom of the article.)

The e-mail outraged many Curtis alumni, many of whom went straight to social media and shared the story widely. Here is one reaction, from alumnus Bronwyn Astra Banerdt, as she shared the story on Facebook: "I have never been as disappointed by the Curtis Institute of Music as I was this morning, when I opened an alumni email containing a request not to discuss the recent allegations made by violinist Lara St John against her former teacher Jascha Brodsky 'publicly, online, or on social media.'....Frankly, I wasn’t planning on it; I’ve never met Lara, and Brodsky died years before I went to Curtis — but the request itself offended me to my core...there’s a larger issue at stake, and it’s way too late for an institution the caliber of Curtis to be missing the bus on this one. Curtis should be following the example of countless institutions and individuals that have stepped up to the plate by admitting that mistakes were made, and seeking out the truth no matter how uncomfortable it may be."

In the article, St. John said that Brodsky sexually abused her repeatedly and raped her when she was a 14-year-old student at Curtis in the 1980s. She said that when she reported the abuse to the school's dean in 1986, she was told that no one would believe her. Stress over the abuse led to a suicide attempt in her third year at Curtis, after which she left the school at age 17 and moved to the Soviet Union to study at the Moscow Conservatory.

The Inquirer story also describes allegations by four other former students of sexual advances and abuse by Brodsky.

Brodsky was a Russian violinist and pedagoque who studied in Belgium with Eugène Ysaÿe and then at Curtis with Efrem Zimbalist. He taught a long list of accomplished violinists, including many current members of the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as star soloists such as Hilary Hahn and Leila Josefowicz. He also played for nearly 50 years in the Curtis String Quartet and was a co-founder of the New School of Music in Philadelphia.

Click here to read the Philadelphia Inquirer story.

EDITOR'S UPDATE:

Curtis alumni received the following e-mail on Friday:

To the entire Curtis community:

Yesterday we communicated with all of you in a way that was not consistent with our values.

We have understandably lost your trust and for that I am profoundly sorry.

I promise you we will do whatever is needed to make this right. As a first step toward this promise, Curtis will establish an anonymous reporting hotline. We will reach out again with more information about this service in the coming days.

Sincerely,

Roberto Díaz

President and CEO


Replies

July 26, 2019 at 02:48 AM · All of us in the music teaching business know that this has been going on forever. There is no excuse for this. There are two Inquirer stories, if it not clear from the link. This should be called what it is: rape. I understand the sexual environment of private violin teaching in the 1980's. I was a cisgender straight male teacher then. But It was illegal in the 1980's, and is illegal now. The Curtis Institute's *very recent* legal inquiry was a sham, by all accounts. I raise my glass to Lara St. John, who has been through hell, and come out the other side a much better person. I LOVE her blog! She is a hero!

July 26, 2019 at 03:43 AM · Laurie, thank-you for this article, and the link to the original. Thank-you also to Lara for coming forward. Bright lights need to shine in dark places.

July 26, 2019 at 03:41 PM · Please excuse my naivete, but cannot a student just go to the dept. chairman and say " I want a different teacher, the chemistry isn't right, we are not a good match" Then that would give you a year to transfer to a different school if needed.

July 26, 2019 at 04:32 PM · The burden to stop the crime falls on the school, not on the student.

July 26, 2019 at 04:38 PM · Did you read the article? She tried to get a new teacher but was not believed. Saying "the chemistry is not right" is a pretty way to minimize rape. Wow. How does this solve the basic issue that you have a teacher who is preying on his students and a school that will not face it?

July 26, 2019 at 05:45 PM · If a teacher is abusing a student, and the student reports that abuse, then the school has an obligation to address this as a major problem for the institution. And yes, it is very naive to think that a child who has been groomed for sexual abuse and then sexually abused, who was also told by her teacher she might lose her place at a prestigious school and also lose the place for her brother, could just simply go in and casually ask for another teacher.

July 26, 2019 at 06:39 PM · Trying to help Joel here as he seems to concede at the outset that he might not be looking at the issue as clear-headedly as he could, but an additional problem in his approach - Lara having already ID'd a very obvious one - is that escaping the behavior in the way Joel suggested leaves the perpetrator free to prey on others. So very much of the motivation behind so many of these predator revelations of the last several years is the desire on the victims part to have the behaviors halted through the outing process; They can't undo what had already happened to them, but perhaps they could keep it from happening to others. Lastly, in this environment, Curtis writing to it alumni and asking them to not speak about the matter has to garner Hall of Fame consideration for how NOT to respond to such a challenge. Astoundingly bone-headed, and very likely to become an even bigger part of the story than the abuse itself. ~ Ed Dougherty, Philadelphia, Curtis supporter

July 26, 2019 at 07:02 PM · Joel Quivey wrote:

"Please excuse my naivete, but cannot a student just go to the dept. chairman and say " I want a different teacher, the chemistry isn't right, we are not a good match" Then that would give you a year to transfer to a different school if needed. "

Hear hear, Joel! She could have just said, "Oh excuse me, the chemistry with this rapist isn't quite right, maybe we can audition a few more rapists until we find one with the right chemistry."

July 26, 2019 at 10:20 PM · Sadly he’s not the only bad man in teaching. Brodsky for all his faults was a tremendous chamber music violinist and pedagogue. Unfortunately, people like William Preucil and Stephen Shipps ruin the perception for many women of good men when these predators are enabled by administrators to do what they do. Everyone in the classical scene is aware a certain recently retired major Concertmaster on the east coast was going after his female students for years, especially the international students. I’m surprised he has gotten away with it so far.

July 27, 2019 at 02:46 AM · All,--thanks for those replies - jq

July 27, 2019 at 05:58 AM · Curtis sent a new email to alumni on Friday:

To the entire Curtis community:

Yesterday we communicated with all of you in a way that was not consistent with our values.

We have understandably lost your trust and for that I am profoundly sorry.

I promise you we will do whatever is needed to make this right. As a first step toward this promise, Curtis will establish an anonymous reporting hotline. We will reach out again with more information about this service in the coming days.

Sincerely,

Roberto Díaz

President and CEO

July 27, 2019 at 04:09 PM · continued,-- For my teaching, I have the policy that the 1st month is a probation for both the student and teacher. After a month, either can cancel without explanation or guilt. Sometimes we forget that the teacher is technically the employee of the student, or their parents.

At the independent music school where I work my room has a big window facing the foyer. I had the curtain removed so that the lessons are highly visible. I read somewhere about the new "Wall Street Rules" for men that included; The door stay open whenever you have a one-on-one meeting with a female employee. Never have a one-on-one dinner or lunch. When traveling, have rooms on different floors, and worst of all, never mentor a younger woman. Sadly, these measures, to prevent both temptation and false accusation, reverse the trend towards equal opportunity, and are close to illegal discrimination.

July 27, 2019 at 05:01 PM · "Between the 1980's and even as late as 1994, Ms. St John seemingly could have come forward to discuss/ report abuses she endured with the Director/s of The Curtis Institute"

She did come forward in the 1980s. She was 15 years old. She reported it to Robert Fitzpatrick, dean of Curtis at the time. Two of her classmates were there, too. This meeting was corroborated by all parties present. He did nothing and dismissed her reporting. Her friend said they were going to the police. The dean said something like, "Yeah? Go ahead." She had to leave the school.

Read the Philadelphia Inquirer article. It's very detailed and corroborated by multiple sources.

The big issue here is about calling attention to Curtis's institutional negligence. It's about how Curtis failed to protect its students (including children) and how it has refused to accept responsibility.

Several years ago, a Curtis staffer wondered why she never donated money to the school. That's when she wrote a private letter to Curtis detailing what had happened. They conducted an internal investigation in response to her letter, in which Curtis's attorneys appeared to only interview Fitzpatrick and another administrator.

July 27, 2019 at 06:30 PM · Sexual abuse victims, especially those abused as children, often have to reach a point of equilibrium in their lives before they are able to accuse the perpetrators. This may be well after the passing of those perpetrators. In general the perpetrators do not just have one victim, and the institution has had more than one complaint. Unearthing the evidence years later generally validates the claims. Many private high schools are facing this situation as well; it is certainly not limited to music. Many such abusers are beloved and they tend to conduct themselves as public paragons precisely to establish a bulwark against accusations. Institutions have to learn from these events. It is important for victims to come forward in order to help institutions to create protections for future generations. That is why Curtis' response is drawing such a sharp reaction.

July 28, 2019 at 12:12 AM · Everyone, I'm not going to leave up rambling and incoherent comments, especially when they don't seem to take into account any of the information that has been presented. If you want to say something, you need to think about it, and present it in a readable form.

July 28, 2019 at 03:45 AM · I am truly sorry for the victims of this horrible crime. This story is appalling and obviously not the only instance where and when this happened. I wish there were something to say to help. I’m not certain there is.

As a man and father, I’m angered, sorrowful, and disgusted to hear such tragedies/atrocities occur. To you women who have been victimized, I’m sorry for it is not all of us who do these things. One victim is too many.

I hope and pray that closure and healing can come to the victims and justice to the perpetrators. And furthermore that this can be prevented so there are not future victims. God help us all.

July 28, 2019 at 06:42 AM · I am the author of the first response, I just didn't sign in, sorry. I apologise. I repeat my statement that I have personal knowledge that this has been going on for decades. Two of my five primary violin mentors were/are sexual predators. William Preucil, jr. harassed my first wife decades ago, and should have been taken out of circulation then (1970's). I am proud, as a member, that the International Suzuki Association is re-recording the Suzuki repertoire as quickly as possible. Lara St. John is a goddess.

July 28, 2019 at 01:38 PM · One of my students started at Curtis with Mr. Brodsky, didn't like him and resigned. She had to get into the school a second time and spent the rest of her time with Paul Mackanovitsky. She graduated in 1972. I've lost touch with her and would be curious to ask her about Brodsky. She's one of the "lost graduates", according to the registrar. I hate to lose touch with former students.

July 28, 2019 at 06:09 PM · There was a legendary violin teacher in Wellsville NY....trust me, many of his groups and soloists were top notch. One of the first clinics he gave featured his strings doing spectacular playing (Tschaikovsky Serenade). His 1st violin section was all Juniors, 2nd violin section was sophomores and the violas were all seniors.....this is to relate the quality of his educational skills and position. During the post concert question/answer period, we all wondered about the method he used for such excellence. His answer is perhaps related to the topic. He said that at the end of the post school rehearsal, make sure a boy is the last one you drop off after driving them home....some rookie teachers didn't quite understand....and honestly with the current sexual abuse transcending the sexes.....but you understand.....

July 29, 2019 at 10:57 AM · "CSI Special Victims Unit" had an episode involving abuse in a piano teachers' studio. I'm sorry to hear that it happens for real. I won't stop going to orchestra concerts but classical music definitely has a dark side.

July 29, 2019 at 04:06 PM · I think this is the episode you mentioned in Law and Order SVU:

https://lawandorder.fandom.com/wiki/Nocturne

July 30, 2019 at 03:08 AM · Definitely read the Inquirer article before commenting. It seems to be very carefully done and Lara St. John's allegations are credible and well documented. Bronwyn Astra Banerdt's comments are spot on. Curtis needs to let history take its course, investigate and disclose the truth, and accept the opportunity to learn from this.

July 30, 2019 at 03:59 PM · As a survivor of abuse by my teacher, I want to express how heartening it is to see the supportive comments on this thread. When someone like Lara is brave enough to come forward, other victims watch society's response. At least here, the common reactions of blaming the victim, minimizing the abuse, not believing the victim, and questioning the victim's motives don't appear to be present. Thank you.

July 30, 2019 at 08:46 PM · Laurie should be thanked for having deleted the victim-blaming and casting-aspersions-on-the-victim's-motives posts in this thread.

July 30, 2019 at 11:40 PM · Here are our rules for members.

Argument and disagreement are welcome on this site.

However, the posts in question, both by the same person, vociferously attacked the victim while reflecting no apparent knowledge of the in-depth article that was at the heart of this story, or any grasp of the facts presented. It was also poorly written, to a point of being nonsensical.

I do take it very seriously, when I take down a post, and I don't do it often. It was necessary in this case.

August 1, 2019 at 11:41 PM · I've been mulling over this story for a week and am just now up for air enough to weigh in on it. I read the whole Inquirer article last Friday and again today.

I'm not part of the "I Believe" brigade; nor am I from the "Blame the Victim" side. I'm not about to dismiss St. John's allegations. Yet, having served twice as a trial juror, I come to this issue as one who wants to hear both sides of the case. In the American justice system, the accused in a criminal case is presumed innocent, in the eyes of the law, until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As we know, the alleged assailant can't defend himself now, having died 22 years ago.

What St. John reportedly endured at the hands of Brodsky would be, according to Pennsylvania law, statutory rape -- a felony. Then those who said they would call the police should have done just that -- regardless of what the school dean did or didn't say.

If the allegations proved true beyond a reasonable doubt, and if the school so lightly dismissed them, as reported, then the school ought to be sued. From the little research I could do on Pennsylvania's statute of limitations, I'm not sure that's possible now.

When I was in high school, the school administration dismissed one guidance counselor in my freshman year and one teacher in my junior year -- for making improper sexual advances. Both students involved were 14-15 y/o -- about the same age St. John was in 1986. Both students reported their incidents to school authorities -- without delay. These kids didn't feel any guilt or shame about coming forward, as far as I know -- nor should they have felt guilt or shame. They hadn't done anything wrong. The adults were to blame. In both cases, the dismissals followed within a week.

The article mentions four other female Curtis students who later on reported that Brodsky had pursued them sexually in the 1980s. None of them told school administrators what had happened. In the case of one -- the article calls her the "third woman" -- it's easy to see why she wouldn't want to tell. She was 20 and studying with another teacher when she and Brodsky began what sounds like a 2-year consensual relationship.

==

EDIT: Laurie, regarding your comment, below, that I "don't know at all":

Actually, I do know some details. One of the two above-mentioned victims at my high school was a target, at 15 y/o, of groping by the offending teacher during a ride back to campus, following a field trip. I sat one row behind these two and witnessed a gentle pat or two by the teacher; but it was now after dark, and I couldn't see over the seat.

Within minutes after we were back on campus, I and at least one other male student in the group heard -- straight from the victim's own mouth: "That [teacher's last name] is a [pervert]" -- and a brief, graphic description of the unwanted advances. Evidently no qualms about telling us -- or telling the administration first thing next morning. Within about 48 hours, that teacher was out the door -- and he hadn't gone nearly as far as Brodsky is accused of.

Yes, Lara's reporting the abuse, as she has stated she did at the time, was the right move. But those who won't come forward because of the power the abuser holds over their scholarships or careers -- well, this fear is understandable. Yet, if they're willing to endure abuse for the sake of preserving a scholarship or advancing a career, that really calls into question their own moral fiber.

August 7, 2019 at 05:00 AM · "These kids didn't feel any guilt or shame about coming forward, as far as I know -- nor should they have felt guilt or shame. "

As far as you know, and you don't know at all. No, people who are abused "shouldn't" have to feel guilt or shame, but in reality, those feelings emerge, due to the psychological games that their abuser and abuse have played on them.

It's very, very difficult to come forward, when an abuser has power over your scholarship, over your career, over your reputation, basically over your entire life. As confirmed by two witnesses, Lara actually DID come forward at the time, despite all of that. But then the dean dismissed her account and told her that no one, including the police, would believe her.

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