Juilliard acts after Pinchas Zukerman uses 'offensive cultural stereotypes'

June 27, 2021, 5:09 PM · I was very much looking forward to watching a master class with world-famous violinist and violist Pinchas Zukerman as the last event in the virtual Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies, hosted by The Juilliard School last week. Unfortunately, following Friday's master class, the video had to be withheld and apologies issued because Zukerman used "insensitive and offensive cultural stereotypes" during the course of the class.

I did watch the virtual class unfold live, and I can attest that this was the appropriate course.

First, a little background: Zukerman's list of accomplishments over his five-decade career is long and distinguished, with hundreds of performances with world-class orchestras and collaborations with some of the most prominent musicians of the 20th century, including Isaac Stern, Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman and many more. For more than 25 years he has served as chair of the Pinchas Zukerman Performance Program at the Manhattan School of Music and taught at prominent institutions throughout the U.K., Israel, China, and Canada, among other countries.

Pinchas Zukerman

On a personal level, as a young violinist I found Zukerman's early recording of Mozart Concerti to be revelatory, a real cornerstone in opening my ears to the expressive possibilities of the violin. I've followed his career and long admired his playing.

With this impeccable resumé and reputation, it's easy to understand why Zukerman was invited to teach at Starling-DeLay, and why participants were anticipating his master class with great expectations.

At issue was his interaction with a set of young sisters, both born in New York and with a long set of accomplishments. They opened the master class with a performance from Spohr's "Duo Concertante." Symposium participants were given video of their performance in advance, so I actually watched that video before the master class. I noted that they "sounded like sisters singing together," their sound matched so beautifully as sisterly voices often do. They were playing by memory and had really mastered this complicated music and created a lot of great moments in their interactions, smiling at one another and truly playing as one. "I could listen all day," I wrote.

They played again live, at the beginning of the master class. "It's almost too perfect, I mean that as a compliment," Zukerman said. "Think less about how perfect to play and to play together, and more about phrasing. A little more vinegar - or soy sauce!" he laughed. "More singing, like an Italian overture."

They played some more, and he still wanted more expression.

"Too boxy - have fun!" he said. "The violin is a singing instrument, not a stringed instrument. There is nothing wrong with vibrato, there is nothing wrong with sliding. In fact I recommend it."

"Sometimes if you have a question about how to play it, sing it," he said. "I know in Korea they don't sing." He went on to talk about how wrong it is, that in Korea they don't sing.

One of the sisters spoke up, "But I'm not Korean," she said.

"Then where are you from?" he barked.

She began to explain that she's of half Japanese descent, then he interrupted, "In Japan they don't sing either." He mimicked a sing-song vocal style that has been stereotyped as Asian. "That is not singing. Violin is not a machine."

At this point the smiles had melted from the sisters' faces.

He went on to talk about telling a story with one's playing, but it was hard to listen after this. This was a virtual event, but if I'm honest, if it had been live I would have stood up and walked out of the hall. Instead I lay down on the couch next to my computer and put my hands over my face as the class continued.

At the end of their segment he bid them goodbye and added, "I hope I can see you one day in person so I can give you a big hug."

I did listen to the rest of the master class. At the end, as Zukerman answered questions from the participants, but he returned to the topic:

"In Korea they don't sing," Zukerman said, "It's not in their DNA."

Over the next day I wondered how I could possibly write anything about this master class. Zukerman did offer musical insights, but they were overshadowed by the way he treated these young artists. People born in New York City are from America. Professional musicians, even classical ones, should know about K-pop, which is hardly the only musical gift from Korea.

On Sunday, Starling-DeLay Violin Symposium Artistic Director Brian Lewis and Juilliard Director of Lifelong Learning John-Morgan Bush issued a joint statement:

"Unfortunately, we will not be posting the video of Friday’s final master class with Pinchas Zukerman, who in the course of the class used insensitive and offensive cultural stereotypes. Those remarks did not represent the values of the Symposium or The Juilliard School. We have addressed this issue directly with the students involved and with Mr. Zukerman himself, who was a guest engaged for this symposium and has offered his apologies. On behalf of the Symposium and the school, we sincerely apologize to all attendees and again extend a personal apology to the recipients of those comments."

Certainly, this was a painful and disappointing episode. I don't know how many music students of Asian ethnicity have endured this kind of aggressive treatment from those who would be their mentors. But it's undeniable, especially when it takes place in such a public setting, with some 150 witnesses.

If anyone says, "This is no longer acceptable," I'd like to remind everyone that it never was acceptable. No matter how famous or accomplished the speaker.

I am relieved that The Juilliard School agrees.


June 27, 2021 at 10:24 PM · Very well said Lauire!!! I couldn't agree more; and I also think it was appropriate that Mr. Zukerman issued an apology as well. There is a big difference between encouraging a student to sing as a way of understanding the music better, and engaging in inaccurate and offensive cultural stereotyping. And the comment about "it's not in their DNA" was utterly ignorant. As you said, this kind of behavior has never been acceptable.

I do wish Juilliard would consider making the rest of the session available on request though, with that part of the session removed. There was so much great knowledge and stories in his session its a shame to not be able to review the other parts; his musical analysis and anecdotes, etc. Of course the problem is that could be considered tacit approval of his actions; either way I think Juilliard was completely correct in not making the video public.

I'd also extend my own apology to the students who were subjected to those comments by Mr. Zuckerman. This is not the face we want to present to the world. Mr. Zukerman stressed honesty, both musically and personally, in his talk several times, so let us hope he applies that to his own actions as well.

@Laurie - I didn't hear the "it's not in their DNA" comment live; he must have said that near the end of the class where I had to leave the computer for a bit. After I read that in your post, I've gone back twice now and edited this reply as I process just what that says about his attitudes and beliefs. Each time, I feel more saddened and upset. I also look at his stories about the other great violinists he worked with as being more insights into them, and as such have standalone value regardless of the source.

June 27, 2021 at 11:15 PM · Having attended another masterclass of his a few years ago, I am not surprised at all. In that class, there were numerous inappropriate gender-based comments, as well as some stereotypical anti-AAPI comments. He also sent a kid off stage to practice in the middle of the class. Needless to say, he hasn't been asked back. I am sorry to hear that this behavior is still continuing and hope that this incident will help him to take a deeper look at his behavior.

June 28, 2021 at 12:15 AM · I'm not even aware of that as a stereotype - If Mr. Zuckerman had been paying attention, he would have noticed that Korea is producing a truly impressive amount of the world's best players, of violin and of other instruments, and very many fantastic players have been coming out of Japan for a long time.

I'm not going to attempt to link his playing and interpretations to his opinions, but clearly he is a moron.

June 28, 2021 at 01:04 AM · Laurie, thank you for making this article for the public - you are a hero! I was also there live, listening to this all unfold. Juilliard made the right decision to keep it off their site, as it goes against their values. However, by NOT making these things known to public and continuously hiding what goes on "behind the curtain" in classical music, we don't really take care of the deeper issue at hand. Zuckerman isn't the only one making these kind of offensive remarks. Thank you again for writing this - brava!

June 28, 2021 at 01:50 AM · Tragic that such a worldly and respected icon could be so out-of-touch and completely insensitive. Thanks for reporting Laurie.

June 28, 2021 at 04:35 AM · Dear .. dear,

I sad to say that you are completely sinking. fully and definitively sinking.

I may not support that statements from Mr Zuckerman. They were most certainly stupid. Does it mean that they need to be censored. Certainly not. Again, you are sinkin into an extreme politically correct word. The freedom of speech basically does not exist. It's washed out under the all mighty right of every individual not to be offended by any talk.

this is sad. truly sad

June 28, 2021 at 05:03 AM · I have participated in many Juilliard Evening Division classes from 2015-2018 while Danielle La Senna was director of the Evening Division. I have met and enjoyed the company of many students from diverse ethnic groups. I am a Black Hispanic New Yorker who studied voice, music theory and keyboard skill at Juilliard's evening division along with students from different Asian countries. After class we would all gather at a restaurant to enjoy a good meal. I can't understand why John Morgan Bush wasn't more harsh with Zuckerman. An apology doesn't cut it!! Did Zuckerman personally apologize to the sisters? I don't think they are looking forward to a hug from a racist. I can't imagine how the sisters felt after hearing those remarks especially in light of violence Asians have endured on the streets of New York as well as other cities. Now Zuckerman is assaulting Asians verbally in a master class. Zuckerman needs serious sensitivity training. Juilliard should require this of Zuckerman or anyone else verbally assaulting musicians or find another school to spew your racist remarks. Juilliard needs to get some backbone. Zuckerman you didn't read the President Woetzel's message "Equity, Diversity & Belonging." Read it you dufus!!!

June 28, 2021 at 05:35 AM · @Julien; Mr Zukerman was not speaking as an individual; he was speaking as a contracted speaker for a Juilliard production. Therefore Juilliard had every right, and responsibility to not publish speech that contained very offensive language and stereotypes. Were Mr. Zuckerman speaking on his own, no one would have the right to censor him, no matter how offensive his remarks were.

June 28, 2021 at 06:31 AM · Greetings,

well done Laurie.

Julien, although freedom of speech is central to democracy these days it has been hijacked by extremists as justification/permission for hate speech. Freedom of speech in the rational sense does not encourage hatred or give carte blanche to racism, misogyny, sexism etc.

Did Zuckerman do that? Maybe you don’t think so. Maybe there are still people in the world who see this as a relatively minor humor in poor taste issue. But maybe we should step back for a moment and look at what Zuckerman was saying. Aside from stereotyping a two peoples or Asian culture in general (more likely) he wa s actually saying they are inferior. Doesn’t matter if you are talking about singing, food, sex or intelligence: strip the words away and it is pure racism.

I also have to wonder if Zuckerman is somehow not bothered by the huge upsurge in Asian hate crimes in America since the Trump regime. I hope he is just ignorant because anyone of Zuckerman’s status who says these kinds of things in the current climate is making a contribution to that problem that is not insignificant. Shame on him!


June 28, 2021 at 07:24 AM · Freedom of speech does not cover discriminatory remarks from teachers. Students have the right to safe learning environments where they are not subjected to hostility/harassment from their teachers. Mr Zukerman is entitled to his opinions and to express them. However, he is not entitled to direct racially offensive and derogatory comments to his students. Some teachers might strongly disagree with the anti-discrimination laws but that does not make them above the laws.

Juilliard needs to take necessary steps to ensure that something like this will not happen again on their campus. This is what Zukerman wrote in 2019:

People like Horowitz, Rubinstein, Rachmaninoff, Heifetz, these were all great prodigies. Probably in some ways they were even more amazing than those today, because they came from a culture that already understood the inner workings of music and art. Because of where it comes from: Europe, Russia—that’s where the music came from. Not India, or Japan, or Korea. It came from those countries and therefore those prodigies were amazing.

He has not been very secretive about his anti-Asian sentiment and I can see that for him, it's part of a deeply held belief system. I find it hard to believe that Juilliard was not aware.

The hug comment definitely bothered me a lot too. Would he have said it to male students? I am guessing not.

June 28, 2021 at 07:29 AM · Oh boy, Zukerman is going the right way to get himself "no platformed". Can you divorce the man's words from the music he makes? Sadly I'd say "no". But maybe we should still spell his name right.

June 28, 2021 at 08:14 AM · Point taken. Typo fixed!

June 28, 2021 at 08:56 AM · One corrected, seven more to go!

In his early years Zukerman's great rival (at least in the musical press) was Kyung-wha Chung. I wonder if this could have developed into personal antipathy and festered in his mind?

June 28, 2021 at 10:56 AM · Zukerman is an authentic person who doesn't subscribe for a bit to the woke culture of people looking hard to showcase their battle against made-up insensitivities. What a great example - Juilliard and the commenters here who fake that they think the little girls are traumatized Because somebody thinks that Koreans don't sing or that someone mistakenly assumed that they are Koreans and not half Japanese. If they are traumatized it is because the adults around them that quickly make sure to not leave a doubt that the sisters will leave that event thinking that they are victims of some kind. Instead of being taught to stand up straight and correct his mistake they are taught this. the sad thing is the irony - with this education they really end up playing like robots.

June 28, 2021 at 12:13 PM · I'm very saddened by this and also surprised. I know Zukerman has promoted and supported young violinists and prodigies from Korea, Japan and Singapore. But judging by previous comments this behaviour has occurred previously.

June 28, 2021 at 12:41 PM · Laurie, thank you for this!

To those who try to use freedom of speech as a defensive weapon for offensive language, you are basically admitting your ignorance about this right. The constitutional rights such as speech rights only protect individuals from government interference or regulation. In a private setting you don’t have such rights to begin with whether the content is offensive or not.

As for Zukerman’s speech, I am not at all surprised. I recall attending to one of his masterclasses more than 15 years ago, my impression of him was this: a very spoiled man enjoyed making people laugh by insulting students and audience alike. I wasn’t going call him a jerk but I guess I just did.

June 28, 2021 at 01:51 PM · Julien understands that offensive speech is the speech that is protected in our country. Warm and fuzzy speech doesn't need to be protected. This doesn't mean that an adult should be a jerk to children but this requires self editing. I've been the recipient of such behavior many times and in the long run it made me a better person. Surely Juilliard wasn't buying a pig in a poke when they invited him to participate in this event. They knew from experience what he's like, and there is further more than a little arrogance there too.

June 28, 2021 at 02:25 PM · Roy --

"authentic person" -- what does that even mean? That when he does dumb things the Plebians shouldn't have the gall to question him?

"made-up insensitivities" -- so you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the girls to whom the remarks were directed did not find them insensitive? That's a cool super power, hope I can develop it some day.

"who fake that they think" -- no, they just have the ability to put themselves in another's place and can fathom what it possibly felt like.

"it is because the adults around them" -- again, that is an amazing super power you have to know for sure that they weren't hurt by those comments.

"Instead of being taught to stand up straight and correct" -- sure, that's a nice concept. Sometimes people do that. But sometimes the people are students, and it's certainly an odd, unwelcomed, and unexpected thing to find oneself in a situation where one 'should' correct a teacher. Have you ever done that? To someone famous and 'authentic'? In a public setting? That's being recorded? And slated to be posted on the internet? Can you imagine how, in such a situation, it might be just a little difficult to do so?

June 28, 2021 at 02:27 PM · It is worth mentioning that freedom of speech was intended specifically for offensive or hateful speech but does not exemption people from the consequences or reprisal of said speech.

What does it say about our society if we have to sterilize and guard all speech and actions from any even potential slight or insult. Leave it to individuals to decide whether they have been insulted instead of deciding it for them.

From the other comments, I can see that the man was not a paragon of virtue, but that does not at all detract from his violin virtuosity.

June 28, 2021 at 02:28 PM · Laurie, thank you for writing this important and difficult story. Young artists should not be subject to comments like these, which have nothing to do with their musical abilities and will not serve to help them grow in any way. There are plenty of ways to give constructive, effective musical feedback which have nothing to do with the race of an artist and don't involve stereotyping an entire nation. As an educational institution Juilliard is well within its rights to choose which classes they make available to the public and which they do not. Kudos to them for taking a strong response and for setting an example for us all in how to deal with situations like this going forward.

June 28, 2021 at 03:26 PM · David - by authentic I meant natural. He doesn't have a website. He doesn't have a Facebook page. He is very, very rare in the fact that he is himself on stage, what you see is what you get. There are countless prominent artists who I'm sure are monsters - but they are playing the game of facades, the game of washed political correctness and crafty awareness. it seems most of the people here would prefer those "perfect fake facades" to the imperfect but authentic artists such as he.

it is a known fact that people beyond a certain age tend to be a little insensitive with stereotypes or even mild racism that doesn't at all come from a bad place. does that mean they are bad people, that institutions should hurry to distance themselves from? no!(oh come-on, each of you has that grandparent). ignoring that is hypocrisy.

as for the sisters "trauma" - I am from Israel, like Zukerman. in Israel we are being taught from a very young age (as a matter of policy in fact) that there are people in the world that want us dead. same as the united states - there are a lot of countries who simply despise the united states and of course vice versa. The half Japanese sisters have been exposed to a man who wrongly thinks Koreans can't sing. ok - big deal! poor girls! let them go cry the their Japanese grandparents and while they are at that, perhaps ask them what do they think of Koreans. I'm afraid they going to hear stereotypes a lot of worse - should they cut all ties with them perhaps?

June 28, 2021 at 03:30 PM · A lot of very stupid takes in here under the guise of "what about free speech?!".

People, if you think that the legal concept of freedom of speech has anything to do with what people can get in trouble for saying at a private employer, you need to take a cursory look at the text of the 1st Amendment, and if you think that the ideal of freedom of speech means that there should be no consequences for people going to their jobs and insulting children they are supposed to be teaching with racist and misogynistic diatribes, then you need psychological help.

These are not difficult concepts to grasp - what's your excuse? You are so brave being proudly ignorant in public!

June 28, 2021 at 04:11 PM · A "master class" is a designated platform for a master teacher, a role model, to share their insights with others. In this case, some of Zukerman's "insights" were offensive and wrong. As a private institution Juilliard is well within their rights to choose not to promote Zukerman further. It is past time that he begin to feel the social consequences of being a horse's ass*. There are plenty of master musicians in the world who make better choices.

And of course the power dynamic in such a session would preclude most children from sticking up for themselves. Even correcting him as mildly as they did must have taken guts.

*I, too, have experienced Zukerman being a complete, unprovoked jerk to an innocent bystander (in this case, my sister).

June 28, 2021 at 04:22 PM · Laurie, thanks for speaking up and sharing this story. Mr Zukerman’s violin virtuosity does not give him the privilege to give offensive remarks to his students, this is simple arrogance and lacks of respect.

June 28, 2021 at 04:23 PM · It's certainly a thing these days to claim that being an ass in public is a virtue, but it's not a virtue; it's just being an ass in public. Being an ass doesn't make you brave or more "authentic" than people who have learned to behave better. The "authenticity" argument is a claim that everyone feels the same way as the public ass feels, but is too cowardly to say it out loud. That claim is a lie.

June 28, 2021 at 04:38 PM · Great article Laurie. This has created quite a whirlwind of responses on Instagram, dividing opinion and creating conversation. Its good to see people educating themselves and learning more and more about the horrors of racism within the [classical] musical community.

Time for younger musicians to be taking masterclasses that do not offend people.

No single young person from the AAPI community (or any other community) should be subject to ridicule, offense or racist remarks during any setting.

June 28, 2021 at 05:11 PM · Free speech is popularly defined as the freedom to say what you wish, anytime you wish. On the one hand I think this is a solid freedom we should respect. It also makes it easy to identify people who are racist, filled with hate, and flat-out loopy. Don’t silence the wackos! I want to know who they are so I can avoid them! Do they have a right to be that way? Absolutely! If you want to be a jerk, go for it! However, there is another part to this equation that needs to be considered. You may have the right and freedom to call it to say what you wish, but I happen to have the freedom to ignore you, or tell you exactly what I think of what you say, and, ultimately, to dismiss you. I don’t have to put up with your nonsense if you are going to be an ignorant fool running off at the mouth. If Zukerman wants to say racist and thoughtless things, well, it’s his choice. (It’s a stupid choice, but there you are.) It is also, the complete right of the Julliard school to refuse to let it go any further than that. They didn’t know this guy was going to say dumb things to kids, so, why should they broadcast this nonsense? Say what you wish, once, but don’t expect me to hear you a second time. I’ve got too much to do to put up with that stupidity.

June 28, 2021 at 05:18 PM · This is easy.

No smell test needed. It stinks even before you enter.

Get ready, Mr Zuckerman. You live in a dynamic world and your entitled and arrogant behavior of the past won't fly any more.

Get used to it.

June 28, 2021 at 05:21 PM · I remember the time, in the early seventies, when I accused my father of harboring racism because he subscribed to some stereotypical viewpoints. He responded with anger. My father was basically a good man, from an earlier generation, that simply did not attribute any hatred to the things he said. It was so imbedded in him by the culture in which he grew up. I suspect the same could be said about Zukerman. While I think Juilliard made the correct decision, I am also concerned that one thing said by Zukerman will cause many to judge his life based upon this thing and not include the way he may have treated others his whole life and, of course, by his contributions to all of us who have played violin. I forgave my father for the things he said, as I realized his comments and attitudes did not make up the totality of his being. I hope he forgave me of my youthful accusations as it did not adequately reflect the level of love I had for him.

My father was quite a violinist in his day. But he gave it up. He shouldn’t have. He wasn’t a prodigy, but he was playing in the Oakland Symphony when he was just fifteen. He was the one that got me started when I was seven. He was the one that understood why I left it at eighteen because he had as well. I wish he were alive now to know that I picked it up again about six months ago after fifty years of leaving it in its case.

June 28, 2021 at 05:38 PM · I'm glad that Juilliard took the stand that they did. It's Zukerman's right to say what he wants. It's Juilliard's right to disagree and pull the video. Artists of all levels are not above the responsibility to respect basic human dignity.

June 28, 2021 at 05:55 PM · From what has been written, the girls are American. Why are they not referred to as American?

June 28, 2021 at 06:20 PM · Juilliard absolutely did the right thing in pulling the video, and I am very sorry that two talented young American violinists were subjected to such offensive behavior in a forum where they had a right to expect respectful treatment.

Beyond that all I can say is that I am not really surprised.

It’s worth remembering that terrible people can play beautifully and beautiful people can play terribly.

June 28, 2021 at 06:55 PM · There is an Italian saying that runs "il silenzio è d'oro, la parola d'argento" (words are silver, silence is gold). He was being paid for that. The girls probably were dreaming about that, it was big day for them. When you work with young students, you have to be kind with them. Art is on the DNA of every human being, including singing. Asian music had a strong influence in Debussy's music. But Zukerman is the best viola test driver I have ever met, he wwas kind and generous in all the times I met him and, as a viola maker, I received valuable advice from him.

June 28, 2021 at 07:13 PM · Laura, I noticed that, instead they are "half Japanese," harkening back to the old days of the belief that what you are is in fact in your DNA and is immutable, though this belief is prevalent in some cultures. She was asked "where are you from?" New York. She's a New Yorker.

Also, freedom of speech in America has little to do with constitutional law and everything to do with its necessity for a healthy democracy. And I'm not referring strictly to government. IF everyone who expresses a view that is repugnant to others is silenced then who will speak?

June 28, 2021 at 07:37 PM · Reply to the notion that Juilliard has engaged in censorship or "political-correctness":

Juilliard's opting not to post the video is neither. It is Juilliard enforcing standards on what is made public in its name.

Mr. Zuckerman is free to go espouse his racist ignorance on his own. There is no reason why Juilliard should be obliged to do it for him.

Bravi to Juilliard, and to Laurie Niles.

June 28, 2021 at 07:52 PM · Freedom of speech in the US means only that the government does not interfere with your right to say whatever you want to say short of endangering public safety (for example you can’t shout “fire!” in a crowded theater).

It does not mean that there may not be consequences for being offensive. It just means that those consequences won’t include being arrested or imprisoned.

Juilliard has every right to determine who may and may not represent them as an institution.

June 28, 2021 at 07:55 PM · I have listened to Zukerman master classes on youtube and was less than impressed. He talked too much about himself; made a lot of jokes that were for the most part not funny.

His advice to students was mostly too general to be useful (like in this example: "phrase better" or "sing" are unhelpful advice).

I wonder though if the performance was so good that Zukerman had a hard time criticizing it, so he started BS-ing. I have wondered before what a master class teacher should do if someone plays just perfectly. It must have happened sometimes.

June 28, 2021 at 08:17 PM · Apologists for Mr. Zukerman will have to reckon with the fact that, whatever principle they think they are upholding, they will be seen by many good-hearted people not just as misguided but as defective and dangerous to a civil society. It is very hard to appreciate whatever decency and humanity they may have when, by their own actions, they have cast so much doubt.

June 28, 2021 at 08:42 PM · I agree with many of the statements made above, but particularly resonated with those made by Yixi Zhang and Toby Yee and Thomas Suarez.

I'll only add that part of being a "professional," in the context of fulfilling a contract to appear as an expert in a formal educational activity such as a master class, means that you cleave to the highest standards, expectations, and "best practices" of your peers in your discipline. In this regard Zuckerman failed utterly as a professional. Juilliard should not feel obliged to allow his moment of utter stupidity to tarnish its reputation.

It's just really sad because Zuckerman is such a brilliant player, I just adore the way he plays. He needs to make an apology, and that right soon.

June 28, 2021 at 10:08 PM · Like Laurie, I enjoyed Mr Zuckerman's Mozart recordings. But I'm appalled to hear that he behaved so rudely. No student deserves that kind of insult, least of all students who are gifted and hard-working enough to be admitted to a master class with one of the big names. Sad to say though, that I wasn't surprised. In my book 'Not by Love Alone' (p. 340), I quote a comment by him about Midori, '(...) Her mother tongue is Japanese, so everything is always going to be a bit foreign for her.' Apart from anything else, this demonstrates monumental ignorance of the modern history of music in East Asian countries.

June 28, 2021 at 10:24 PM · You guys have been terribly influenced by the McCarthy period. I agree that there must be a limit to the freedom of speech. My issue here is that you all call Mr Zuckermann a racist very easily where I see, at most, some stereotypes. I have personnaly no idea about the ususal teaching habits in Japan/Korea or wherever but for sure there are differences between how the music is taught in New york and in Soul for instance. Pointing the differences has nothing to do with racism. Again, I have personnally no idea whether these specific differences exist or not.

Please, do not call everything racisms. Everything is not Racism. Racism truly exist everywhere but every word has a meaning.

June 28, 2021 at 11:13 PM · @ Julien Taieb: That's the point though: they are American, born and raised. They are not from Korea or Japan. They were taught in New York, not Seoul or Tokyo.

He assumed that they were from Korea, where alledgedly they don't sing (not true). They told him they were not. He then told them that having Japanese ancestry is the same as having grown up in a country where they don't sing either (again, not true). It's completely irrelevant if they do sing in these two countries or not, as are the different teaching habits in these countries. The two students aren't from there, they weren't taught there. They are Americans from New York.

The clear assumption in Zukerman's utterances is that ONLY your "race"/ancestry/genetics determine your outlook and ability. He made negative assumptions about them based on their "race"/ancestry/genetics ignoring their actual upbringing and circumstances. That's the aspect in his behaviour in this interaction that's racist, not merely the fact that he ignorantly and falsely stereotyped/claimed that they don't sing in Korea or Japan.

Making negative assumptions about someone based exclusively on their being part of a "racial"/ethnic group, ignoring their actual individuality and actual circumstances is the textbook definition of racism.

True, not "everything" is racist, as you say. But Zukerman's behavior due to these reasons above, in this instance, IS racist.

June 28, 2021 at 11:41 PM · "but every word has a meaning."

I read your whole post, Julien, and I present your post back to you as exhibit "A" in disproving your thesis.

June 29, 2021 at 01:39 AM · @Jasper What's even worse is that the program and the student bios sent out to all attendees before the first session clearly said the sisters were born in New York. Either Mr. Zukerman forgot that, or never bothered to read it in the first place.

June 29, 2021 at 01:58 AM · Mary Ellen Goree is exactly right about freedom of speech.

When we talk about freedom of speech in America without basic understanding of the First Amendment, we are telling everyone that we don’t know what we are talking about.

When we assert that freedom of speech is necessity for a healthy democracy without also being mindful of the essence/nature, boundary, applicability, the justification of such freedom, and against whom under what circumstances we can claim such freedom, we are telling others that we don’t know what we are talking about.

June 29, 2021 at 02:21 AM · I can't believe people are defending overtly derogatory comments directed at specific ethnicities. It can't get more obvious than that.

Look, even if you believe that words are harmless (which they absolutely are not), it is clear that the quality of the masterclass has been compromised by Zukerman's prejudices. One can no longer be confident that anything he says is an unbiased professional opinion. It is also clearly discrimination: the two students are receiving lower-quality instruction because of their ethnicity.

June 29, 2021 at 02:22 AM · Thank you for your report Laurie, which was far more detailed than the NY Times today. Imagine the severe consequences these students would have faced if they referred to Mr. Zuckerman with slurs demeaning his ethnicity. There is no doubt that micro aggressions like Mr. Zuckerman's are literally the seeds of violence against Asian Americans. Tell me violinists, teachers, presenters, orchestras, conductors, journalists and listeners, what will the consequences for Mr. Zuckerman be?

June 29, 2021 at 02:37 AM · I was told that Mr. Zukerman did not always behave nicely by someone I trust. I can see that this is unfortunately true. But I have to say that I once saw a masterclass conducted by an aged Sandor Vegh well over 30 years ago where he treated a Korean student so badly I was mortified for her (she was crying) - he then made some aside comment about Koreans' playing in general that was...... I felt awful. He may have been right in his assessment of her playing (and maybe he was having a bad day - he had serious health issues), but his comments were cruel and prejudiced. This kind of prejudice isn't anything new apparently in the music world. That it shouldn't exist is obvious, but it must have been inculcated in some of our older musicians who should have gotten over it by now. Juilliard is right. I am so glad I wasn't watching that class. I would have felt as I did when I saw that young Korean being practically ripped to pieces. I hope she got over it and pursued a successful career. p.s. by the way, freedom of speech means you can say what you like, but that does not mean there won't be consequences. There are libel and slander laws, for example. You can't be in a position of power, as all teachers are, and not be careful of what you say. You can lose that position and your power very easily. Yes, he can say whatever he wants, but like any teacher he can be held responsible for the consequences: if you are rude to students, you won't be asked back and you should apologize.

June 29, 2021 at 04:18 AM · I appreciated Menahem Pressler's contribution to the discussion on the Slipped Disc blog: https://slippedisc.com/2021/06/just-in-juilliard-shuts-down-zukermans-offensive-masterclass/#comments/704523

June 29, 2021 at 05:08 AM · Greetings,

racism begins with stereotyping. As I said in the previous post Zuckerman follows a typical pattern of racism by stereotyping, denigrating and then ridiculing through mimicry.

Just because it doesn’t include the more obvious incitements to violence doesn’t mean it should be allowed to pass as a rather insensitive good ole boy making a tasteless joke.

It is a typical example of the ‘yellow peril’ xenophobic thread running through more than a century of American history. Within today’s context of spreading proto-fascism and a massive increase in hate crimes against Asian looking people it stands as the kind of institutionalized racism that some people quickly dismiss as ‘woke’ because that is how the far right steal and subvert language intended for better purposes.

One can go on more or less indirectly supporting racism in this way , always with the added rider that ‘racism is everywhere.’ The question is, how long can we keep up this ‘don’t see nothing, don’t take it seriously’ position while the degree of racist based violence around us is increasing exponentially. Any sensible reading of the news shows a long hard battle for democracy or even just basic human decency is staring us in the face.

Zuckerman comes from a generation that grew up in an uncritically racist environment. That is actually a complicating factor. However, a majority of people from these generations tries, I think, t to at least grapple with it and move on to a degree. Zuckerman doesn’ seem to get this at all and maybe he has been afforded way too much leeway since consolidating his place as the preeminet post-Galamian online guru.

Maybe he will read Laurie’s post and give some consideration to the cliche that ‘with power comes responsibility,’ but I’m not holding my breath.



June 29, 2021 at 10:55 AM · Hi everyone,

I am seeing some comments emphasising how wrong Zuckerman's comments were within the subtext of: the sisters are Asian American! Zuckerman should know better than to say racists things about Asians who are also American!

Being American should not be the redeeming quality for Asian musicians. Asian musicians with little exposure to western culture recieve these kind of belittling and racist comments all the time without the support and outrage from the international musical community.

The problem with Zuckerman's comments is not: how dare he not make the effort to distinguish Asian Americans from Asians and that is why his comments are awful. It is: NO ONE should recieve this kind of condescending comment on their abilities based on how they look like.

Hope what I wrote makes sense :)

June 29, 2021 at 11:40 AM · I just wanted to put another thought out into the ether, regarding whether it was fair for Juilliard to remove the video.

Looking at it from a teacher’s point of view, I can’t help but to be disappointed that many iconic, well regarded and experienced teachers fall into this mindset of: there are so many things I teach that you won’t understand anyway so why bother. This attitude combined with the false belief that the ability to pick up on the most subtle nuances of classical music is inherently integral to your race just leaves a very sour taste. Nobody would like to present something so personal as a piece of music and have it condemned even before you have the opportunity to show that you are open to learn and to change!

Ultimately, it comes down to whether a school wants to endorse a teacher with an attitude that is so close minded, he is not able to teach in an engaging way where everyone (the teacher, the student and the audience) goes away having learnt something worthwhile. Deciding to curate their collection of lessons available online in a way that reflect their values as educators and deciding that what Zuckerman had to offer did not reach their standards is totally legitimate.

June 29, 2021 at 12:34 PM · Just a note for those who say Koreans and Japanese don't/can't sing. The word "KARAOKE" is Japanese.

But anyway, that's irrelevant since these ladies are "New Yorker's" (I'm in Texas so New York is foreign to me!).

June 29, 2021 at 01:44 PM · by singing he most probably meant inner singing that manifests in the playing and not the physical ability to sing or in the case of K-POP to sing with auto tune

June 29, 2021 at 03:46 PM · Buri wrote: "Zuckerman comes from a generation that grew up in an uncritically racist environment." I agree. Mr. Zuckerman is an educated man. He knows exactly what his words meant and simply didn't care. He believes there will be no repercussions. Racism towards Asian Americans has always been trivialized until this recent upsurge in violence. I think of the basketball player Jeremey Lin when an opposing player called him "Corona Virus." The coach did not reprimand that opposing player and pull him from the game. The referee did not call a technical foul for taunting or eject him. He was not suspended. Jeremy, probably fearing repercussions, would not name the player. Yet Meyer Leonard, a Miami Heat player, was rightly fined, suspended and then traded because he used an anti-Semitic slur when playing a private video game. Why are there no consequences for insulting Asian Americans? Social change must take place within each of us. Mr. Zuckerman should face serious consequences from the musical community or he will laugh this off. Interesting that the NY Times article has been removed from their site.

June 29, 2021 at 04:16 PM · Recently I re-viewed the movie "Hell or High Water" starring Jeff Bridges as a near-retirement Texas Ranger. Bridges' character delights in teasing his mixed-race (Mexican/Native American) partner with all manner of stereotypical insults. Obviously the old man thinks his taunts are received as charming "old school" banter (dare I say "locker-room talk"), but the viewer is made abundantly aware that the younger Ranger is disgusted and deeply offended by what he hears from his partner all day long.

If Zuckerman is not a racist, then what really were the origins of his bile?

June 29, 2021 at 04:31 PM · Zuckerman can behave like this because he has existed in his own giant bubble for decades surrounded by fawning acolytes and disciples.

It should have burst long ago.

June 29, 2021 at 06:44 PM · Here’s a tip for anyone organizing a public event like this:

If you don’t want to be embarrassed by outrageous remarks made by your employee(s), don’t hire people with a long history of making outrageous remarks (whether or not they are politically incorrect). It’s not like this is the first time he’s said something that might most charitably be characterized as unfortunate. The words were Zukerman’s, but Juilliard provided the stage.

And for anyone considering attending or playing in a master class:

Listen to the stuff about playing the violin, and ignore any nonsense. If you aren’t interested in the former, why go? The latter is in ample supply everywhere.

June 29, 2021 at 11:13 PM · Jason Hwang,

the NYT article is still there. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/28/arts/music/pinchas-zukerman-violinist-asians.html

June 30, 2021 at 12:29 AM · Laurie, Thank you so much for this article about Zuckerman's violin masterclass at Juilliard. I would like to offer some perspective on his unfortunate and insensitive remarks. When I was starting out playing viola in the 1960s there were still many Old School violin teachers out there. My first viola teacher was an Italian concert violinist, who had studied at the Bologna Conservatory of Music. He told me many stories of what violin students endured in order to become great. For example, he had to write out the entire score, including all of the orchestra parts, to the violin concerto he was performing by memory!!! Students were often hit by their teachers or verbally debased for not practicing. I studied with a famous viola teacher who yelled at students and told me I had the worst bowing hand he had ever seen. He told me stories about performing in Toscanini's NBC Symphony during the Depression when he fired an entire horn section for one mistake. There was a line of hungry musicians waiting outside the door, so everyone had to know their parts perfectly.

I met Mr. Zuckerman backstage at an LA Phil concert where he was conducting and soloing as a violinist and violist. I got a chance to talk to him about dynamics. He prefers the softer side as this provides room to a greater range of dynamics. He said that the soloist needs to make the audience listen. Zuckerman studied with Ivan Galamian early on in New York. Galamian made all of the prodigies he taught at summer camps play the A Major scale for one entire month with various bowings. The level of perfection during this era was extremely high and the demands were great from the Old School violin teachers. There were comments made to me as a teenaged female viola student that would make modern women bristle. My middle school string teacher said that I would never make it as a viola player because I am female and would never have the upper shoulder strength to play it well! This comment did make me bristle, so I practiced even harder just to prove this man wrong! I think that was part of his mindset to use Gestalt and offensive comments to motivate a student to either practice harder or to quit. Many Old School teachers used Gestalt methods to get their students to practice harder. I decided not to adopt that philosophy.

When China opened up to the outside world some of the top violinists were invited in the 1980s to teach masterclasses. Classical music was mostly foreign to their ears, especially after the Cultural Revolution. The general consensus of these virtuosos of the Old School was that they did not play with any emotion. The words "robotic" or "mechanical" were used at that time forty years ago. However, Asian violinists are now leading the World in Classical music. They have the discipline that other students are now lacking. Plus they hire the finest teachers. Mr. Zuckerman needs to realize that we are no longer in the 20th century. This is the New Age.

June 30, 2021 at 12:40 AM · I'm a Korean and I will speak on behalf of him. I had a chance to have tea with him at a music festival in Japan. He likes Asia. One shouldn't judge him, if he or she doesn't know him well enough. I think he was speaking like a very close but a little bit insensitive friend.

Koreans are great singers as you can see from the number of karaokes in Korean communities and TV shows. People make you sing during your birthday. He should not be punished too harshly for silly comments like these.

June 30, 2021 at 01:06 AM · Thanks Bill, good to know the article is there. When I did a search under his name, the article doesn't appear.

June 30, 2021 at 03:28 AM · After reading all the comments, I am surprised (and not) to see that there are still people vehemently trying to justify Mr.Zukerman's words, or downplay the consequences. The reasons they provided include: He's an old Jewish man, thus exempted from being holding prejudices, or can be forgiven for racist comments, or that he was just following some old school harsh pedagogy, or that Asians indeed can't sing because the only music they produce is K-pop, or that Zukerman thought he was visiting China forty odd years ago.

Now let's see what those justifications speak about people who posted them:

1. That classical music was foreign to Asians years ago and their students played like robots back then - this argument is weak and tangible at best. Mind you, the two girls are Americans. But of course, to many non-European is the same as non-American.

2. That Mr.Zukerman simply subscribed to the humiliation pedagogy - I believe that teachers back in the days had more authority and were harsh. However, if that was the motivation for Zukerman's comments, then he'd said 'You can't sing. It's not in your DNA' instead of 'Asians can't sing, it's just not in their DNA'. So this argument didn't bring vindication but quite the opposite.

3. Asians can't sing because Kpop isn't singing - I almost laughed. Asians people have been known to produce authentic and melodic vocal music for centuries.

4. This old man is Jewish and it's natural for him to have racial stereotypes - Whoever posted this, please stop being a pathetic clown here. If you really think Zukerman's age and ethnicity planted prejudice in him, look up what Issac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin did for young students from the far East.

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