Zukerman Issues Apology After Using Offensive Stereotypes During Master Class

June 29, 2021, 11:43 AM · Following the uproar after a master class Friday in which Pinchas Zukerman used offensive cultural stereotypes, the violinist on Monday issued an apology through his publicity agent. Here is the statement:

"There is nothing more important to me than imparting the knowledge I've accumulated over the course of my career to future generations. In Friday's master class, I was trying to communicate something to these two incredibly talented young musicians, but the words I used were culturally insensitive. I'm writing to the students personally to apologize. I am sorry that I made anyone uncomfortable. I cannot undo that, but I offer a sincere apology. I learned something valuable from this, and I will do better in the future."

Pinchas Zukerman
Violinist Pinchas Zukerman.

Video of master class, part of this year's virtual Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at The Juilliard School, was to be posted for participants in the symposium, but the Symposium and Juilliard chose not to do so. Their 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."

At issue was his interaction with a pair of young violinists from New York. Click here to read a full description of the interaction. Zukerman's comments to them ranged from suggesting they use a little "soy sauce" in their playing to the statement, "In Korea they don't sing. It's not in their DNA."

The girls were American, as stated in their bios in the Symposium program book, which was available to all participants and faculty. When Zukerman assumed they were Korean during the course of the master class, one of the sisters stated they were of half-Japanese descent.

Zukerman's statements at the master class, as described here on Violinist.com, were reported in many outlets, including the New York Times, and generated hundreds of comments on social media and various websites, with people sharing their stories about culturally insensitive behavior in the classical music world. Some even referenced past incidents with Zukerman specifically.

The outpouring illustrated ongoing problems within the classical music community, where too many people of color and women continue to feel not just uncomfortable but unwelcome and even unsafe pursuing a career in classical music. This is damaging not just to those who are targeted by such behavior but also to the entire industry.

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Replies

June 29, 2021 at 05:44 PM · Zukerman's apology is as good as any one encounters from people who have made the same error. He avoided saying: "I am sorry that they should have felt insulted by what I said". He says clearly "I am sorry for what I said".

We will never know how sincere anybody's apology is. But I think he will try and adjust his behavior. Good for him and the people he interacts with!

June 29, 2021 at 08:27 PM · What Mr.Zukerman needs to do is to figure out how exactly he grew this toxic mindset. I am sure he won't make similar comments after this reprehensible gaffe, but it is why this kind of prejudice and unsound stereotype even stemmed within the classical music community, that really matters.

June 29, 2021 at 09:48 PM · The classical music community ... the scientific community ... the you-name-it community, the same things happen everywhere. It's not enough to point at Zukerman and say, "He was wrong." We need to think about how WE can do better too.

June 29, 2021 at 11:47 PM · I agree with Paul 100%. Zukerman apologized, and I'm glad he did. However, he is not an outlier within this community, and certainly not this society. Many people - many white people - need to admit that all of us have a long way to go in acknowledging our racism and sense of blame shifting. Someone says something insensitive, and we point fingers in their direction within a context of silently thinking, "better him than me". But let's face it. We've all - ALL - said thoughtless, mindless, and hurtful things, and often without knowing we've offended anyone, Face it, we all need to do a lot of work. Moral superiority is a mask. Take it off, and deal with the reality of the situation. As someone were know once said in John 8:7, viz. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” I can't do that. Can you?

June 29, 2021 at 11:55 PM · I am glad that Mr. Zuckerman has sincerely apologized and wishes to learn from his errors. Yes, all of us have prejudices that we struggle to overcome. But let's remember we are talking about a star, a veteran performer who made multiple racist comments on a big stage to a global audience. How does Mr. Zuckerman address students behind the closed doors of a private lesson or classroom? I would not want my child to study with him. If I were in an orchestra, I wouldn't care to play with him. As a listener, I will not be attending his concerts or purchasing his CDs. Why? Ask any Asian American and they will tell you their childhood was marred by the type of racial insults so ingrained into Mr. Zuckerman vocabulary. Especially because we have loved Mr. Zuckerman's violin for so many years, we question whether such a harsh response is warranted. Let's love him with tough honesty. If a concert violinist of color made similar comments about Mr. Zuckerman's ethnicity, oops I'm sorry wouldn't suffice. Mr. Zuckerman will have to find substantive ways to rebuild trust.

June 30, 2021 at 12:54 AM · Greetings,

interesting point Jason. Turning thing around does often offer very pointed illumination. Suppose one of these girls had said `I’m sorry. I think Jews play too schmaltzy.’?

I also note that Zuckerman actually makes no reference to his other faux pax which was barely questioned in the preceding thread. Middle + aged white man in position of power thinks he has a natural right to hug women without permission and that the offer to do so has some kind of unique value such that gratitude or at least a joyful response is de rigeur.

Of course I realize that this comment will engender a lot of ‘aw come off it’ what is wrong with hugging? He’s just a friendly guy ‘ (a la Joe Biden) Unfortunately, like in the issue of Asian hate crimes I would respectfully suggest a little more thought is warranted. Statistics on rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence are more than enough to demand we white privileged males step back and think a lot more deeply about appropriate boundaries.

Cheers,

Buri

June 30, 2021 at 12:55 AM · "Moral superiority is a mask."

Moral inferiority is a plague that infests our culture and others', generally shamelessly, until some speak. The violin and classical music world has numerous mindless prejudices, and it's not especially hard for most of us to step back and try to break the habit on occasion; we have to care enough to want to do it.

Zukerman should be grateful for this experience and opportunity to reflect on his prejudices and maybe even be proud of the positive impact this event might have the broader community for a moment, though certainly not for the disgraceful speech that it was and for the harm that it has on those who have been and continue to be marginalized and judged through racial and cultural prejudices; a rubber ball that bounces all around.

That even Norman Lebrecht's site is apparently momentarily taking a break from anti anti-racism is hopeful, but if I was to take such impressions at face value, I'd be mindless too.

Kudos to Laurie for being clear and forthright at the onset, in contrast.

June 30, 2021 at 02:01 AM · Very glad Mr. Zukerman offered what seems to be an honest apology; and thanks Laurie for the well written article! Hopefully Mr. Zukerman applies some of the honesty he often speaks about in self reflection to root out other prejudices he may be unconsciously harboring.

June 30, 2021 at 02:42 AM · Stephen, My violin teacher wanted to correct part of my bow hold and he asked me if he could touch my finger. Of course, I said, thinking that was erring on the side of too much care. However, if he took liberties he would get a kick in the shin. Though I usually laugh things off and embarrass the perpetrator which hurts far worse than a kick in the shin.

June 30, 2021 at 10:18 AM · Greetings,

Ann, I think your teacher is professional and appropriate. I first noticed this kind of check creeping into Alexander Lessons about 20 years ago when, perhaps even following organizational guidelines (AT is very officially structured in most countries), teachers started saying ‘if at any time you feel nervous or threatened ask me to stop immediately.’ Sexually threading behaviour and assault has been ignored for way too long in my opinion. The Chethams, Menuhin School, Manchester travesty should have been a wake up call for the music world but it seems many have slept through it.

I found it interesting to break down the list of actual priorities of discussion in the initial thread.

1)Significant amount of time on nature of free speech (white section)

2) Denial of problem or cautious sensitive follow up (white section)

3) Very angry reaction by Asian linked group based on experience…

4) Italian section warm and compassionate (because Italian, or Luis is just a great guy but not 100% representative)

5). Almost complete ignoring the nasty sexual over tone which Zuckerman himself deosn’t seem aware of. So much for women’s rights.

6) Christian as always on point: He’s a moron.

Cheers,

Buri

June 30, 2021 at 01:59 PM · I am glad that Zukerman has apologised for this incident. The thing is, we all notice certain characteristics and quirks of different countries and cultures. We compare and contrast with our own. But even though many stereotypes contain a grain of truth, we cannot limit people to that box. Zukerman may be well-travelled, but this is a sloppy and insensitive representation of Korean and/or Japanese culture. I am glad he recognised that, and we can move on.

June 30, 2021 at 03:34 PM · Bravo, Buri!

June 30, 2021 at 06:30 PM · Apologies can be accepted and should be but the scars stay.

As far as I know, Mr. Z went to Juilliard to study with Galamian but disappointed, quit after finding he would take classes with Galamian’s assistant instead, Mrs. DeLay. Mr. Z shouldn't be in this event to begin with. Things started wrong and ended wrong.

July 1, 2021 at 03:45 AM · His original statements make him sound ignorant. There are so many fabulous violinists coming from those countries! I do, however, understand that we have a generational divide. I believe the older masters still have value to offer, but they may need some editing when presenting in a public forum. But we shouldn’t always throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s a tricky line to walk.

July 1, 2021 at 03:49 AM · I wonder how the "freedom of speech" crowd would react if someone (let's say a German) says that members of Mr. Zuckerman's ethnic group can't play Mozart because it is not in their DNA?

July 1, 2021 at 04:45 AM · Ashley,

sadly, as you say, age does make a difference. My generation grew up reading ‘10 Little N….’ by Agatha Christie without giving it a second thought.

Cheers,

Buri

July 1, 2021 at 11:57 AM · Buri, "10 Little N....." was published over 10 years before the first group of West Indians immigrated to the UK on the Windrush (and even a couple of years before the Holocaust). So Agatha Christie mightn't have had reason even to suspect that there might ever be colour-based racial issues in the UK - Not that I hold any brief for Agatha Christie!

July 1, 2021 at 10:52 PM · Let he who has no racial or minority bias throw the first rosin block.

Clue: we all have. What's really important is how much we recognize it and how hard we try to improve ourselves. Some people are naturally more empathetic and self-aware and can avoid the social faux pas, insults and illegal characterizations whereas others have a very hard time escaping from the norms they grew up with. I actually feel sorry for the people that have ingrained discrimination and struggle to escape it. The important factor here is the struggle - sincere striving to change is one thing, changing the words because one was caught is quite another. Which way is it for Mr. Z? Only time will tell but at least he has said the right things and is doing the right actions. I for one would give him a chance to prove his sincerity. How? Well, what about supporting an appropriate minority scholarship or taking on likewise trainee. Actions will get him out of this. Words will not in the long term.

July 2, 2021 at 02:58 AM · Zukerman has a long history of that kind of behavior. The difference here is that he got caught on video.

Why did no one step in to moderate? This unfolded in front of 150 people, uninterrupted. This isn’t the only master class where a guru has treated a student badly. What is it about master classes where students are expected to take it, and the audience just sits there quietly? Don’t say it’s because it’s on Zoom. This has long been the norm in master classes.

Has anyone thought about what would happen if a student said to him, in front of a live audience: “No, I don’t accept hugs from morons,” or “That’s racist!”

July 3, 2021 at 11:40 AM · Around 22 years ago or more, Mr Z visited South Africa and gave some masterclasses. The Soweto-based Community string project which I had recently started had already produced a little string quartet - not very advanced but able to play very creditably. We worked together on a string quartet by one of Mozart's contemporaries, and because I am a HIP violist I was at the time - and still am - focussing very much on style. So there was a certain level of sophistication about their performance. I don't know whether Mr Z felt insulted, but his response was to tear them to shreds and then tell them to find a room and go and practise. This we did. The minutes ticked past and when eventually I could wait no longer I returned to the Hall. He had entirely forgotten about them. I felt very betrayed on behalf of my young students, but most especially because I had known Pinky 20 years earlier through my teacher, Cecil Aronowitz. In contrast, the Tokyo String Quartet came down to Soweto in 1998 and played with the same quartet: a string octet arrangement of some Bach. They entered into the spirit of things and treated us with great respect. Both incidents remain etched in my memory. Sadly two members of that young quartet died many years ago as a result of township-related problems: drugs and HIV.

July 3, 2021 at 01:10 PM · Didn't Pinky already get involved in doing the kind of things Elise suggests anyway, while blissfully unaware that he has an issue? If he needs to prove his sincerity, is there anything else people can think of for him to do?

July 4, 2021 at 11:22 PM · Sorry to “defend the bad guy” here, especially to go against someone who I have a lot of respect for on this website. But Buri, I have to to draw a bit of skepticism to your comments relating Zukerman’s “hug” statement to be one of such nefariousness. Let’s draw conclusions based on facts that are clearly apparent (his culturally inappropriate statements) and not assumptions. If these students were male would you make the same comment about that same hug? I don’t believe so. Zukerman has stated himself in regards to meeting another musician (i forgot whom, but male) and exclaimed “I would love to see him! I wanna give him a big hug!”. Seeing as this idea of giving someone a big hug, especially someone who he cares greatly about, I don’t think it’s fair to jump to your conclusion of such nefarious intent.

Is there a possibility that what you stated could be a sub conscious thought? Surely, it could be. But let’s not make personal, and evidence lacking assumptions be stated as pure fact.

This is also not to diminish the importance of the conversation of such a terrible thing that oftentimes doesn’t get respected as it should. This awful, sexist, and disgusting undertone that you mention has plagued our world for hundreds of years and it’s so important to make sure that we continue our efforts to change that. I only make this post to shed some light that Zukerman.. just happens to mention hugging just about anyone who he cares about and that maybe, just maybe, there was no nefarious, dark meaning behind wanting to apologize and give a hug.

July 5, 2021 at 01:05 PM · Charles, There are some cultures where hugging is part of a normal greeting. People from more reticent cultures read sexual overtones into it where they don't exist. Same goes for the kiss on the cheek. Now people are being forced by the ignorance of public opinion to go against their own cultural norms. Thus continues the dullness of homogenization.

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