Martin Kennedy/Courtesy of the artist
About 35 years in the past, violinist Lara St. John — then simply 15 years previous — went with two pals to the dean of the college she attended, Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, to say that her personal instructor, the famed violin pedagogue Jascha Brodsky, had sexually abused her on a number of events.
The then-dean, Robert Fitzpatrick, brushed her off. Over the following three many years, St. John, now 49, went again many times to Curtis officers — six occasions in all — between 1986 and 2019, asking that her allegations be heard and acknowledged. They by no means had been in any substantial method — till her account was corroborated and printed by the Philadelphia Inquirer final summer time.
In that investigative story, St. John mentioned that Brodsky, who died in 1997, had repeatedly abused her over six months, starting with inappropriate touching and ending in rape.
St. John additionally informed the Inquirer that not solely had Fitzpatrick not taken her allegations significantly, however that he informed her: “Oh, for God’s sake, who do you suppose they’ll imagine? Some 15-year-old child or somebody who has been right here for many years?”
Within the aftermath of the Inquirer story’s publication, Curtis officers despatched out an e-mail to alumni requesting that they chorus from any public discussions of her accusations.
On Tuesday night, nonetheless, Curtis’ board of trustees launched the total report of an impartial investigation performed by the regulation agency Cozen O’Connor, which Curtis employed final November. The investigators discovered St. John’s story to be credible.
On Wednesday afternoon, St. John informed NPR in a Fb message: “I am very grateful to Cozen O’Connor for his or her in-depth report. It’s, after all, satisfying to me that Curtis has lastly admitted to many years of wrongdoing, to me and others, nevertheless it took me 35 years. I got here ahead to them many times, and even final summer time when it went public due to the Inquirer, they tried to silence their alumni. It took me holding their ft to the hearth publicly for them to even deign to fee this exterior report. So, a victory, sure, hopefully for the generations to come back, however for me, a bit Pyrrhic.”
In a press release accompanying the publication of the investigators’ report, the Curtis board mentioned: “The board acknowledges and profoundly regrets the incalculable bodily and emotional toll that Ms. St. John suffered on account of her Curtis expertise. Because the report makes clear, at a number of factors alongside the street of her harrowing journey, Ms. St. John offered alternatives for Curtis and its leaders to reply meaningfully and supply her with help and an opportunity to assist in her therapeutic. However in every occasion the college fell brief in its makes an attempt to reply to her considerations and as a substitute strengthened the notion that it didn’t care about what occurred to her.”
The college pledges that’s taking a number of steps to make sure its college students’ well-being, together with providing them entry to counseling, hiring an outdoor hotline for college kids and workers to report sexual abuse; hiring a Title IX coordinator; and increasing an present fund “in recognition of the extraordinary braveness demonstrated by Lara St. John” to assist “younger alumni who could also be experiencing obstacles of any type within the pursuit of their musical careers.”
St. John’s story is probably the most public. However the report additionally delineates separate accusations of sexual, emotional and verbal abuse made by 20 different college students between the 1960s and the 2010s. These weren’t corroborated by investigators, however the report says, “They supply perception into the tradition and local weather at Curtis because it pertains to the facility differential between a significant school [member] and a scholar.”
Many individuals, even voracious classical music followers, have by no means heard of Curtis; it does not have the identify recognition of different establishments, like The Juilliard College.
However amongst classical music performers, Curtis is known — and legendarily exhausting to get into. Solely about 5% of candidates are admitted every year — at any given time, the coed physique is just about 175 college students in all. Its alumni embrace such world-famous artists as composers Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein; pianists Lang Lang and Yuja Wang; and violinist Hilary Hahn, amongst many others. Furthermore, tuition is free for all college students, making learning there much more of an interesting proposition.
Even in such a high-stakes setting, Curtis appears to have added extra stresses to the burdens of its younger college students. The report itself states, “College students remained at Curtis on the discretion of their main instrument instructor” and, furthermore, that there was a “actual menace that [a student] could possibly be dismissed for any motive at any time.”
Of their report, the Cozen O’Connor investigators wrote that St. John reported that when she tried to carry Brodsky off, Brodsky “threatened to have her and her brother [Scott, another violin student at the school at the time] expelled from Curtis.”
St. John was assigned to a unique personal instructor. She struggled at Curtis, and ultimately tried suicide in her third 12 months. She wound up leaving the college at age 17.
The investigators report that Brodsky was “admonished” by Fitzpatrick and Gary Graffman, the college’s then-artistic director (and a notable pianist and instructor in his personal proper), however Brodsky remained educating on the college till shortly earlier than his dying.
Graffman informed investigators that his response would have been completely different if he had realized that St. John’s accusations included rape, but additionally that it was “a unique period.”