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Just in: Suzuki empire strikes back at fraud allegations

November 1, 2014 by norman lebrecht

23 comments.


Two important rebuttals have been issued against claims by the violinist Mark O’Connor that the founder of the Suzuki Method falsified his own education – an assertion described by one hysterical newspaper as ‘the biggest fraud in the history of music.’

The International Suzuki Association reiterates its founder’s record and accuses Mr O’Connor of impure motives: Shinichi Suzuki had violin lessons with the prominent German violinist Karl Klingler in Berlin in the 1920’s. Klingler’s daughter, Marianne Klingler, was a strong supporter of Suzuki’s teaching principles and became the first chairperson of the European Suzuki Association. Ms. Klingler confirmed many times that Suzuki had indeed studied with her father…

One can only speculate as to why Mr. O’Connor, who publishes and sells his own approach to violin playing, is so eager to discredit Shinichi Suzuki and why he has chosen to manipulate media at this time. These may be questions for serious journalists to work on further. In the end, however, it is not what Shinichi Suzuki did or did not do in the 1920s that is of importance. The important issue is the successful use of his teaching principles which have enriched the lives of students and has positively influenced music education worldwide for the past 70 years.

More substantive evidence appears in documents supplied to us by the cellist Amy Sue Barston of Swarthmore, Penn. Ms Barton refutes O’Connor’s claims that Suzuki never studied with Klingler or was befriended by Einstein with two images:

einstein suzuki

Einstein’s self-portrait drawing, made for and given to Suzuki. The autograph says, “Herr Shinichi Suzuki in freundlichsten Erinnerung” translated is, “Mr Shinichi Suzuki in friendliest recollection” – Albert Einstein November 1926.

suzuki klingler

A Portrait of Dr. Suzuki with his teacher, Karl Klingler. Anyone with a cursory understanding of photography can tell this is was a planned portrait of that time period.

Also, Suzuki never claimed to go to the Berlin Hochschule.  He always said he studied with Klingler privately.  That is very clear in all his writings. Klingler’s daughter, Marianne Klingler became the first Chairperson of the European Suzuki Association.

O’Connor says: “Shinichi Suzuki had no violin training from any serious violin teacher that we can find. He was basically self-taught, beginning the violin at the age of 18, and it showed. He was never allowed a position in any orchestra, never performed professionally or made a professional recording.”  — from his Blog, Suzuki’s Biggest lie.

Here is a listing of  Dr. Suzuki’s Professional Career:

♦In 1919, Suzuki joined an exploration to the Kurile Islands organized by Marquis TOKUGAWA. On the ship, Suzuki played the violin with KOHDA Nobu, violinist and pianist who studied in England and also at the Wien National Music Academy. This would indicate that Suzuki was already at the level of a chamber musician at that time. (This episode appears in Kohda Sisters, published in 2000.)

♦By the recommendation of KOHDA Nobu, her sister ANDOH Koh became Suzuki’s first authentic teacher when he was 21. She was one of the top Japanese violinists who went first to Wien and then Berlin to study in Berlin National Music Academy under Josef Joachim.

♦Suzuki recorded Franck’s Sonata in A Major in Berlin in 1928 at Deutsche Grammophon Gesellshaft.

♦Albert Einstein gave his self-portrait to Suzuki as a present and it is reserved in the Suzuki Memorial Museum.

♦Suzuki was active as a soloist (he played with Shin-Koukyohgakudan=New Symphony Orchestra….precursor of NHK Symphony) and was the top violinist of the Suzuki Quartet which gave concerts all over Japan and on radio programs from 1929.

♦Suzuki was an educator in Kunitachi Music School (precursor of Kunitachi College of Music) from 1930 to 1931. He was a Professor at the Imperial Music Institute from 1931 to 1943, and served as the 3rd President of this Institute. One of his intimate colleagues was Alexander Moguilewsky.

♦Formed the Tokyo String Orchestra and gave concerts in main cities in Japan from 1932.

♦Chamber Music, co-authored by SAITOH Hideo, mentor of OZAWA Seiji, was published in 1932 by Bungeishunjuh-sha. His career as a performer ended when he left Tokyo because of the World War II.

Suzuki’s Recording of the Franck Violin Sonata:   http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/r/Symposium/SYMPCD1156

 


Comments (23)

  1. Mikey says:

    So in essence, Mark O’Connor is the biggest fraud in musical history?
    I’d agree with that assessment.

  2. Robert Eshbach says:

    I posted this comment earlier, but think it is relevant here:
    1) The Modern Review (Calcutta), vol. 40 (1926), p. 322 states: “While a young Japanese violinist was in Berlin, he happened to obtain a violin really made by Guarnerius, and he returned to Japan with it… His father is Masakichi Suzuki, widely known as the owner of the largest violin factory in Japan. This noted violin-maker, Masakichi Suzuki, it was who succeeded in reproducing the violin that his son brought back from Germany. It was in November, 1920 when his son Shinichi went to Germany to study music, In Berlin he was studying under the instruction of a noted German violin teacher. During his stay there one day he happened to obtain a violin from a German widow through the introduction of one of his German friends. The violin he obtained, from the widow proved to be one of the noted violins made by Guarnerius. It is said that this violin had been kept in her family for many years as a family treasure. There were people who wondered whether the violin was really a Guarnerius or not. However finally the instrument was proved to be genuine after careful examination by noted violin players, and experts in Germany.”
    2) The 1936 Nagoya Directory of Manufacturers and Exporters, p. 58: “Mr. Suzuki later on sent one of his sons to Europe to study violin by Prof. Klingler in Berlin.”
    3) In 2000, Eleonore Schoenfeld, who, together with her sister Alice was a protege of Klingler’s during the years that Suzuki claims to have studied with him, told me that Klingler wanted to teach Suzuki because he found the challenge of teaching the Western canon to a young, not very advanced, Japanese man to be interesting. He wanted to see how well he could do it.
    This information is far from conclusive, but it is at least as credible as Mr. O’Connor’s, and it contradicts claims that Mr. O’Connor has made.
    You may also be interested: from “J’anos: The Story of a Doctor,” by János Plesch, A. A. Wyn, (1949), p. 214: “Not that Einstein was a virtuoso; he was not — to his everlasting regret. His favourite instrument was the violin, and although he had a whole collection of very fine instruments presented to him by admirers who knew his tastes, his favourite violin was not the work of any famous maker, but a simple instrument made in Japan, and it was on this that he seemed to get the best results.”

    1. Ms Cynthia says:

      When I looked at the transcript that was provided in the link it struck me that he was the only applicant who was not European. Saying that he was accepted if there was room and then scratching out the mark for acceptance is very suspicious.

      What MOC has uncovered is that in the pre WWII environment this institution was not prepared to take a student who was not the same race as the other students. Why would Klingler spend his personal time on a student if he didn’t think he was worth the effort. Klingler’s daughter was apparently a witness to this event and knew the real reasons for the scratched out marks on the audition documents.

      Its disturbing to be reminded that this kind of discrimination occurred in the social fabric of this period but it gives me insight about what kind of educational challenges the ethnically diverse population of Germany was faced with before WWII much less someone from a foreign land.

      Today, a student treated like this would have been supported by protest and legal assistance which was not available in this circumstance. Sensei took it in stride and accepted the compromise which was limited to private instruction with professor Klingler rather than the full curriculum at the institution.

      In my mind this was a teachable moment and tells me that much more about the character of my teacher. Every revelation humbles me more.

  3. SVM says:

    Given how closely tied up Klinger’s daughter was in the promotion of the Suzuki method, it is possible that she could be going along with a lie for her monetary benefit. Moreover, the ISA does not appear to have commented on the veracity of the enthusiastic reaction of Casals at a Suzuki concert.

    I am not sufficiently knowledgable about the Suzuki method to comment on its merit — as with most educational methods, there will be some outstanding practitioners and some whose mediocrity do the method a severe disservice. What is clear is that Suzuki was excellent at publicising his ideas, and, in view of the evidence presented by O’Connor, there is reasonable suspicion that Suzuki may have obtained the platform to present his ideas on false pretences. The competitive nature of the music profession means that it would hardly be surprising that many excellent musicians may resort to the desperate measure of telling outright lies to advance their careers. It is, of course, unacceptable, but it does not mean that every liar is an incompetent charlatan (having said that, it is right that such liars be exposed). Most of us are familiar with the routine of exaggeration, speculative superlatives, and selective truths presented in performer biographies.

    In conclusion, we should appraise Suzuki’s ideas on their own merits; perhaps we would also do well to investigate the ideas from those who were less effective at self-promotion (whether honest or otherwise). One book I would recommend is Barry Green’s /The Inner Game of Music/.

    1. SVM says:

      Apologies for my grammatical error in the second paragraph: the final clause of the first sentence thereof should have read:

      whose mediocrity *does* the method a severe disservice

  4. ManW says:

    What?!?

    SVM, so you’re going to continue to give MOC the benefit of the doubt, but not to Suzuki (and Ms Klingler, et al) just because the latter stood to gain from a possible lie?

    Com’on and wake up, man! MOC clearly stood to gain just as much by attacking Suzuki all along… and had been making baseless claims for a few years before coming up w/ any halfway-decent looking evidence to back up his claims.

    And that one piece from the Berlin Conservatory can be interpreted in ways other than MOC insisted, which has now been explained adequately away. Suzuki never claimed to have enrolled w/ the conservatory, but only mentioned becoming a private student of Klingler’s at a later date than the failed audition cited — an audition that seemed to involve a panel of judges, not just Klingler alone.

    And big part of MOC’s house of cards also assumed there were no other documented correspondence/connection between Suzuki and Klingler or Einstein, which is now also refuted — MOC’s claim here was tenuous at best anyway since he assumed any evidence for Suzuki should probably be readily visible on the internet, which is a faulty leap in logic.

    IF you wish to continue doubting the veracity of Suzuki’s background story, then at least make better effort than MOC so far to dig into it and find out the truth rather than towing MOC’s line, which is clearly falling apart… unless you’re actually just an MOC fanboy or MOC himself in disguise here… Sheesh!

  5. ManW says:

    RE: the Casals visit, first, the visit clearly took place. Only thing called into question is whether Suzuki’s version of the story was accurate. The only evidence provided by MOC was his personal claim that Casals widow expressed dismay when her personally asked her about it. But there were no citable quotes, etc. for evidence, and I’m not aware that she came out to speak publicly against Suzuki’s story despite MOC’s claim from a couple years ago.

    Also, if we’re going to call anyone a liar, why merely believe so much in MOC’s claim on this point despite the utter lack of reports to support it all these years since Nurture By Love was published and the Suzuki method popularized?

    IF as MOC claimed, the Suzuki’s Casals story was so pivotal, surely, whispers of it would’ve reached Casals’ widow before MOC asked her, especially given the notoriety that Suzuki’s method had attained over the decades in various circles of the classical music world. Not like everybody instantly fell in love w/ Suzuki afterall — many still misunderstood and very vocally criticized the method at least up until several years ago AFAIK, and anyone of them could’ve raised the concerns that MOC only started doing in the last couple years, especially since the NBL book is generally required reading for anyone seriously looking into the method (whether as teacher or as parent of student).

    Again, why favor MOC’s now-failing claims under the circumstance?

    In the USA at least, we believe it’s best policy to presume innocence until proven guilty… and there just isn’t much in the way of proof here. OR do you prefer a policy of shoot-to-character-assasinate first and prove later, which has been MOC’s tact all along over the last few years…?

    1. Ms. Cynthia says:

      A recording exist of the Casals speech somewhere in Japan. Perhaps someone from NHK or other radio station.
      I received an extra copy of it on a cassette at the Kaikan in Matsumoto and found it very emotional and inspiring. I hope they digitized it, as my cassette is fading with age. I don’t know why they don’t make it available for people to hear on line. But somethings you have to go to Japan to experience.

    2. Ms. Cynthia says:

      Here is footage of Casals with the children, not the audio, taken for a longer documentary. I recall seeing the speech in some kind of media now when I was in Matsumoto for some event. I suspect one of the news media groups owns the original with sound. So the copy right is probably owned by one of the media corporations in Japan and not available to the Suzuki.org for free.

      http://tenchildren.jp/opening

      1. Ms. Cynthia says:

        I’m sorry it appears near 5:33

  6. Donna Hebert says:

    Sadly, given his huge talent and the recognition he has received, for years Mark has been disrespecting many who came before him, including those in the Texas fiddle community that first nurtured him. I know Mark and have worked with him. While he can be charming in person (and I hold his talent in esteem), he has also been tossed off online forums (including one I administer) for perpetrating ad-hominem attacks on anyone who disagrees with him, bullying them personally and threatening lawsuits against them. I believe he has a commercial ax to grind, and anything he says to tear down Mr. Suzuki can be considered a publicity stunt to bolster his own method book sales. I have given a lot of thought to my response here, since Mark may indeed attack me personally for speaking my mind. But I’ve been calling bullies out all my life and I’m not stopping now.

  7. Gwen M says:

    This whole debate makes it clear to me that Mr OConnor has failed to grasp why Mr Suzuki was so groundbreaking: Suzuki gained insight into the way young children learn. It forever changed what we accepted as possible at this formative, and previously overlooked, stage. That he chose violin is of secondary importance. I don’t hear Mr O’Connor complaining that Suzuki didn’t hold a PhD in child psychology.

  8. Jewelyard says:

    Donna, who cares if MOC threatens you? Right now he has about as much clout in the violin/pedagogical world as a rat in a NYC sewer.

  9. Simon Funnell says:

    I find this whole row sterile and unimportant. The fact is this; countless hundreds of young children and their parents (including me and mine) have learned music through Suzuki. In my case my Suzuki training led to singing in the Chapel Royal choir, a career in orchestral admin and now as a producer at Classic FM. I’ve lost count of the number of people Who were also doing Suzukiwho I have bumped into during my career who work in the music business – including many orchestral players – because of Suzuki and the Suzuki method. It simply works and works effectively. Thanks to Suzuki and his teaching method I have a lifetime love of classical music and a career. I’m very lucky and grateful to him.

  10. Harold Kupper says:

    What Donna Herbert said rings true, especially in light of conversations I’ve had with MOC former associates who praise his enormous gifts but abhor his toxic egotism and abusive attitudes toward colleagues. MOC has burned many bridges and continues to do so wherever he goes. Ask anyone in Nashville. Ask the former members of the Appalachian Waltz Trio or the Hot Swing Trio. Everything and everyone exsists merely for the greater glory and remuneration of MOC. People like Mark who hurt others, are hurt themselves. I hope he finds the help he so clearly needs

  11. Lauren says:

    I tend to believe the Suzuki side of the tale. Mark O’Connor is a decent musician but nothing special. In fact, I was rather surprised that Yo Yo Ma would even bother to play with him. To me, he sounds like a rather nasty man looked to discredit a well-established competitor in the marketplace. Any professional classical violinist I can think of leaves MOC in the proverbial dust. He’s a very good “fiddler,” nothing more.

  12. Ray Landers says:

    I just wrote a very long response to the Suzuki/O’Conner situation, hope it went through, as their was not a text to type in the CAPTCHA section. Ray Landers If it didn’t go through I will try again, but what do when (as has happened to me twice now) there is no text to put in?

  13. Mark Suzuki says:

    As with many debates, there are 2 sides to the story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The following points are factual and cannot be convincingly refuted:

    1. Fact: there is zero evidence of any *significant* relationship between Suzuki and Casals, Einstein, Klinger, et al, other than contradictory, superficial and sketchy (literally, in the case of Einstein) evidence. Other than a mainly emotional defense, Suzuki International has not convincingly refuted the allegation that Suzuki’s career and business enterprise were, in a sense, manufactured upon (at best) half-truths. His business was in fact aided by self-aggrandizing propaganda. Suzuki, like most good businessmen, had the savvy to network and take photos with professionals who could further his interests. Much of this is about keeping up appearances. Yet how is this any different from common practice today, however vulgar and opportunistic it might seem? Illegal, no. Unethical, probably. Shady: definitely.

    2. Suzuki Method is, irrefutably, similar in many ways to Asian cults such as the type originating from India popularized in the 50s and 60s. There is an exotic central, charismatic philosopher/figurehead extolling a “Do” (Tao) or way of practice and, by extension, living – “creating good citizens”, etc. Said figurehead in his own dealings does not rise to his own standard. Said figurehead’s followers defend him with a zeal which borders on quasi-religious in fervor. Dissent is discouraged and suppressed.

    3. O’Connor in criticizing Suzuki is at a distinct disadvantage with regard to credibility because there is, at least, the **appearance of a conflict of interest**. Objective research findings on the part of someone whose business is directly involved are, at best, subject to skepticism. O’Connor’s method is, in fact, influenced by Suzuki Method. Suzuki method is also a competitor to his own method. Had an independent researcher uncovered evidence of Suzuki’s malfeasance, that would be one thing. For O’Connor to do so is self-serving, even if he proves his claims.

    4. Fact: Suzuki, contrary to O’Connor’s claim, did in fact record at least 1 professionally produced disc, that of the Franck Sonata. Whatever musical tastes one may have, the playing on the Franck is not of an amateur level; it at least reflects classical training.

    5. Fact: Contrary to O’Connor’s assertions, further evidence has surfaced that Suzuki was indeed a professional violinist and chamber musician. He may not have achieved the consummate skill or high status of a great soloist (very few do), but he was an active performer for quite some time. His playing later in life as an old man seen on video failing to play “Jingle Bells” is not of the same level as in his earlier years – but this should be not surprising, especially for a chain-smoker in fragile health who was not in the habit of regular practice. Is Itzhak Perlman’s playing now the same as in his heyday in the 1970s? Was Heifetz’s playing before his retirement his best?

    6. Fact: Suzuki and O’Connor were/are both businessmen with a vested self-interest in selling a product.

    7. Fact: Neither violinist or teacher had/has the same level of training or background in classical violin as the better-known traditional violin teachers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Flesch, Auer, Galamian, et al.

    8. Fact: Neither Suzuki nor O’Connor have produced any violinists of remotely the same stature or artistry of Heifetz, Oistrakh, Perlman, KW Chung, S Chang, Midori Goto, AS Mutter, Kremer, Kreisler… the list goes on and on.

    9. Opinion (but actually a Fact to those teachers who know and can see objectively): Both Suzuki and O’Connor are dummied down methods are aimed at the ignorant masses, they are methods which are not suitable for developing a high level of musicianship or technique. They are both useful methods in that they are entertaining and fun for beginners.

    10. Opinion: O’Connor is a great fiddler; he is at best a mediocre violinist. Suzuki was a mediocre violinist.

    1. Linda Rekas says:

      FYI: Suzuki isn’t about training professional musicians. That is the fortunate by-product of a method that focuses on teaching young children to love making music and making it well. If the Suzuki method wasn’t effective it would not have expanded to include viola, cello, bass, flute, harp, guitar, recorder, piano, voice and even preschool in private studios, universities and music conservatories throughout the world.

    2. Peter Daley says:

      Thanks for that Mark.
      Regarding the one recording attributed to him, is it certain it is him playing?
      I find it odd that he only recorded one piece. Why stop at one?

      And regarding his poor playing in the later video, yes he certainly wasn’t a healthy man. At least he shouldn’t have been judging by his chain smoking. My question is, are there any videos of him playing better than that? I have looked briefly, but came up blank. Surely there must be? There are plenty of videos of two and three year olds playing like robots, sure.

  14. Linda Rekas says:

    In response to your item number 8 the following former Suzuki kids immediately come to mind: Leila Josefowicz, Nicholas Kendall (violinist with Time for Three,) William Preucil, Jr. (Concert master of the Cleveland Symphony,) David Perry (Pro Arte Quartet; Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.)

  15. Peter Daley says:

    I’m an amatuer guitarist and pianist, so I can’t say I have any experience on the violin, but I have also been investigating cults for the past 11 years, and I’ve got to say I see alarm bells everywhere I look. Granted, it’s not a cult like Scientology or The Moonies, but a cult of personality definitely grew around the guy and you need look no further than a recent book by one of his staunchest supporters:

    Lois Shepheard’s recent book “Memories of Suzuki” is a hoot. Here are a few choice quotes. I’d be interested in seeing “proof” that Suzuki could heal people with his touch and had the ability to hold white hot metal.

    He told us how, as a young man, he’d gone up into the mountains and learned how to be a healer. I watched him heal people on several occasions. It appeared to sap a lot of his energy. I’ve seen children who’d fallen and hurt an arm go happily back into a class after a few minutes of his ministrations. ‘Now you go play,’ he’d say. I saw an American boy with a fairly severe leg injury of several months’ duration, limp toward Dr Suzuki and 30 minutes later, walk away easily. Some Zen training is described as channelling the healing vibrations available in nature.”

    “Suzuki told us he’d learned to withstand cold and heat and that, as part of his training, he’d grasped white hot metal.”

    “In Matsumoto, in the middle of his teaching, our master would leave his studio and we’d all wait till he returned from watching a sumo contest on TV. He loved watching those huge men wrestling. I was amused at that. They were such a contrast to his small frame.”

    “As he listened to Monday concert items (or indeed to some performances in his teaching studio), Suzuki often appeared to fall asleep but was immediately alert when the kenkyūsei stopped playing. I asked him once how he kept going through his long hours of teaching. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘When a student plays, I decide in the first two minutes what I’m going to teach and then I sleep till he finishes.’”

    I’m also amazed that in the books I’m reading in which accounts are given of Suzuki giving advice to students, it always involves the right bowing hand. Always. Lois even mentions this. Isn’t that strange and a little suspicious? I can’t imagine a guitar teacher ONLY giving right hand advice. Surely, that’s what you would expect from a self-taught charlatan and not at all what you would expect from a trained musician. There is also nothing I’ve read yet that points to Suzuki knowing anything at all about music other than how to rote learn pieces of music. He was baffled and astounded by a violinist who could transpose a piece of music down a semitone. A semi tone.

    And this article here: surgeons missing surgery to attend their children’s violin lessons?
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/8146379/How-I-became-a-Suzuki-disciple.html

    Whatever you think of Mark O’Connor, there was certainly a very nutty and extremely cultic element to Suzuki.

  16. Kurganov says:

    I’m a highly respected professional violinist and teacher. I have never heard of the violinists Ms. Lekas mentions above, save for Leila Josefowicz (very fine soloist, but not [yet] of the same legacy as those mentioned above) and Preucil (solid player; primarily a solid orchestra hack and to a lesser extent a chamber music player – and I don’t recall having heard his full set of Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Paganini, Ysaye – the major violin concertos has anyone else? I know he has a nice CD of orchestra excerpts). If anyone seriously thinks the players in Linda’s list can even begin to compare to those cited above by Mark Suzuki, they are sadly misguided.


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