Globe columnist gets the Zander facts wrong

Globe columnist gets the Zander facts wrong


norman lebrecht

January 19, 2012

A hysterical column in the Boston Globe stops just short of arguing that Benjamin Zander should be garrotted for hiring a long-rehabilitated sex offender.

It ignores the fact that Zander was fired by president Tony Woodcock long before this employment matter came to light. The case of the videographer withy a murky past was only dug out to justify Zander’s dismissal.

The questions that need to be answered begin with another matter of natural justice – why did the NEC sack a good teacher after 40 years’ service. Was it a case of age discrimination?

We await answers to those questions and neither Woodcock nor his expensive crisis-management flak are doing anything except puffing smoke clouds and praying the scandal will go away. It won’t.


  • Luciano says:

    What is the exact timing of his dismissal in relation to the videographer allegations? Certainly both issues became public at the same moment, so surely there could not have been a big gap between the two.

  • Anonymous says:

    Ben Zander was NOT fired outright from NEC long before this employment matter came to light. Zander was ousted ONLY from conducting YPO. Zander was going to leave YPO at the end of June 2013 but he was still going to conduct one of the college orchestras as a guest conductor and continue to teach his Interpretation class indefinitely. After the details of Peter Benjamin’s past came out, and also of Zander’s willingness to hire him without consulting the school, Zander’s connection to the school was severed completely. I’m not commenting on whether or not it was the right thing to do, or whether it had to be done, but am simply correcting the inaccuracies in Norman’s post.

    • Thank you for the clarification. I was reporting on my reading of Ben Zander’s public statements. It seems fairly clear that he has being shut out at NEC. The matter of the videograpgher did not ‘just come to light’. No secret was made of his employment, or his past. he was used as an excuse to fire Zander.

    • anonymous1 says:

      that’s right, thanks for posting this accurate information.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Zander’s choice to hire someone with such a past without consulting the NEC was unprofessional at best. I could totally understand if he openly discussed the issue with NEC top management and made a case they should go ahead. But he shouldn’t have decided alone in the first place.

  • Alan Neale says:

    Sorry, this Boston Globe article is not “hysterical”, and it doesn’t come anywhere near suggesting Zander should be “garrotted” for hiring Peter Benjamin. It makes the perfectly reasonable point that it was totally irresponsible for Zander to give a known abuser of children a job videotaping children. It is no excuse for Zander to say he “was not aware of the details”. He should have made himself aware of the details (which are horrendous) before hiring his friend. As the Globe columnist says, for men who have sexually abused children “second chances should never, ever includes regular contact with children.”

    • He was never alone or in unsupervised contact with children. It was part of his official rehab program. Read previous posts for detail.

      • Blair Tindall says:

        Rehab, my ass. Any sex offender should steer clear of of any employment remotely related to children or even college-age kids.

        And also thanks for ambushing me on the BBC with your cronies, and ruining my parents’ 59th anniversary (they were listening at home). It was one of the last times I saw my dad alive, and he was very disturbed by what you sprang on us.

    • dlcello59 says:

      He didn’t have either regular nor any contact with “children.” Most of his time at NEC, as has been stated over and over by now, had ZERO to do with the YPO, which by the way is made up of mainly 17/18 year olds (not exactly the most vulnerable age group, is it?) and supplemented by college students in their 20s; rather, he filmed NEC college events, classes, etc. He had no contact with anyone in YPO.
      The issue, Alan Neale, is not Peter Benjamin– it is NEC notifying BZ in June 2011 he would be fired in June 2012 and using the excuse of this videographer’s past as a moral/legal justification to fire him now. How’s pretending to be on a moral and ethical pedestal when all Woodcock wanted, for a long time now obviously, was to rid NEC of BZ? How convenient the videographer’s past came to light now so Woodcock could fire him before and get him off his hands.

      • Blair Tindall says:

        Dicelo, 17 and 18 is a hugely impresionable age group. Are you a pimp?

      • P.Yang says:

        The members of YPO are MAINLY 17 and 18 but there are some members who are quite young. You are forgetting that the building is filled with children from toddler age on up.How many other orchestras are there? 6? 8? Peter Benjamin never committed a sex offense in an auditorium; he invited his victims to his house.Don’t you imagine that he befriended them first? They didn’t just stumble upon his house like Hansel and Gretel. How easy it would have been for him to chat up some young kids at NEC. And everyone is forgetting that there are places Peter Benjamin could go which no one would question like the bathroom and the lounge. He could have volunteered to make college audition videos.Could have. We are all relieved that it seems nothing has happened but this situation was fraught with “possibilities”.Someone who has made his fortune on the “Art of Possibility” should have had more imagination.

  • Anonymous says:

    This age discrimination stuff is preposterous. Let’s see, here are faculty members that are Ben Zander’s age give or take a few years.

    Paul Katz
    Laurence Lesser
    Donald Weilerstein
    Masuko Ushioda
    Robert Paul Sullivan
    John Heiss

    I don’t see any of them losing their jobs any time soon.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Do we know whether NEA top management knew about his past? Did Zander share that information? Doing so would have been in everybody’s interest, including Zander’s own.

  • Ann says:

    Can we start over?

    we need the facts in order to continue having our opinions make any sense at all.
    when was BZ was terminated from NEC?
    did it happen before this episode with the photographer?
    if so,then how did this episode cause Ben’s demise at the school?

    further transparency needed!

    • Blair Tindall says:

      Ann, BZ’s dismissal was within the last month, I believe. There wasn’t an “episode” with the videographer; Mr. Zander hired him many years before the NEC administrator Woodcock came on board. He has been videotaping kids of the same age as those he was convicted on videotaping naked, and doing the job for at least 10 years, possibly longer. I know nothing about Woodcock and gather there are also some serious issues with his choices; that is a separate and valid story. The videographer was convicted on serious sex charges about 20 years ago; these included child rape and at least 11 charges of videotaping naked children either alone or engaged in sex acts with him. I would assume that since the school recently learned about the vid’s sex-offender status (and they are at fault for employing him, no question there) their only legal defense was to fire the guy who took it upon himself to hire him without informing NEC of the vid’s criminal status. No one has come forward to accuse the vid of having molested them, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen. I hasten to guess nothing happened and the reformed guy deserves his second chance, but it was unwise on all accounts for him to accept a gig doing it anywhere near minors.

  • anonymous says:

    from the Globe article (which I didn’t find to be anywhere near hysterical) “. . . Zander and the Conservatory (which screwed up by failing to do a state-mandated background check on Benjamin in 2010) have been very lucky: No victims have come forward to say Benjamin abused them.”

    Wouldn’t the “state-mandated check” referenced above be Woodcock’s responsibility?

    • Blair Tindall says:

      @Anonymous, you are correct, Ms. Abraham’s editorial was well-constructed and logical. And you are also right that NEC bears responsibility in this issue. However (and I am not defending Mr. Woodcock, I hear there are legitimate issues with him) Woodcock inherited this issue and likely had no knowledge of it. The videographer Peter Benjamin was hired years before Woodcock’s arrival; although that fact doesn’t absolve him of responsibility, it would be surprising if he knew of the youth orchestra-vid situation.

  • James Brinton says:

    Member of the student orchestra on the facts of the matter:

  • Blair Tindall says:

    Wow, Norman, I think we all now want to know the extent of your relationship with Ben Zander. Would you care to share? And you can skip your ad hominem attacks on me, since we know you’re going to do that anyway. Save the digital ink.

    • Blair, take it easy. I’ve known Ben Zander for many years, like I’ve known thousands of musicians, yourself and Tony Woodcock included. He’s not a personal friend. Satisfied?

      • Blair Tindall says:

        Not all all. You’ve known him for years, and he’s not a friend? I thought you were a friend until you ambushed me and wreaked havoc on my reputation and on my family. Please explain why you are so vehemently supporting the supporter of a convicted child rapist. At least Zander had the grace to (vaguely) apologize once he’d thought it over and gotten some advice.

  • Jon says:

    People actually get their “news” from the Boston Globe–that paper is a joke. BZ is awesome—it was NEC’s FAILURE to do their job for background checks on everyone/anyone in a school.

    Or was that too much dinero to perform in light of the inflated dean’s salaries, educators, etc…puffing smoke and promising the moon to students/applicants.

    Most music majors are in something completely different than their major b/c there are very, very few living wage jobs available.

  • anon says:

    There is another issue here too; and that is, what was considered acceptable behavior in the past is consider unacceptable in the present. My experiences with being (a child) in the orchestra for 5 years in the 80s was amazing, but in the 80s there was a lack of formal structure in place at many institutions (schools, churches, camps, etc.) to help prevent the sexual abuse of children. Today, the structures put into affect by many institutions to prevent abuse on the college level may possibly hinder the development of deeply inspiring connections between gifted professional teachers and their students. For example, some teachers become unnecessarily afraid that something they say may be misconstrued, thus they maintain a large degree of distance from all their students. But, the structures do help protect teachers as well as their students from abuse. I do see that many Professionals become overwhelmed by the often artificial training they are given to help prevent sexual misconduct because sometimes it feels ridiculous.

    I ask myself, would I have given up extraordinary experiences in order to prevent the sexual abuse that can, and did occur in an environment without clear structural guidelines? Then, I wonder if it is ridiculous to ask that question.

    I know these comments may seem completely un-related to the story, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an invisible audience out there watching this story unfold, an audience with their own different stories told in secret or specifically forgotten. But, I could be wrong I guess, I just think I might be right.

    I am still not pleased with the experience I had at the hands of one college student when I was 13 and traveling on-tour. I know that trying to put the pieces together of my past can help me become a more productive person at this time. Yes, it might not be so bad when a 17-year-old enters a consensual relationship with a 20-year-old, but a different 20-year-old might get the wrong cues from watching what others think is pretty much OK. And what is OK at one time isn’t OK at a different time. Maybe all College and High School, and Middle School, and students in general at all American institutions are getting better sexual harassment training. Since NEC College Students have clearly worked with children in years past, I assume that these students receive sexual harassment training now. But, I don’t know for sure.

    Is there a possibility of a self-perpetuating pattern of possible sexual indiscretions going on? Whose fault is it when it is wide spread in society? Whose fault is it when it happens in the past? How do you teach educators (be them older adults or just 18-years-old) about preventing and handling trauma in children? How do you heal adults who were traumatized in the past? Many of these questions are now being addressed at institutions. Sadly, the actual law uses rather black-and-white methods when addressing the answers to some of these questions.

    Funding of all the Arts is under attack, and dis-assembling an artistic institution is not in the best interest for anyone. I am very fond of Ben Zander and the NEC preparatory school; they have helped train many of the finest musicians in the World today. It is, and has been a wonderful program. I feel uncertain about posting this, but I probably will just do it because maybe it will be a good thing.