Editorial: A rapist at the heart of London’s music world

Editorial: A rapist at the heart of London’s music world


norman lebrecht

February 20, 2015

Philip Pickett cut quite a figure in the early music revolution of the 1970s. In the intersecting acts of performing, teaching and selling the new doctrines of period practice, he was a trumpet player who took up the record, shawn and rackett, founding and leading ensembles and negotiating their contracts with major record labels. His recordings with the New London Consort were highly praised and commercially successful.

picket vivaldi

Pickett was also a professor at the Guildhall from 1972 and a social animal. Married successively to a singer and a harpsichord player, he was seen at openings and dinner parties with leaders of the classical music industry. Colleagues found him quiet, unobtrusive. Women we have spoken to report no difficulties, or any suspicion of abusive attitudes.

But Pickett was a rapist who used sound-proofed practise rooms at the Guildhall to overcome impressionable young students. He got away with it because the Guildhall wanted his fame and was prepared to believe him above the tears of its students.



The Guildhall said today: ‘Although these events took place several decades ago, this does not diminish our utter shock that a professional music teacher could abuse the trust placed in him by the School and its students. The Guildhall School wholeheartedly welcomes the verdicts. Justice has been done and our thoughts are with the victims of these dreadful crimes. The Guildhall School takes the duty of care of its students extremely seriously. Robust safeguarding procedures are in place at the School to ensure safe learning environments for all students and these measures are regularly reviewed.’

Questions remain. Who knew? Who covered up? How many more girls were raped before the Jimmy Savile scandal made it impossible for elite music schools to hide behind soundproofed walls?

Pickett’s name will go down in disgrace. But there is much to be done to ensure that music schools in England are safe and fit for purpose.


  • Mark Stratford says:

    Tell you what, Pickett will suffer in prison. If you try to rob Barclays Bank, you become a hero of the cons in your cell block. But mess around with young girls and have an arrogant attitude like he does (‘can you delay sentencing so I can do this European tour?’) he won’t be popular.

    Guildhall have made a fine press release but their attitude back in the 80s is unforgiveable.

    • Paul Lanfear says:

      Sexual predation is a sickness, invariably part of a vicious cycle with root causes. Those wishing harm to offenders in prison have no interest in breaking this cycle.

      Institutional safeguards are now inevitable, but the classical music world has to become less ego-based and cliquey so that there is less opportunity for manipulation by clever individuals.

    • Ian pace says:

      More rape and sexual abuse, in prison, is no solution to anything, and just perpetuates the cycle of hatred. What Paul says is absolutely correct.

      It’s too easy to make this an issue of a few ‘bad eggs’, which then implies that if we simply root them out, then everything is solved and no-one need worry any more. I do believe the problem runs much deeper and that the activities of Pickett – which are perhaps not really about sex, but the use of sex as a means of control and domination – are a more extreme manifestation of wider patterns of behaviour in the music world. The fact that he could carry on like this with impunity for so long, with many afraid to speak out for fear of what it might do to their careers, speaks volumes about the culture of unregulated patronage and institutional culture which now require serious rethinking.

      • Alexander says:

        I agree entirely, but would also suggest another perspective from which this could be viewed. The precise reason why Philip Pickett is now in prison is because he has committed offences contrary to sections 1(1) and 14 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956. He is in prison because that is what helps us as a society to uphold the law. The sentence passed according to law is one of imprisonment, nothing less, nothing more. If we wish to be a society which upholds the law, we must wish that every member of our society, from the most deserving to the least, be protected by it equally.

        • Clarissa Smid says:

          Am I the only person prepared to talk about the victimisation that I experienced at music college? And not just in the 70s or 80s, but in the 90s and 2000s? I’ve given up the silence that caused me to break down in my 20s and 30s and have started, painfully, to write about what I faced. If anyone reading this blog wants to follow me, visit on http://www.purpleporridgedepression.wordpress.com.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Someone who had a very personal interpretation of authentic performing practice.

  • Anon says:

    You see that report which said he told a young girl to take her top off so he could check her breathing ? What a grotesque man. He should rot in jail.

  • Hilary says:

    There’s a perfectly pleasant interview with Philip Pickett on youtube . Very hard to discern the more troubled side to his personality, so very much tallys with paragraph 2 of Norman Lebrecht’s editorial.
    I read that Pickett was the victim of a violent attack in the 1970s on the Subway, curtailing his instrumental career.

  • Mark Barrett says:

    And your point is, Hilary? I am not clear if this is a post expressing a degree of support or, conversely, outrage that such a vile character was hiding in plain sight. Thank goodness you spared us a link to this ‘perfectly pleasant’ interview (what a bizarre choice of words in this horrifying context). I am sure many will find his many recordings and performances to have been ‘pleasant’ but, as with all the other hideous people so far convicted, the damage and harm they have wrought totally outweighs and invalidates any contribution they have made to music or teaching.

    • Hilary says:

      Outrage, and noting a dis -similarity with a character like Saville who is more obviously unhinged with/without hindsight. Hollywood portrayals of evil are a case in point where they tend to lapse in exaggeration and stereotypes.

      • Mark Barrett says:

        Hilary, I am relieved to see you are also outraged – there is arguably something more sinister about Pickett and his appalling co-offenders in the same profession who carried out their acts under a veneer of professional respectability – but they are all as despicable as each other, Harris, Savile, Pickett, the whole lot of them, as are those who may have connived to cover up or turn a blind eye to the offences they committed. Guildhall School is now tainted as much as Chetham’s is – and as much as the institutions in which Savile infected victims of his behaviour. I don’t really see where the reference to Hollywood portrayals fits in here unless you are referring to ‘monster’ characters like Hannibal Lecter, but the allusion doesn’t contribute much to the discussion – unless you feel we are all somehow sanitised, if I may put it like that, by such fictional portrayals.

  • Alexander says:

    My one encounter with Mr Pickett outside of the concert hall was unpleasant. He was giving a masterclass to young recorder players (school-aged children, not conservatoire students). When Mr Pickett asked a boy whether he knew what oratory was, the boy expressed his answer in terms of the Catholic Church in Italy in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, an answer which was appropriate to the musical context. Mr Pickett laughed and said, “I was thinking of something more like Mrs Thatcher making a speech.” A charitable interpretation would have been that his laughing was self-deprecation, because the answer he received was much more intelligent and well informed than anything that he had been expecting. That was not, however, how it seemed to me, either at the time or with the benefit of hindsight. I think that Philip Pickett is an arrogant bully who enjoys humiliating people who are weaker than he is (although conversely I think that he may also feel threatened by people who are perhaps more intelligent than he is). The example which I am able to give is, of course, infinitesimally trivial compared with the two rapes and two indecent assaults for which he has now been imprisoned. But I think that what I saw was just a small example of the arrogance which would have allowed him to commit his crimes, and which he showed throughout the judicial process.

    • Ian Pace says:

      That incident may be small, but is very telling, and utterly consistent with the profile I have seen with Pickett and many other abusers, and those complicit in enabling them.

      Always be very wary of those who like to bully and humiliate those with less power than themselves, who usually also bow at the altar of the more powerful.

  • KIrk says:

    Eleven years is much too severe a sentence all the more as many teachers, of whom I knew one personally, have got off scot free. And what good will those years in prison do when prisons are supposed to be overcrowded already?

    • Alexander says:

      If you read the sentencing guidelines you’ll actually find that this sentence seems rather light. The sentencing range for rape involving multiple victims (there are two victims of rape in this case) is between 13 and 19 years with a starting point of 15 years, so I am not sure why he didn’t get at least 13 years. 11 years is the top end of the range for rape of a person aged 16 or over where there are certain aggravating features, in this case that the victim was detained, that there was abuse of trust, and that the attack was sustained. It’s easy to see how the judge came up with a sentence of 11 years, and it would have been easy to see how he could have come up with a sentence of longer than 11 years too. Note that this is just the sentence for the most serious offence. Shorter sentences for less serious offences are running concurrently. The maximum sentence for rape is life imprisonment, so any sentence up to and including life imprisonment should be considered possible.

      The fact that some other offenders never receive a prison sentence does not make this one any more severe than it is. If you know of a music teacher who got off scot free I would be interested to know the circumstances and whether anything could be done to address this situation. Was he convicted but given an absolute discharge? That sounds very unlikely. Was he tried but found not guilty? Perhaps he has committed other offences which could be referred to the police for investigation. Has he never stood trial? In that case you should contact the police and/or CPS and try to get this person charged with something.

      I agree that there are a lot of people in prison who shouldn’t really be there, and that overcrowded prisons are a problem for all of us, but I don’t think that issuing softer sentences to rapists is the answer. I would address the problem from the other end. There are all sorts of people who for whom prison is not really a good option, which would include a lot of first-time offenders serving short sentences, a lot of people with mental health problems, and a lot of people with drug and alcohol problems. If we took all of these people out of the prison system we could target resources on people who really need them, especially violent criminals. Sex offenders are a special category for whom really long sentences are necessary, because of the compulsive nature of their offending. Sex offenders typically offend against multiple victims over a sustained period of time. The risk of reoffending after conviction is high. They are typically skilled in offending in a way that is likely to evade detection. Pickett will probably be out of prison before he’s 70. I’d have been happy to have seen him put away for life.

    • Hilary says:

      As ever, there’s a balance to be struck between punishment and therapy. The Norwegian model is a good template as re offending is low compared to the other countries.

    • Fin O'Suilleabhain says:

      Crazy talk. What does anyone else or the size of the prison population have to do with these crimes? Try thinking of the victims, who won’t be free in 11 years of whatever fraction of that time Pickett serves.

  • Will says:

    11 years ISN’T ‘too severe’ as he’ll probably be out after 5 years!

  • LucaM says:

    Was also Robert King accused of rape or child molestation (don’t remember exactly)?

    • Alexander says:

      Yes, Robert King was convicted of 14 counts of indecent assault contrary to section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956. The offences were committed between 1982 and 1995 and involved five victims, the youngest of whom was aged 12. Some of his victims were given alcohol before they were assaulted. Giving evidence in his own defence, Mr King said that one of the men accusing him ‘had gone off his rocker’. When one of his victims sent him a 5-page letter describing how ‘utterly miserable’ he had felt when he was being abused by him, Mr King replied by email, saying, ‘calm down, treacle’. He was sentenced to imprisonment for 3 years and 9 months, of which he served less than two years.

  • Will says:

    The latter, not the former, I believe.
    He wasn’t merely ‘accused’ but was found guilty, of course.

  • Peter says:

    I wonder what will happen to Pickett and the New London Consort when he is released from jail. If you are a footballer convicted of rape, you get hounded from possible deal to deal and can’t get a job. If you are Robert King you get out and restart your own career, seemingly without a hitch. Employing musicians in your ensemble and being engaged by promoters left right and centre.

    • James David Walley says:

      I doubt he’ll be in much of a condition to continue. Even if he gets out, as some predicted, after only five years, he’ll still be 70 at the time. If he serves his full sentence, 76. And, in any event, the New London Consort will be long-since dissolved. (Plus, not to be too pessimistic, but will there still be a classical music “industry” to work in by the time he gets released?)

  • Kirk says:

    Trying to put things in perspective, how many years would a driver texting at the wheel and causing someone to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, be snetenced to?

    • Alexander says:

      Tried on indictment, up to two years. Tried summarily, 6 months. Under the circumstances I’d expect the CPS to go for indictment. It’s not really much of an argument, as two years for a non-lethal dangerous driving offence is clearly not enough, so it’s more an argument for longer sentences for dangerous drivers, rather than for shorter sentences for rapists. There is, however, a crucial difference between the offences of rape and dangerous driving. Somebody who commits a rape is intentionally committing an assault upon another person and knows the strongly probable consequences of his crime. Somebody who sends a text message while driving does not intend to injure another person and, in fact, is relatively unlikely to injure another person. The criminality lies in the knowledge that his actions may lead to the injury of another person, not in the intent to cause injury to another person. A better comparison would be to ask what sentence would be received by a driver who intentionally caused life-changing injuries to another person, using his car as a weapon. The answer is that he would be charged with grievous bodily harm with intent, contrary to section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and would receive a sentence of up to life imprisonment, the same as rape. There would be a case for bringing sentencing for dangerous driving into line with sentencing for a section 20 GBH, i.e. up to five years and/or an unlimited fine on indictment, since the nature of the injury is foreseeable, but not necessarily intended.

      You also seem to make an assumption that spending the rest of one’s life in a wheelchair is necessarily a worse outcome than the possible outcome of being the victim of a sexual offence. The psychological harm suffered by a victim of a sexual offence (and here we are talking about the most serious of all sexual offences) could be at least as devastating for that person’s future life as any physical injury. Indeed, Frances Andrade is dead and Mike Brewer is serving a six-year sentence for the crimes that led to her suicide; Hilary Brewer has already been released from prison.

      • Kirk says:

        Thank you for taking the trouble to give such a detailed answer. As to whether it is worse to suffer rape than to spend the rest of one’s life in a wheelchair, the latter seems worse to me as one has no chance to rebuild one’s life. However, I do not know any rape victims closely so am not qualified to give a proper answer.

        • Sally says:

          Then please Kirk don’t try and guess. To assume that you can rebuild your life and you have the tools to do so after being humiliated and abused at music college is a massive ask that takes a multi agency approach and a willingness to be open about everything that happened to you. Physical wounds are obvious to everyone but the lasting horror of that kind of sexual abuse is something that most people who have suffered it will never be able to get over. It invades every aspect of life.

  • Alexander Baron says:

    I see the idiots are peddling the feminist rape narrative. Can someone explain to me how this bloke was raping girls in a soundproof room. Like they didn’t scream afterwards?

  • Clarissa Smid says:

    March 15, 2015 at 6:02 pm
    I see the idiots are peddling the feminist rape narrative. Can someone explain to me how this bloke was raping girls in a soundproof room. Like they didn’t scream afterwards?

    Norman, can you please ban this person from commenting on your blog. They are obviously a troll, or at least a person who has an offensively stereotypical idea about how girls react to rape which I at least, find very, very offensive. We are talking about very young women here, who were often little more than children, even though they were over the age of consent. I suspect that we will find out that people legally classed as children back then will also be given their day in court in the near future, so please, some respect for potential victims would be humane.

    • Alexander Baron says:

      Typical rad-fem, can’t refute the truth so ban it. Check out the case of Samantha Geimer to begin with. We have no real proof these rapes happened; Pickett may well have had sex with some of his students, that happens, but so many of these historical sex assaults have been shown to be false. We should have a statute of limitations in this country to avoid these sorts of travesties of justice.

  • Richard Webb says:

    This colleague found him to be a controlling, arrogant, narcissistic misogynist. A well deserved and ignominious end to his career. GSM&D principal Hosier died before he could be prosecuted – his legacy permanently tarnished.