Renowned piano professor is fired in Manhattan

Renowned piano professor is fired in Manhattan


norman lebrecht

March 15, 2015

We are informed that David Dubal – pianist, author, broadcaster and confidant of Vladimir Horowitz – has been sacked by Manhattan School of Music, where he taught for more than two decades. No reason was given and there is no suspicion whatsoever of discreditable conduct on Mr Dubal’s part. Mr Dubal, 70, has confirmed his dismissal to a Slipped Disc contact, who writes:

david dubal
During my years as a piano student at Manhattan School, he was a truly great inspiration – not only to me – but to many of us young, struggling pianists trying to carve out our musical destinies. Being well-connected, he would very frequently invite many of us to perform for the elite of New York City, as well as for his classes at Juilliard School (where he was also on faculty). He would tirelessly write recommendations, make phone calls, and devote his time giving extra lessons/coaching for us – all at  no charge.

His support of young artists goes back decades – when teaching at Juilliard in the 80’s he would frequently arrange lessons for students he believed in with Vladimir Horowitz. During many rough patches in my college years (rejection from competitions, financial troubles – things that every young artist will face), Mr. Dubal was the ear that could ALWAYS be counted on. I think, for all of us – he was the one true authority figure in the piano world of New York City who us students could still call a friend AND colleague – able to offer sympathy from the other side of the table. Never for him was the politics, games, and antics of the regular New York City Piano Teacher.

As of last fall, Mr. Dubal was fired – without reason given – from the Manhattan School. This was confirmed by him to me in a phone message this morning. I knew he had left, but did know the reason.

However, I am simply too angry – not only for myself and for him – but for the sake of all the young pianists studying at Manhattan School who will not have access to Mr. Dubal’s brilliant and witty teaching, introduction to great pianists, stories about great artists, etc. Dubal was among my chief NYC experiences, and he paved professional connections for me (and many, many, many, many others), out of nothing more than sympathy and desire to help in the career of the struggling artist (which few of our actual teachers every do). I feel that this injustice should at least be made known publicly

The incident calls to mind the dismissal by Northwestern University, also without explanation, of viola professor Roland Vamos. Apparently college boards are under no obligation – either to teachers, or to fee-paying students – to provide continuity of tuition through the college year.


  • Robert Holmén says:

    70 is age at which employers can enforce a retirement in the US.

    • Jules says:

      Uh…no. People are not summarily sent to pasture at 70 in the states.

      • Robert Holmén says:

        “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was amended in 1978 to prohibit mandatory retirement before age 70 in most occupations.”

        You do understand what that means for workers over 70, right?

        And “uh” is a poor rhetorical flourish to begin with since it signals you aren’t sure of what you are saying.

        • KeyboardCity says:

          The music world would have been a very different place if American conservatory piano teachers had been forced to retire at age 70. Rosina Lhevinne joined the Juilliard faculty at age 39, but she taught no pupils of note until she was precisely 70 – when Van Cliburn walked into her studio. And then for the next 26 years she taught the likes of James Levine, John Williams, Garrick Ohlsson, Misha Dichter, Ursula Oppens, John Browning, etc.

        • paulette george says:

          the greatest musicians teach and perform well past the age of 70.(look at flutist james galway–masterclasses,concerts all over the world ,online lessons . he did a masterclass and concert at the national flute convention last august–he is stronger than ever) Musicians have more to offer every year of their life as they continue to grow. the arts are not like any other fields. this is a great loss to music students of all ages. I hope he is asked to teach someplace else.

        • Jules says:

          While some government jobs enforce retirement at 70, most other employers cannot and do not. Indeed, college professors cannot be forced out at age 70. The “uh” was meant as stunned disbelief at your patently ridiculous and uninformed statement.

        • voice of music says:


          Mr. Holmen is incorrect. The mandatory retirement provision you are citing affects contracts in which employees within a given organization are affected by a standing company-wide mandatory retirement law such as would be found throughout france or germany. But in most cases, especially in New York and other “right to work” states, workers rights have been eroded to the point where no such mandatory retirement age provision needs to be implemented: the employer can simply hire or fire at will. Enabling them to silently discriminate against older workers by terminating them for no reason whatsoever.

        • SDReader says:


          • NYMike says:

            Unlike some increasingly regressive states, New York is NOT a “right-to-work” (for less) state.

        • Norman Tabernacle says:

          Clearly, you don’t understand the meaning of “Uh…no,” and how it’s being used here.

  • Rosana Martins says:

    This is absolutely appalling! David Dubal contributed enormously to the musical life in New York and his book of interviews was like a landmark, when published!
    The Manhattan School has a lot of explanations to give to the music world!

  • Michael Endres says:

    The classes of David Dubal at Juilliard were always among the most enjoyable events to look forward to.
    His profound knowledge about the world of piano playing and his wicked sense of humour were remarkable , his continuing support for students ( often long after they had left the school ) outstanding .
    What on earth has happened here ?

  • Elijah says:

    One of the most unique teachers in the music world, in terms of knowledge and inspiration. His generosity and devotion to students, the art form, are uncommon. This is MSM’s loss.

  • Herbert Pauls says:

    I have never met him but as a life-long fan of all things piano I (like probably many others) still feel that I somehow know him personally. I have had his books on my shelf beside me ever since I was a young student. They have been formative for me in much the same way as Harold C. Schonberg’s The Great Pianists. Although I have absolutely no knowledge of this music school’s internal politics, Dubal’s dismissal nonetheless sounds very strange indeed, and if no proper justification is given would almost seem to be reminiscent of the Zander debacle in Boston a while back.

    Incidentally, a great many of his radio programs can been heard via Youtube. They include priceless and unique encounters with many great pianistic figures of our time. What a legacy!

  • Robert Tonucci says:

    I just started a gofundme page to raise money for David Dubal:

    • Robert Tonucci says:

      Dubal told me to take down the gofundme page, so I did…..

    • Nicholas Isaacs says:

      Good afternoon, Robert Tonucci, this is the only page I can trace a connection. I am the grandson of Edward Isaacs and nephew of Stefan Bardas. You recently posted recordings on YouTube. Thank you for doing that! I can give more information, if you would contact me at my email below. I don’t see how to upload my comments there, not even a beginning techie! Best wishes, Nicholas

  • Opus 111 says:

    There are certain members of the Manhattan School of Music piano faculty who have absolutely no business being there, due to their thin resumes and lack of professional achievement. So the fact that such individuals remain on the piano faculty while an internationally acknowledged icon like David Dubal is sacked reflects the poor judgment of MSM’s administration. Ridding the school of such quality is a guarantee of their continued mediocrity. The MSM piano faculty is in dire need of new blood, and the continued presence of certain faculty members is inexcusable. No need to mention names here: Anyone familiar with the school knows whom I’m referring to.

    • Benjamin Steinhardt says:

      I’m an MSM grad, and sad to hear of Mr. Dubal’s departure. He was unfailing generous in his promotion of young artists.

      I have no idea who you are referring to, however.

    • Igor says:

      I could not agree more, with the aforementioned applying to the violin faculty as well. It seems that the school is intend on making a statement that the quality of the faculty is not actually important, and that it’s the administration that is why people come to an institution of higher learning, if one can call MSM that. David Dubal is better off, even if the students at MSM aren’t.

  • Niles says:

    Shouldn’t we wait until the gory details (if any) are released before forming a raving mob?

  • Benjamin Steinhardt says:

    Just so it’s clear, Dubal was never on the Piano faculty. He taught a weekly performance class for pianists and until a few years ago, a historical/comparative recording class.

    Both, needless to say, were excellent.

  • Nardo Poy says:

    Let’s just say that until we have all the facts behind this dismissal, we should not jump to conclusions. It may or may not have been an action taken for legitimate decisions, but having seen similar decisions made for truly good reasons with others and having those decisions be attributed to ageism, I need to be convinced.

  • John says:

    Regardless of his knowledge, Dubal is and was a jerk. He only cared about female Asian pianists whom he courted in his classes and weekly master classes. Everyone at MSM knew he was [redacted: defamation].

    • Jeffrey says:

      It’s funny, but when I first read this blog post, I expected to see a flood of comments similar to yours, John.
      Only one so far….

      • R Goldberg says:

        He was a jerk, I’ll second that, and an egomaniac. I was a student of his at MSM, and he came unprepared to every class, with a few CD recordings in his bag, with no rhyme, reason, or logic to their presentation. He would bad mouth practically everyone except for himself, brag about his relationship with Horowitz and his moronic betrayal of Horowitz’s trust, and lament about the state of the arts and how you have to be crazy to be going into it. Apart from that, he was a delight.

        • rach says:

          No syllabus, no exams, no papers. He graded us based on what our classmates thought of esch of us. OMG!! Yes. And the things he usually says in the class are obviously sexual harrassments. He always tried to flirt with female students during the class, even said how many dancers he has dated while he was in juiliard. I am glad that MSM made a right decision for it’s students.

  • Vladimir says:

    Sad. David was for us Juilliard kids the most colorful, funny, and irreverent teacher in school, whose antiestablishmentarianism was a breath of fresh air. Yes, he could say some outrageous things at times, mostly for shock value and comical effect, but we all felt that he cared immensely both for real music-making, and for us, the students. He really is a singular character.

  • Pia says:

    I’m a former student of MSM, and I’ve attended his “open class” a few times early 2000’s. It was once a week and there are a few students played and he gave them comments. It was a kind of in master class style. I don’t know if there was even an enrollment for his class, there might have been, but basically there was a sign-up sheet for performers in the hallway, and anyone could show up, it happened in a recital hall in MSM.

    As long as I know, it was the only class he was teaching there. There was no exam, quiz, attendance, etc.. He picked up a few strong performers and invited them to play for his class at Juilliard. It was kind of like a little audition. It seemed like there were always some students he especially favored. It’s New York, there are a lot of attractive and talented students who are in their early 20’s.

    What I heard about this is, basically the school didn’t renew the contract with him. It was not like he had a full time job there and suddenly got fired, so I think this article is a bit misleading. It is very unfortunate, but many of the renowned school’s faculty members are part time and hired yearly basis.

  • Mark Stratford says:

    >>I just started a gofundme page to raise money for David Dubal:

    Huh ? What makes you think he needs the money ?

  • Una says:

    I would think this has more to do with him being 70, and they are now getting active about getting people out at this age so they don’t have to do it when they’re 75 and not so able, and then be accused of even more unfair dismissal because of health! Probably want to get young people in, otherwise what happens to them?

  • John Porter says:

    I think there’s lots here that is missing context. First off, a place like MSM doesn’t have tenured faculty. Everyone is part-time. Secondly, unlike some schools, like say Mannes or NYU, there is not faculty union. (So, people who have taught for awhile have no protections other than that accorded by employment law.) Thirdly, the guy was teaching one class, not on the piano faculty, and the administration decided to drop the class. Why paint this as some sort of horrendous act by the administration? No reason given…I seriously doubt that. There’s not a labor lawyer in the country that will allow you to do something like this without some sort of reason. My bet is that they decided to no longer run the class, due to other priorities.

    MSM is a terrific school, which doesn’t often get its due.


  • A. says:

    Shame. David Dubal is a legend, and I had the chance to attend (and play) in a few of his classes, both at MSM and Juilliard, during my MSM days in the mid-2000s. I also took his historical recordings class, which often took the form of a stream-of-consciousness lecture on pianists, music, and life. Nobody else could’ve pulled it off, but Mr. Dubal, with his extensive knowledge, love of the piano, and terrifically sharp wit, made every class interesting, shocking, fun, and inspiring. His loss will leave a void that no one can fill.

    On the other hand, as a former MSM-er, I can’t say I’m surprised. Ten years ago, the interests of the students always came last. Sounds like they still do.

  • Student says:

    Perhaps because of his blatant sexism and [alleged] sexual harassment of female students wherever he goes? About time he paid the price.

  • Wanda Landowska says:

    Mr. D is unique. I took his evening division course at Juilliard for several years. He was witty, knowledgeable, greatly supportive of young pianists, and taught so much about the piano literature. He recommended recordings, and his books (Art of the Piano in its many editions) were compendiums of the breadth and depth of his knowledge. He inspired me in my own small artistic way.

    He also was extremely narcissistic, could be unexpectedly cruel, manipulative, and yes, he had a bevy of Asian beauties whose careers he promoted. One even married him. He was blatantly unfaithful to her. I observed all silently.

    He both fascinated and repelled. He was snakelike, seductive, and as I said, unique. There will never be another like him. I am deeply sorry he was fired from MSM. I have had the experience, and it is like falling without a parachute. But he tested the limits too much and too often. It is not difficult to figure out why his course was cancelled.

    He was brilliant at talent spotting. Kirill Gerstein, winner of the Gilmore, played in our class at just 17. Mr. D discovered and promoted talent. I wish him well, he is a past part of my life that I shall not forget.

    • Gus Vsiliadis, Mahwah, NJ says:

      All I can say as an outsider is that his “Reflections from the Keyboard” on NPR is on our digital calendar with two alerts so we don’t miss it every week.

    • Malcolm Hamrick Brown says:

      Since Wanda Landowska died in about 1959, it is remarkable to read her comments about Mr. Dubal from the Great Beyond

  • noochinator says:

    Some of Dubal’s best work, in my opinion, are the ‘A Musical Offering’ shows that he did at NYC’s WNCN-FM around 1975-1976 — here’s a classic specimen, he and musicologist Donald Garvelmann (with assistance from staff announcer Matt Edwards) on Chopin songs:

  • Malcolm Hamrick Brown says:

    Since Wanda Landowska died in about 1959, it is remarkable to read her comments about Mr. Dubal from the Great Beyond.

  • Bob Tonucci says:

    Another broadcasting triumph of Dubal was his radio show ‘The American Century’, broadcast on NYC’s WQXR in the late nineties/early noughties. Many of the shows have been placed at YouTube:

  • Lotus says:

    If you were young, Asian, female and beautiful at the manhattan school, you would understand why Mr. Dubal was fired. This came many decades too late.

  • Turandot says:

    Yes Lotus I agree. I knew one of his “students”, heard many stories and observed him with one of his long time girlfriends. Too bad he did not get to enjoy the current climate….