Five worst cases of classical music abuse

Five worst cases of classical music abuse


norman lebrecht

November 02, 2017

Since the issue has been trivialised to the point where a minister resigns for a hand on a journalist’s knee, let’s try to haul it back to serious criminal abuse. I’ve seen and heard plenty over 40 years, but these are probably the worst.

1 The conductor who raped a teenage soloist in his green room, destroying her confidence and career.

2 The conductor who had teenage boys delivered to his room.

3 The magazine editor who forced male PRs into sex.

4 The orchestra boss who preyed on female admin staff.

5 The opera star who demanded sex from female PRs.

I’m not naming names, nor will I permit any names to be posted in Comments. This is not a witch-hunt. It’s a summons to the classical music world to recognise that abuses have persisted in full public view for several decades and no-one said a word because the perpetrators were – still are – considered too important.


  • Anon says:

    You may not be naming names, but I trust you or someone has reported these people?

  • Stephen says:

    Obviously, too important for you Norman? Shameful cowardice, if you have been aware of persistent criminality it must be taken to the Police. Maybe once they are in the ground and nothing can be done everyone will come forward? Just like with Saville everyone knew but nobody dare.

    • Lindsay Groves says:

      Oh be realistic; Lawsuits are expensive. Probably most of us know exactly who half of these are? I’d like to know the green room name though.

      • MWnyc says:

        Well, that’s the thing: most of us have heard rumors about who half these people are, but none of us have any evidence. It’s all hearsay.

        And we all know that the proverbial rumor mill isn’t scrupulous about fact-checking.

    • Una says:

      It is far more complicated than calling some of us cowards.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It seems to be comparable with the roman catholic church past and present, where spiritual authority happened to be a useful cover-up of misdeeds. But that does not mean that religion as such is to be blamed, as it would be nonsensical to blame the classical music world for being responsible for the misbehavior of people who are supposed to serve it.

    Therefore exposure of such abject behavior, which cannot enough be encouraged and welcomed, should lead to punishment, to protect people and especially, the art form.

    If the classical music world takes-on the appearance of a swamp, it will invite initiatives to drain it, and fuel the populist attacks on the art form in general. Performers, however ‘famous’, who abuse their position to commit such aggressive abject behavior, should be kicked-out of the profession, whatever their contribution to that profession. Such contributions become severely compromised and damaging, so: better have talented performers who are also normal, decent people. There are enough of them around.

    • David R Osborne says:

      And I agree with you that the music itself is not to blame nor is the religion itself in the case of the church, but the institutions and hierarchies that have developed in both cases are clearly at the heart of the problem. In many ways music has the potential to be worse, in that speaking out about abuse in the church is not usually a threat to livelihood and career.

  • Anne says:

    I think I would include mention of the prolific rapes of underage students by boarding school music teachers in here.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    Failure to name names only protects those who prey on the young and vulnerable. Why is it that you want to protect such monsters? What’s in it for you? Baseless or frivolous accusations are one thing, but rape and pedophilia are serious crimes that need to come to light. Failure to report such crimes to the authorities is a crime in itself.

    • Thomasina says:

      Agree with you. Unfortunately, often the victims themselves don’t have courage to reveal the secrets. But if we know something and keep silence for the perpetrators, we will be in the same line as the perpetrators.

    • MWnyc says:

      Norman is not “protecting such monsters”. He’s presumably protecting himself: he, like many of the rest of us, has heard many stories but doesn’t have any actual proof and probably hasn’t personally witnessed any monstrous acts.

    • Una says:

      Please don’t blame Norman. All will unravel eventually like the politicians. One man can’t take this on at nearly 70 and a bust working life. The situation is far more complicated and life’s end tatters on both sides.

      • boringfileclerk says:

        Than what was his point of bringing the subject up, and banning persons, who may have first hand knowledge from naming names? He states flat out “I’ve seen and heard plenty over 40 years, but these are probably the worst.” Seen? really? This implies first hand knowledge. He’d be the best thing for the arts if he used the blog for good rather than sanctimonious hypocrisy.

  • jansumi says:

    Maybe I’m picky but your title implies the abuse of classical music. Doesn’t steer anybody in the right direction & this is too serious to guise in cuteness..

  • fierywoman says:

    Only 5 ?!?

  • Mary says:

    When one names actual names, unless you have real verification, you open yourself to serious legal action. Just saying . . .

  • Dave says:

    How pathetic! I know the names of sexual predators but I won’t name them. Thankfully a few strong souls (mainly women) have the strength to call out these Hollywood men for their crimes. It’s just a case of more old white men sitting on their hands doing nothing.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    The only way to change things is to name names !! There isn’t really any point in describing some horribly abusive event if no one except you has any clue who the perp is.

    Refusal to name names allows the predatory behavior, the assaults, to continue – even if the perps you refused to reference above are no longer alive or no longer preying, plenty are currently. The fear of public humiliation has to be put into them.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    If you know for a fact that certain people committed sexual assaults, publicizing their names is not a “witch hunt,” Norman. A witch hunt by definition is a betrayal of an innocent person (because there is no such thing as a witch).

    • Max Grimm says:

      I have a feeling that Norman isn’t naming names, because all he has to go on are recounts by – possibly first – but mostly second and third parties and, depending on applicable laws, wishes not to face charges of libel or defamation.
      In any case, I agree that those in the know, and even better, those with proof should realize that they have a moral, if not legal obligation to ensure such lowlifes are held accountable.
      But more often, things end up going the way they possibly did with the second case listed in the starter. While I can’t be certain whom Norman is referring to, #2 reminds me of persistent stories and rumors surrounding (since at least the early 1980s) a very well known opera conductor with now very limited mobility.

      • Sue says:

        I am in Norman’s corner. Anecdotal evidence is absolutely not enough to go on. And, if he’s anything like me, he probably wants to avoid being sued. Guilty people have a habit of getting around the law at other peoples’ expense.

        • Max Grimm says:

          I agree with you…hence my using a description of said conductor rather than his name.

          • Alex Davies says:

            Well you’ve described him in sufficient detail that I think we all know exactly who you mean. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d want to consult with a lawyer before publishing something that all but identifies the subject of a defamatory libel.

          • Max Grimm says:

            @Mr. Davies
            You would want to consult legal council before merely mentioning having heard “stories” and “rumours” told by others in public forums and media about a person you don’t name?
            What country so you live in?

          • Max Grimm says:

            *…do you live in?

          • GG says:

            Try harder people: that conductor was named, only a few weeks ago and for exactly these actions, in the comments on this very blog. The story was sourced to a named lawyer.

            Norman may eventually have removed the comment – haven’t gone looking today – but it was around on here for a fair while.

          • Alex Davies says:

            @Max Grimm: You said that you had used “a description of said conductor rather than his name”. All that I was pointing out was that if you were doing so because you were concerned about the legal position, i.e. defamatory libel of a living person, you may wish to check whether it is actually necessary to use that person’s name in order to be vulnerable to a legal claim, or whether it is sufficient to provide what is known as a jigsaw identification, i.e. so much information that you may as well have named the person. There are certainly some areas of English law, e.g. the law affording anonymity to victims of sexual offences, where jigsaw identification can be prosecuted in exactly the same way as if the person’s actual name had been given.

            By the way, I live in England, and we are famous for having some of the toughest libel laws in the world. Crucially, the burden of proof is on the defendant, i.e. there is a presumption that the defendant is guilty unless he is able to prove his innocence. This is of course the precise opposite of English criminal law, where the defendant is presumed innocent unless his guilt can be proved beyond reasonable doubt. It means that if you are publishing something that is subject to the jurisdiction of the English courts, which I assume includes this blog, conductor X does not need to prove that he did not commit A, B, and C, you need to prove that he did.

      • Una says:

        Well, Norman is quite prominent in England in the musical world. It is for those who have actually been abused in a big way to talk, not those of us to go shouting names when perhaps some of us have been spoken to in confidence. I am helping two abusers at the moment, having visited two different prisons but I wouldn’t say who.they are. Norman could well gave been told in confidence.

        • Thomasina says:

          Oh,I see now why you couldn’t understand the matter of Bernier’s victims…but I don’t intend to dispute you about it. I know that it’s not unusual that abusers themselves were victims in the past, and we can’t justify their actions but they also need help. The only thing I hope you…When the victims finally sued the perpetrators, don’t never think ” He(abuser) is already dead ” or ” He is now too old “. Because Time never heals the wounds of the victims and they will die with it. I say it, I’m helping a organisation to assist the victims in connection with my occupation.

  • Sue says:

    I well remember reading in a biography of Judy Garland the fact of Louis B. Mayer sitting her on his knee when she was still under-aged, petting her and referring to her as “my little hunchback”. That man was a disgusting predator. But who acting in the best interests of Judy Garland? NOBODY. Her mother was a pushy theatrical mother, her father a pedophile and everyone at MGM was in fear of Mayer and his power to make or break. Strange that the story of “Citizen Kane” focussed on the ‘abuses’ of W.R. Hearst and made no mention of the perverse, cruel and wanton abuse of young actors and actors in the very city that made the film!!

    • Don Hohoho says:

      Debbie Reynolds took her mother along to every meeting at the studio. The actresses willing to play the game made it worse for everyone else. Arthur Freed called Judy his “daughter” and said it made their relationship “incestuous.” From a first-hand source. But they made great movies, just as Harvey Weinstein does. And Roman Polanski. Why are people shocked that they aren’t saints? Why do they want to impose today’s values on the past? And have we turned into Puritans?

      • Sue says:

        You raise some interesting moral issues, not least of which is the role complicit women played in having these felons continue with their abuse. It’s the hectoring and moralizing which comes from Hollywood which makes me the most sick on the stomach.

  • BillG says:

    Mister Chairman, I have here in my hand a list of 205 . . . a list of names . . .

  • Don Hohoho says:

    Thanks for adding wood to the bonfire, Norman. The witch hunt expands. No, one does NOT have a right to name names, except in legal actions. Young people have to protect themselves, and yes, great people do awful things. They are too busy to have normal social lives. And the fawning young are just too tempting. I was pounced on a couple of times by well-known figures, I merely pushed them off. And I should have known what they would want when I was invited to their apartments. I was leading them on, though I wasn’t conscious of it. Most young people are too hypnotized by fame to refuse. Regrets are not evidence of a crime.

  • Don Hohoho says:

    Smearing [redacted: we stipulated no names] is pointless. The boys who were “delivered” to his dressing room or where ever were probably paid. He could have what he needed. And he had [redacted]. There is nothing horrible about it. If he had been as handsome as Bernstein, he’d have been admired for it. Shame on you for bringing it up as somehow scandalous. Many young men want to be with older men. The Socratic relationship is a powerful model for a successful relationship. How many straight men marry women in their 20s when they are over 50? All of them?

    • boringfileclerk says:

      Well, you’ve named a name. And are apparently okay with teenage boys being paid? It’s not unusual for older men to prefer to date younger woman in their mid 20s or 30s. Yet it is just that- younger woman- and not teenagers. You give a weak defense for such indefensible actions. You lead me to believe that you have more than just a passing knowledge of such relationships.

    • Samuel says:

      Are you kidding? Shame on him? If you’re so outraged at one calling dressing room sex acts with teenage boys scandalous, take it up with the LAW. A man in his 60s, 70s, 80s, who marries a woman in her 20s, call it revolting if you want, but it’s legal. A man having sexual relations with a boy, much to the shagrin of your NAMBLA brothers, is illegal. Those laws are not going to change, so deal with it by welding yourself in a metal box and eroto-asphyxiate yourself.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The question is, of course, in how far such thing is wished by the vulnerable party.

    • Wolfgang says:

      Socratic relationships? Lol. Times have changed. We no longer walk around in pieced together sandals, nor do we drink milk straight from the goat. You obviously are keen on getting with young innocent boys only to have them develop disorders in their 40’s. You be all sorts of creeping, move to a third world country where, sadly and unfortunately, you can quench your young boy thirst.

  • Anonymous says:

    Norman, if you want to be serious about this, you need to get Opera Europa and Opera America to assure everyone that they will take non-prejudicial action when instances of abuse are reported to them.

    Sexual abuse is prevalent in Opera, and until those two organisations formulate a safe manner of reporting, much as the UK parliament is planning to do, then NOTHING will change. Bullying is also rife in Opera – how soon we’ve forgotten what happened at the Grand Théâtre de Genève?

    Action needs to be taken, and it needs to be taken soon.

  • William Safford says:

    From history, one word: castrato.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I’m perplexed by this flurry of stories…. why have I been left-out??


  • Get a Bodycam Recorder for Heavens Sake says:

    A covert wearable bodycam recorder is the answer.