One Curtis tragedy recalls two others

One Curtis tragedy recalls two others


norman lebrecht

August 14, 2018

The sudden death of Rachel Duncan, principal trumpet of the Charlottesville Symphony, has called to the minds of several readers two other recent tragedies that befell students in her Curtis year.

Jamie Dietz was a brilliant percussionist who died at 33.

Even more promising was the pianist Christopher Falzone, a protege of Martha Argerich who jumped to his death from a hospital window in Geneva in 2014, aged 29.

May their good souls find rest.


  • Caravaggio says:

    Horrifying to read and contemplate. What is it? The harsh reality of making a living from making music?

    • Nick says:

      It is not the harsh reality of making a living playing music but the harsh reality of making a living playing music at an exceptionally high level that takes its toll. There is no shortage of anti-depressants in the top orchestras.

  • Anon says:

    There was also a double bass player who took her life in 2012 during her time at Curtis.

  • sad says:

    “Even more promising was the pianist…”

    What a depressing thing to say.
    I wonder how much depression is caused by failed artists, I mean “critics.”

  • william osborne says:

    Abbie and I, probably like countless others, have been wishing we could have been around Rachel Duncan to help. We know about the stresses women brass players can face.

    It should also be noted that her death might not have been solely the result of professional stresses. Clinical depression is often a disease caused by physiological abnormalities in the brain. I’ve been reading William Styron’s remarkable book “Darkness Visible” (1990) in which he discusses his long struggles with severe depression. The book became a significant influence in the medical profession and helped change the way depression is viewed. It’s often not so much about life as it is brain chemistry. Sadly, that understanding has still not led to easy cures, but it can be done in many cases.

    • Julie Serber says:

      I know personally that Rachel’s suicide was not about music, she was very happy as a musician in Charlottesville. Rachel was very honored, supported and praised by her colleagues. Rachel however had depression and an addictive personality due to her heritage. Her fatal downfall in addition to these 2 menacing qualities was a fallout in a interpersonal relationship. Rachel was a caring and sensitive soul that valued her relationships even more than music.
      We love and miss this light in our lives terribly.
      Her Mother

  • Joseph McGuire says:

    Mr. Lebrecht,

    Are you trying to link these three suicides to Curtis? Come on, give me and Curtis a break! You owe Curtis an apology. Suicide is a very complicated matter, and all three of these people had been out of school, and several in other schools too, for multiple years.

    I know other several other music schools and for that matter non music schools that have their share of these tragedies.

    I think you like to post deaths and suicides because you are aware more people will click on them.

    Joseph McGuire

  • luigi nonono says:

    The Curtis Institute is a very high-pressured environment for many, if not all students, and the pressure to play perfectly can be damaging, and it doesn’t end with graduation. People expect more than they have any right to demand, particularly critics.
    I knew Christopher Falzone. In his case, he was almost certainly on the autism spectrum, very socially disabled, and completely unable to function in life except to play the piano. He had a possibly disastrous relationship with his parents, and their disapproval of his marriage to an inspiring, but demanding musician added incredibly to his difficulties. His wife was denied her legal rights by the father, even in the clinic in Switzerland, I’m told, and caught between all these tectonic pressures, I’m fairly sure Chris simply found himself unable to live. His talent and ability were huge, but perhaps not enough to make him a great musician, but he could not accept less. The cult of the piano, the insistence on being legendary, extraordinary, is simply not healthy for anyone. Talent demands of people, who give and give, but do not always get what they need. But suicide is the result of an unhealthy mind, and very likely little else in the end.

    • John Marks says:

      Dear God,

      Please have mercy on all of them. And please send help to those who are left behind.

      I have a friend who was at his pianist friend’s NYC orchestral-soloist debut. (Long ago.) The friend lunched the first chord in (IIRC) Schumann’s piano concerto. But he then soon recovered, and on balance, it was a triumph.

      My friend was at the end of the receiving line, and the pianist suggested they go for a walk outside.

      They walked, and walked, and walked. In silence.

      My friend’s friend eventually said, “Why do we do this?’

      My friend was silent.

      His friend eventually answered, “We do this because if we do this, we are slightly less miserable than if we don’t do it.”

      Except, there obviously are times when that is not enough.

      Requiem aeternam…

      john marks