Curtis says sorry

Curtis says sorry


norman lebrecht

July 27, 2019

Message to all Curtis alumni from college president Roberto Diaz:

To the entire Curtis community:

Yesterday we communicated with all of you in a way that was not consistent with our values.

We have understandably lost your trust and for that I am profoundly sorry.

I promise you we will do whatever is needed to make this right. As a first step toward this promise, Curtis will establish an anonymous reporting hotline. We will reach out again with more information about this service in the coming days.

It’s not entirely clear whether he’s apologising for an official urging everyone to keep quiet, or indirectly about the alleged historic abuse itself.



  • Henry Rosen says:

    Maybe it’s time for Diaz to go back to playing in an orchestra? His time at Curtis has changed the school completely, now being a vassal, through Curtis on Tour, to promoting his own solo career (viola, who cares)
    He has made some really bad decisions, not hired a great orchestral trainer and appointed some people who really aren’t up to what Curtis USED to be, which was the most important Conservatoire in the world; a place where the truly gifted could become the truly great. Now it exists for its own ends and for the promotion of Diaz’s not very high skills. Curtis should want someone so much better than he and demand the very best (or at least not some chip on the shoulder, average viola player)

    • Edward says:

      Did Gary Graffman know about this when he was running Curtis?

    • Larry W says:

      Mr. “Rosen”, you have made the mistake of conflating this deplorable situation with Roberto Diaz, the musician and person. This charge of abuse predates his tenure at Curtis. It would be fairer (and wiser) to attack the problem and support Lara St. John. Your post did not even mention her. As for how Curtis USED to be, the horrific behavior that was described took place more than 30 years ago.

      You don’t know how much control Diaz had over the initial communication to Curtis alumni. For all we and you know, it may have been written entirely by attorneys. After the ensuing debacle, Diaz apologized for the insensitive message. He did not excuse the abuse, and FERPA does not permit him to mention students by name.

      Criticize Diaz as an administrator (or as a person if you like), but as for Diaz’s skills as a violist, you are full of crap. He is among the finest violists of his generation, and came to Curtis after serving as principal viola of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. You do not win those positions with “not very high” or “average” skills. He has also been nominated for a Grammy Award.

      Try your best to think about the affected students. Your comments about Roberto Diaz are misplaced.

    • Morgenstern says:

      I must agree with you Mr. Rosen. In the past three years, I have heard many negative comments about Curtis from members of the Philadelphia donor community, not necessarily concerning the quality of the faculty or students, but rather the general culture of the school under Mr. Diaz’s leadership. It seems to have gone from a place of good manners and respectful for others, to a ruthless cut-throat machine that just wants to conquer and impress, but without having or showing the prerequisite etiquette and respect towards others. I know of two former donors who refuse to give to them anymore. They tell me of calls that go unanswered, receiving messages intended for somebody else, being confused for being somebody else and other stupidities unworthy of what should be a respectable well-managed school. Something is amiss there and this episode was just the straw that broke the camels back.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    Well he is doing better than the guy that made faculty-student relationships sound like a performance practice.

  • Alex Klein says:

    Roberto Diaz ought to be commended for being active in a tough administrative pickle. His choice to reach out to the community, communicate, create a hotline, all speak of someone who wants the problem to be addressed and not shoved under the piano. Similarly, my heart goes out to Lara, a superb violinist and artist who attended Curtis at the same time I did. I hope that dialogue, mutual understanding and respect will bring fruits that elevate Curtis safety to the level of their music.

  • Musician says:

    Institutions are most concerned with self preservation and avoidance of scandal. That was reflected in the letter sent out by the PR director. I find it implausible that she acted without guidance from Diaz and/or others. The “values” seem like a recent phenomenon.

    • The View from America says:

      “I find it implausible that she acted without guidance from Diaz and/or others. The “values” seem like a recent phenomenon.”

      100% correct except for one thing: substitute the word “inconceivable” for “implausible.”

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    A little too late.

    They really need to move into the 21st century or students won’t come there even if it’s free.

    Most of the big schools are providing free tuition to graduate students (Rice, Northwestern, Yale, Colburn, etc) so that is no longer that big a perk.

    Unbelievable that the initial email was even sent.

    • aNOn says:

      Who would reject Curtis for Rice, Northwestern, Yale, Colburn, free or not?

      • Mary says:

        I don’t have personal knowledge of Northwestern or Yale, but Rice and Colburn are first class music schools and extremely well respected, with many graduates winning jobs.

      • Couperin says:

        Exactly. If one gets into Curtis, they could probably be PAID to go to those other schools.

    • Bruce says:

      “Most of the big schools are providing free tuition to graduate students”

      True; but a free undergrad education at a very top school is rare.

    • AnnaT says:

      The Colburn School is tuition-free for undergrads as well, with room and board thrown in.

  • The View from America says:

    It’s called “CYA after the fact.”

    But it’s actually more like “closing the barn door after the cows have gotten out.”

  • Worked with Diaz (Rostropovich era – he was not well liked by Slava) for years in the NSO. He was a huge name dropper in chamber rehearsals meant to intimidate. Haven’t heard a peep from him since he left years ago. I suppose he thinks he is bigger and more important than the rest of us little folk. I’m not surprised by the blunder.

    • Jewelyard says:

      Can you tell us why Roberto was not well-liked by Slava or is it something you just crapped out on this site? I’ve known Roberto for many years, played with him on numerous occasions, spent time with him – I’ve never seen him name drop for the purpose of intimidation. He has had a very successful career as one of the leading violists of the world – as a result he has been associated with many distinguished artists. So?

      • Isaac Stern. Isaac Stern. Isaac Stern. Look him up. As a youngster, it was intimidating to hear his name mentioned in rehearsals back in the early 90s. Stern was one of the most powerfully connected musicians of his era. If you knew him (as Diaz did), performed with him and he liked you, your life in music could change over night. Slava made it obvious who knew him well who he cared about. He was not an ‘I love everyone’ kind of person. Something unbeknownst to me happened – Isaac Stern or was it with James Wolfensohn? But thanks for the compliment (“crapped out”) Jewelyard and for displaying your name. I see you are no fan of mine. When I think of Diaz I think disingenuous. But on the other hand I have held nothing against him in his lofty post and wish him well in our quest to be better musicians – more sincere, more collegial and to be honest. Something he struggled with during his tenure in the NSO.

  • aNOn says:

    In every case, even with new management that was not around during the alleged facts, the instinct is always to protect the institution first, and that goes for alumni too, I dare say, especially for alumni.

    What typically happens is that a core group of victims will form, but the large majority of alumni will stay mum, and a small group of wealthy influential alumni will rally around the institution.

  • J'aime la musique says:

    Amen, Henry Rosen! Additionally, Mr. Diaz has made some very poor choices when it comes to hiring guest conductors for Curtis Orchestra concerts.

    • Edward says:

      Who is the regular orchestra trainer/conductor at Curtis now? Hard to find someone of Mueller’s stature, breadth and wisdom. And the guests . . . . .?

  • Monsoon says:

    This should be a wakeup call to arts organizations about the need for professional management, even if staff do not have have a background in the arts — which is often seems to be the major qualification for these jobs.

    First, it doesn’t sound like there are any substantive process in place for reporting sexual harassment and assault. Diaz’s statement should be talking about the fact that Curtis has a robust reporting and investigation process — but he likely cannot say that because they don’t.

    It’s really not good that they don’t have a section of their website dedicated to Title IX and it doesn’t appear that there are any dedicated Title IX staff. Curtis may be small, but they have to have that. There’s no excuse.

    This is what happens when you don’t have professional management.

    Next, that email was so, so bad. There’s been a culture of silence that has allowed people to get away with criminal behavior, and Curtis is telling people to keep their mouths shut?!

    I’m sure nobody took these jobs at Curtis expecting they’d have to deal with a scandal like this — and I kinda feel bad for the situation that employees have been thrown in. But this organization has been entrusted with the welfare of children — it’s about lot more than making great music. They need to modernize ASAP.

  • Elizabeth Ostling says:

    I am a Curtis alumna (Flute ’94). I have no personal axe to grind with the school, or any of the individuals involved in this story. On the contrary, I have fond memories of my years at Curtis. Moreover, I credit Curtis for giving me an excellent musical education, leading to a career I love.

    None of this mitigates the fact that Lara St. John’s story is truly horrific. Her account is also highly credible. The Inquirer’s story appears to be conscientiously and fairly reported. The reporters found two contemporaneous witnesses to corroborate St. John’s claims, as well as four other victims. Statistically speaking, false reports of sex crimes are exceedingly rare (about 2-8%).

    Abusers are also often able to maintain sterling reputations within their communities. (NPR’s “Believed” podcast series about Larry Nassar is an excellent example of this syndrome.) They can also be selective about their victims. Any time an insular community has a passionate goal in common, be it great sports, great music-making, great political goals or great work for the church — above all else — then you can be almost certain that the “all else” will at some point include abuse swept under the rug.

    Elite and/or insular institutions have a built-in motive to protect alleged abusers who are deemed indispensable to that institution’s mission. Taking accusers’ claims seriously, on the other hand, is very costly.

    Curtis is an elite and very insular community. My ’90 acceptance letter didn’t deign to offer congratulations, but instead warned: “All students are on probation during their entire period of enrollment and may be dismissed at any time for failure to maintain the required standard of work.”
    Assuming that a similar warning was in effect at Curtis in the 80’s, then imagine how incredibly gutsy it was for Lara St. John, then only 15 years old, to report her abuse. I deeply admire her courage then and now.

    Institutions that have taken the hard path of handling abuse disclosures responsibly in the past have nothing to hide. Additionally, institutions that have dealt with abuse poorly in the past but are now coming clean, also have nothing to hide. These are the kinds of institutions that can be trusted to treat abuse allegations seriously in the future.

    Better policies and training mean nothing within a culture that protects powerful predators.

    Many institutions conduct “independent” investigations in order to attempt damage control by convincing the public that they are taking abuse seriously. “Independent” investigations are, in reality, most often controlled in some way by the institutions that pay the law firms to conduct them. This means that the institution still has a say in determining how the “independent” investigation is conducted, the scope of the investigation, which witnesses are interviewed, what gets included in the final report, and who receives that final report.

    I do not think Curtis’s investigation was truly independent. It was also obviously far from thorough. The Inquirer article said that the investigation didn’t focus on St. John’s claims.

    I would urge Curtis to submit to a truly thorough and independent investigation into St. John’s allegations. The rape of a 14-year-old girl is a serious crime, and the coverup of such a crime is equally serious. If her claims are deemed credible by the investigator, then Curtis must issue a statement to that effect, along with an abject apology to Lara St. John.

    Until then, I would urge any victims of abuse at Curtis not to disclose to Curtis’s anonymous reporting hotline. This is how the Catholic Church is now handling abuse claims. Keep in mind that the information shared will, in some sense, belong to Curtis or the law firm representing Curtis. While the board of trustees and administrators at Curtis may be genuinely sad about your abuse, their motive is ultimately protecting their public reputation and limiting legal liability — not seeing the truth come to light.

    What if the Inquirer were to set up an anonymous reporting hotline? This is what the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team did, during their abuse exposé of the Catholic Church.

    If I were an abuse victim, I’d trust a news reporter before trusting the institution where my abuse took place.

  • Elizabeth Ostling says:

    Correction to my above comment:

    Assuming that a similar warning was in effect at Curtis in the 80’s, then imagine how gutsy it was for Lara St. John, then only 15 years old, to report her alleged abuse.

  • Daniel Shapiro says:

    I must disagree with the characterization of Mr. Diaz as an average violist. I have performed with him and have heard him perform on multiple occasions. He is a truly outstanding violist–one of the best around.

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    Clearly Curtis doesn’t have its act together. Heads will soon roll, no doubt. As the mental health professionals say, you are only as sick as your secrets. Human nature isn’t going to change: predatory teachers have always existed in all disciplines – so, in the interests of protecting our students, these matters need to be faced and dealt with, not shoved under the rug.

    • The View from America says:

      “Heads will soon roll, no doubt.”

      Not sure if this will happen, since the people with direct involvement in the alleged activities and/or handling the case after it was reported contemporaneously are either dead or no longer at Curtis.

      But at the very least, this should be a textbook example of how NOT to handle a case like this — not only “then” but also “now”.

      • Scala Milano says:

        There are still teachers at Curtis who molested students. Fire everyone. Start over.

        • R. Billings says:

          Scala Milano-
          I realize your comment was made in jest, but it does bring up the elephant in the room. Diaz works and performs with teachers who have not outgrown the mentality that engaging in sexual activity with students is a perk of the job. The trickiest part of navigating this fiasco for Diaz has to be dealing with current faculty that think what they’ve been doing all these years is a benefit of their position, like taking a sabbatical; some take advantage of it and some don’t.
          Diaz knows this issue hasn’t gone away, even in our current climate. No one would actually say “I want to have sex with my teenage students if they don’t put up too much of a fight.” But that is what some of them expect.

          • Scala Milano says:

            I am serious. Most of the teachers are well- intentioned, but a few are pretty sketchy. I would start over, with real background checks and polygraph tests for everyone.
            I guarantee several would resign if faced with the truth.

  • Necalum says:

    I remember Lara doing an artist diploma at NEC with James Buswell in the mid 90,s; I wonder if there is more to the story since she clearly does not mentions Brodsky or Buswell in her resume. Buswell was later was dismissed by NEC for a similar conduct.

    • Rgiarola says:

      Brodsky was trully older in the 90’s. Perhaps out of question. Don’t you think?

      • Necalum says:

        Sure Brodsky was old in the 90,s, but Lara studied at Curtís with Brodsky in the 80,s while still a teenager. Read the Philadelphia Inquirer article. I believe her.

  • Abe Cohen says:

    It’s not PC to say it, but what a facile and bogus allegation for which there is no evidence that would pass the smell test— let alone hold up in court.

    And oh so fashionable and smug for the hand-wringing idiots to pile on. She played you like a fiddle.

    “For B and C-tier soloists, it’s all too easy (and necessary) to seek to bring attention to themselves in ways that have nothing to do with their playing. Sex sells – that certainly worked with her “sexy” album covers (Bach, Gypsy, etc.) way back when she was attractive. But the bloom is long off the rose now. The playing is sloppy and ugly too – so what’s left? Breathlessly grasping the limelight via scandal involving unproven sexy allegations and slander against a dead man who cannot defend himself. Grubby.”


    • Mary says:

      Variations of this comment have now appeared on every one of NL’s posts regarding the situation of Curtis, under different user names. I would rather believe that there is one person behind all the reprehensible comments than that several different commenters have all come up with the same disgusting response. Lara St John has come forward with a credible story, surely carefully researched by the Philadelphia Inquirer before being printed, supported by contemporary accounts and also circumstantially supported by the long-term absence of Brodsky’s name from her bio as well as by her otherwise inexplicable departure from Curtis. And yet one or more commenters feel it necessary to attack her artistry, her looks, and her integrity. And people wonder why so many women either do not come forward or come forward years after the fact. It is because women are well aware that they, not their abusers, will become the targets for such invective.

    • Mara Gerety says:

      You again? Copy-pasting this same mean-spirited idiocy on multiple websites? Pro tip, dudebro: if you’re one person trying to look like an army of disbelievers, at least change the wording from site to site.

      Everyone who has even been to a classical conservatory, particularly as a young female, believes Lara. That should tell you something.

    • Dear Mr. Cohen,

      I have worked with Lara St. John for nearly 30 years, and during that time she has grown to be among my dearest friends. Only once did Lara ever mention Jascha Brodsky’s name, a year and a half ago when I sat with her, she disconsolate at the death of her mentor Joey Corpus. I asked who her official teacher was at Curtis and she enunciated Brodsky’s name in such a quiet strangled way with a most queer look I knew it was inappropriate to pry. She said enigmatically “I didn’t learn very much from him.”

      Only once did she obliquely reference her suicide attempt (noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer article) after one of mine when she treated me to a fancy dinner. It was another time I’ve experienced her queer look and strangled tone and again I understood not to pry.

      About Curtis, she spoke of the school with a harsh resentment that verged on the inexplicable.

      Lara has one of the richest lives of anyone I have ever known. The quality I value most in her art is her commitment to the truth and to her integrity. She has no reason to fabricate anything and nothing to gain, except her liberation. If some question her accusing a man who can’t defend himself as not around, dead men also tell no lies.

      There is no doubt in my mind as to the veracity of Lara’s claims.

      I think about abusers of authority I have known in music and of the myth that an artist can achieve a degree of accomplishment that grants them immunity from criminal behavior.

      William Preucil was brilliant and vivacious as an artist, teacher, human being and is very handsome. He made me wish I was a young girl.

      Bernard Greenhouse was warm and supportive, direct in his instruction, and he played very well. However, I would not have appreciated receiving enemas from him on the pretext that it would improve my musicianship.

      Harvey Shapiro’s students loved him, but many were confused. At least his erratic and irresponsible teaching style taught them flexibility. At an audition with a pretty young Asian girl he approached her after she played and said: “You did a great job. Now, give me a kiss. No, not like that, a REAL kiss!” and he took her head in his hands and DEEP THROATED her with his tongue. His colleague, Joel Krosnick, giggled. I was aghast, and Mr. Shapiro turned to me and barked, “You’re a horse’s ass!” Yes, Mr. Shapiro. The girl, whose English was not good, was bewildered and stunned. At his advanced age, he looked leprous. I would not have wanted to be deep throated by Mr. Shapiro. I would, however, have accepted a swig of his liquor.

      Steven Shipps was infamous at Meadowmount for his arm around his underage female students, brushing their breasts, and, behind the scenes, much more than that. He was attractive in a corn-fed middle-American tennis player kind of way, but he isn’t my type. I would be okay, though, with watching him in a gay porno.

      Owen Carman is beneath comment.

      About Lara, in the last month there has been a tremendous change in her; a lightness, a clarity, an ability to feel joy. She has reclaimed her childhood. Throwing this abominable ball-and-chain into the sea, she has taken to the sky.

      ~ Eduard Laurel

  • Sandor Needleman says:

    There was a time (Brodsky’s time) when the music mattered, not topless album covers.

    Nowadays it’s all about consumer consumption, spectacle, and salacious fabrication.

    Thank God for real artists like Mutter, Hahn, Chung, Midori, etc. They are a consolation.

    • Mara Gerety says:

      The sheer panic unleashed by that Bach album cover would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad.

      The oddest part is how many classical music aficionados make a great big show over being scandalized by anything that even hints at human sexuality, particularly of the female persuasion – oh, we’re FAR too pure and noble and smart for these base animal instincts, ugh, pass me my smelling salts – and meanwhile, conservatories are full of creeps and predators and rapists. (Yes, they are, whether your exalted maleness believes it or not.) Does this sound like celibate priests and altar-boy pedophilia to anyone else?

      (Ever tried playing solo Bach? You feel naked doing it. It was a beautiful visual metaphor for the experience of performing those works.)