Meet the soul of Curtis

Meet the soul of Curtis


norman lebrecht

July 31, 2019

In light of this week’s allegations against the institute, we thought you might like to be reminded of Zsolt Bognar’s interview last year with its long-serving director, Gary Graffman.

Right here.

Trust your judgement.



  • Yes, a reminder: the peasants, the slaves, the sharecroppers, the laborers, and finally even the students’ bodies are there to serve you, the famous classical music pedagogue, the genius seed of cultural supremacy.

  • My post above about the “indulgences” offered famous pedagogues is elaborated upon in my comment on the earlier SD post linked above with the word “here.” (Following the links, one loses track of which page one is on.) This mindset of accommodating “genius” is widespread in classical music.

    We might remember, for example, a passage from the article that caused this scandal:

    “Still, Fitzpatrick said he asked Gary Graffman, the school’s director, to have his wife, Naomi, speak with Lara, believing the teen should speak to a woman. St. John remembers Naomi Graffman inviting her to tea about a week later. Graffman said she would be getting a new teacher, St. John said, then suggested the matter should not be discussed further.”

    Covering for the rape of a minor.

    • Anon says:

      “Covering for the rape of a minor.”

      Neither Fitzpatrick nor Naomi Graffman knew they were covering for rape, because according to the article St. John never told them she was raped.

      I’m not trying to excuse Curtis’s poor handling of the case. At the very least if they had a proper channel for reporting sexual harassment in place at the time, St. John would not have felt the pressure to downplay the gravity of the situation due to fear and/or shame. But after reading the article I’m left with the impression that none of the school officials actually knew how traumatizing Brodsky’s behavior had been. They approached the situation as if it were any regular conflict between a teacher and a student, and as such what they did can’t be classified as “cover-up”, if they didn’t know the truth to begin with.

      • Nijinsky says:

        Excuse me, WHY does this turn into don’t criticize the teacher, when it’s clear she was extremely distressed about something that’s not looked into further. And then when it comes out years later (nothing having been done) the first response is hush up about it. And that’s finalized with the addendum: “we’ve lost your trust.” WHY do they want the student’s trust, and what are they going to do with it?

        And they say they”ll set up a hotline, which again seems to be so that it doesn’t get into the press.

        this image making garbage!

        • Nijinsky says:

          Further more, like was shared about another student of Brodsky, that she also stopped going to lessons, started sleeping around with other students, and started drinking. I’m sure the whole faculty would have gone on about her lack of discipline, and probably half the students as well. What if she had been coerced by Brodsky as well, because that IS the kind of behavior that can result, although that also surely wouldn’t have been looked into.

          This disgusting sense of you’re with the game or not.

          • Anon says:

            “when it’s clear she was extremely distressed about something that’s not looked into further”

            Is it? I don’t think it’s clear from the information given in the article that she apppeared “extremely distressed” to Fitzpatrick and Naomi Graffman at the time. That was the point of my post. In fact they all seem to be under the impression that Brodsky was “too touchy” and that was the whole extent of the problem.

            As for the other students interviewed, 3 out 4 simply said no to Brodsky, while the last developed a relationship (which she later regretted) with Brodsky when she was 20. Their cases are not similar to St. John’s.

          • Nijinsky says:

            I don’t know HOW when someone has gone through what Lara has, that it wouldn’t be CLEAR that she was extremely distressed. Simply because she had been through extremely distressing behavior. If someone can’t see that to begin with there’s a problem. Unfortunately that kind of inability to see what’s really going on, rather than relegating it to a lack of discipline or what’s often made out to be jealousy, is often how anyone gets into such a position of authority.

            And I get the impression Lara is simply trying to get it out, so that other women feel it’s OK to say no. I don’t get the impression she thinks that the penal system is going to fix everything like some Disney-Fairy tale staring Johnny Depp. I think she’s more intelligent than that.

      • willliam osborne says:

        Your comment is just another example of the willful blindness and denial that victims often face. If these administrators had handled the situation properly, the truth would have been quickly revealed. Based on the article, it is clear they wanted the truth suppressed. “Graffman said she would be getting a new teacher, St. John said, then suggested the matter should not be discussed further.” It couldn’t be plainer.

        • Anon says:

          I’m sorry. It is not plain at all. We had no idea what N. Graffman really said. For example, she could have said: “Since you don’t feel comfortable with Brodsky, we are going to give you a new teacher. I hope this will be able to resolve the problem”, which can be interpreted as “suggesting the matter should not be discussed further”, especially by someone that was already fearful, but still shows no sign of a conscious wish to suppress the truth. Unfortunately N. Graffman has just passed away, so we could have only one side of the story.

          What’s more, according to Fitzpatrick, when asked what she wanted him to do, St. John responded: “I just want you to know”. If there was no initiative (from either party) to start an investigation, then there was nothing to “suppress” either. Of course Curtis should have conducted an investigation even if St. John had made no such demand, but such awareness was perhaps uncommon thirty years ago.

      • Elizabeth Ostling says:

        Any minor under the age of consent who discloses that a teacher has “touched her beneath her clothing” and “performed sexual acts on her” (quotes from the Inquirer article) is alleging sexual assault and sexual abuse.

        These were serious crimes even back in the 1980’s.

  • Nijinsky says:

    After listening to the interview shared:

    I’m going to have to disagree that you have to start then young, and not because I don’t think it should help, which is what Mr. Graffman is putting forth, but with the INCREDIBLE push now, the whole quite profoundly coordinated and regulated industry looking for products, I really don’t know that that promotes individuality, even his teaching. And all the array of mind control strategies, and the uniformity, and…. This really didn’t exist during the time when most of the music that’s being played emerged. Neither was everyone playing mostly the music of dead composers.
    Of course, a person should start young, but at such an impressionable age, how much is lost in the machinery producing what it does, and how much would be retained were a person a bit older, a bit more capable of making their own decisions, or simply less capable of behaving like clay in the hands of the system, to then instead HAVE to find their own way, instead of being a happy bouncing product of…..
    He also talks about Tennis and Swimming, that he’s heard they have to start young so he says it’s the same with piano, but we are talking about music, and musicians don’t stop just because their muscles wouldn’t be able to run a competition to win it; there’s something more MUCH MORE involuntary going on, and that AGAIN deals with the person rather than the machinery of an institution, or even that kind of muscular training. Further more, I don’t know if the peer pressure, and institutional wish to get most talent stimulated into becoming the body electric going through the romantic period, and it’s lush virtuosity, is really that good for the technique at all, really. In fact, I might put forth that we wouldn’t have Bartok, Prokofiev and Ravel were they expected or lead into doing that for a major part of the rest of their life, rather than hearing their own voice in their head. And Bartok was an AMAZING pianist, did whole recital tours with Szigetti but there’s only ONE little CD of the two, which to me transcends everyone going around recording and playing everywhere from the industry we see here represented again. Who knows what game he was supposed to play to be more acknowledged while he was alive and performing? And Shostakovitch too, someone who Mr. Schnabel said was writing “shit” music. An old friend of mine studying at a school he came to, heard him state that in the elevator. And I’ve not even gone into what happens when you go into a more indigenous relationship with music, deeper into the overtone series, and somewhere where music resonates with something more than sensuality; because there it CERTAINLY isn’t a requirement to be able to display how well you charge through the romantic repertoire.
    And I’m not even saying that it’s not good to start them young, but comparing it with sports and, where is this going to lead? And someone who does something completely genuine, that’s a whole different neurology. And sorry but I’m not really impressed by the product of Curtis regarding piano. Someone who I would say impresses me would be Maria Curcio, as a teacher. And then there are other pianists who just emerge, like Rafal Blechacz or David Fray, and don’t seem to come from any big teacher, or am I wrong? But this industry, and it compared to sports, I don’t like this. That’s just my opinion, being honest. Today, here as I type. Please don’t feel you have to agree with it.

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    One hesitates to give credit (one way or the other) to the Curtis Institute for their piano graduates. The fact is that virtually all of their piano students are not only supremely talented but also highly trained & developed before they show up to audition for the school, and then Curtis takes all the credit for them. Reviewing their current piano faculty, it’s doubtful that any of them could develop a great pianist from day one (the exception being Sokoloff, who in her day excelled in foundation-building with young pianists, as did Vengerova years ago). However, Curtis does provide their piano students with a thorough immersion in chamber music, which greatly benefits their musicianship. As for the school’s unpreparedness to deal with the “Me Too” revolution, Curtis’ tradition of installing famous musicians in administrative positions resulted in well-meaning people who are in no way trained or prepared to deal with such crucial matters – which in their own school days were buried in secrecy. The fact is that sexual harassment has been going on at Curtis since the school opened in the 1920’s, and salacious rumors about their most illustrious faculty members have circulated for years.

  • Nijinsky says:

    In the end, because this didn’t become a legal matter, it might do more now. What I don’t understand is why this wasn’t handled more to create resolution between Lara and what’s his name? Um, “Brodsky.” I don’t think it would have been impossible to get him to see he wasn’t helping Lara, himself, Curtis, the music etc.. And WHY she wasn’t free to state what went on to begin with, because would it have been resolved to begin with, by whatever means, would people have listened, there might have been no need to depend on a legal system which might be covering up much worse thing like economic oppression that extends worldwide causing destabilization of whole economies and countries where consequently much worse things happen to women.

    And I’m sorry, but in countries where women have more rights, the metoo movement isn’t necessarily highly looked upon.

    There might be a lot of perpetrators, who would realize what they did, were it not such a fashion to make a media hype to cause so much hostility that the perpetrators instead become defensive and there’s more cover up rather than less. And that’s not to degrade the victims, because if there was an environment where the perpetrators would see what they did rather than to resort to defensiveness, that would help the victims more. And situations like with Woody Allen, that are highly questionable (just read his son’s Moses’ statement), they are blown way out of proportion, and it’s about media not about what even really happened.

    And what’s all over looked?
    That a person ends up homeless because of the economic system, and could starve, this isn’t rape?

    That a person’s country can be invaded on false grounds, ransacked and that anyone could be drafted into such an invasion (or sign up for it thinking they are helping the common good) this isn’t rape?

    And putting everyone in jail and supporting the same penal system, and corporate media-military industrial complex, supporting all of it isn’t going to really help either.

    And then metoo might be used as cover up for renditions, which have been abundant already, to supposedly save a country, leaving it completely destabilized, and the same corporate poofs hiring the same economic hitmen and then saying destabilize the country acting like you’re saving it with a rendition when they wouldn’t comply, can go to that country and buy some poor girl that’s prostituting herself because of the economic devastation and do who knows what to her, with no one knowing if she even survived it.

    I’m sure in many ways the metoo movement can be geared to create such a hype, that it’s high in the news feed, and used to cover up all sorts of stuff.

    The whole thing makes me dizzy, and I wonder whether I can say anything lucid enough to bring out the matrix that relates to all sides enough to get it to stop rather than by creating the hype of going after an enemy that divides all sides up into continuing the problem rather than solving it.

    And I’m not criticizing Lara, because I think she’s got this out so that other women will see they don’t need to be compromising themselves to such situations.