Violinist accuses Curtis of abuse and cover-up

The Philadelphia Inquirer publishes an extensive article today, detailing claims by the violinist Lara St John that she was sexually abused by her teacher Jascha Brodsky and that her complaints were dismissed by the Dean at the time, and the institution as a whole.

St John maintains that Brodsky suggested she and her brother might lose their places at Curtis if she did not submit to his advances.

Three other students say Brodsky tried to kiss them. One entered a sexual relationship with him.

Curtis says it conducted an independent investigation of the case and took no further action. Brodsky died at the turn of the century, widely mourned as an influential, kindly and helpful teacher. Almost a dozen present members of the Philadelphia Orchestra were his students.

Ms St John says she was prompted to take action after reading a Slipped Disc article by former Dean Robert Fitzpatrick titled ‘When Curtis was known as the Coitus Institute’.

Lara St John: 2019 concert poster

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  • NYMike says:

    Hilary Hahn also studied with Brodsky.

  • sam10 says:

    This is very likely the me2 movement once again. Thank you for f*cking up the musical world once again. When I get you there will be no escape. I don’t forget and I don’t forgive.

    • MusicBear88 says:

      #metoo would not be a thing without decades if not centuries of systemic abuse of power that has resulted in the mistreatment of women and men (yes, both) at the hands of people who were supposed to be guiding and protecting them. Some teachers, professors, supervisors, bosses, and people in positions of authority have used intimidation and fear to get what they want, which ultimately has very little to do with sex and everything to do with power.

    • Marina says:

      I think you accidentally clicked on the wrong site. You must be one of those incel guys. And when you talk about f*cking up the musical world, imagine how f*cked up you’d be if your teacher was trying to rape you when you were a kid. BYW, you don’t scare me and the Me Too movement is only going to get worse for people like you. You can’t stop the tide of righteous indignation with your threats.

    • Robin says:

      “I don’t forgive and I don’t forget”? This isn’t about YOU. No one even knows who you are.

      “When I get you there will be no escape.” Do you plan on stalking Lara St. John or all victims of abuse? I imagine you to be about 5’ 6”, 135 pounds. Let me know how that works out.

      The music world HAS BEEN f-ed up forever. It’s just that now people are realizing the harm that has been done and have stopped turning a blind eye.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      This is an extremely abusive and threatening statement.
      If I were NL, and if it was possible to do so, I would report you to the authorities.

    • Althea says:

      This is a highly-inappropriate, threatening and ignorant post, which I hope Norman Lebrecht will delete, at the earliest possible opportunity.

    • Stephen says:

      Hi Sam. You’re an asshole.

    • Eric Wright says:

      Sorry that you’re still pissed off that auditions are screened, so you can’t keep the ladies out anymore.

  • MusicBear88 says:

    #WeBelieveYou

  • Alumni says:

    she must be looking for excuses for her not-so-big career now and is trying to blame the great teacher. stirring the pot for no reason with no evidence.

    • Timesup says:

      Alumni? (Plural? I think you mean alumnus or alumna. Actually, that probably proves you did attend Curtis…)
      Excuses for her not-so-big career now? (We’ve all heard of her. I must have missed your famous name.)
      The great teacher? (Do you really think you knew all aspects of him?)
      Stirring the pot for no reason with no evidence? (Come on, did you read the original Philadelphia Inquirer article?)
      If you studied with Brodsky and are worried this revelation makes you look bad, try to put yourself in the place of those he abused.
      Your comment tells us all we need to know about you.

    • Bill says:

      Knowing none of the players in the drama personally, and having not been there, I have little basis for forming an opinion as to whether this really happened as reported. But for the sake of discussion, let’s say that it did. Must have been very traumatic! But I wonder, is this the best thing she could have done for herself, and is it what some other victim of a long-dead perpetrator should consider their best option? Seems like talking to a therapist or clergy might bring some peace, both from the standpoint of telling someone about the awful secret and working through the effects, without exposing oneself to ridicule and scorn in a public forum. It’s not like revealing past misbehavior now, 20+ years after his death, is separating a dangerous predator from potential victims. Is coming forward like this the best thing Lara St. John could do for other victims? Is it the best thing she could do for herself? If someone you knew came to you and said “this terrible thing happened to me long ago” and proceeded to outline a similar story, what would you advise them to do, and why? Speaking up when it happens, or while the perpetrator is still in a position to repeat the actions with other victims, doesn’t seem as difficult a decision, somehow.

      • Jethro says:

        Bill, I believe it’s important to shine a light on all of these abuses if we’re to effectively deal with the problem as a society. The stigma of shame keeps victims from coming forward. It makes some uncomfortable, but we need to hear victims and support them.

      • HBD says:

        You can bet that Lara St. John has been grappling with this since it happened, including (probably) with therapists. She has surely considered the ramifications of going public.

        Brodsky is dead, but the administrators who protected him are not. It IS very helpful for other victims of sexual abuse to see someone as brave as Lara St. John exposing herself to “ridicule and scorn,” as you put it. Perhaps we should examine that response and why WE feel ashamed, instead of discouraging victims who report.

        If someone I knew came to me with a similar story, I would not advise them. I would tell them they have to think it through and do what’s best for them. It’s a very individual decision, and one that isn’t taken lightly.

        Trauma is timeless, and there’s no “right” way to handle the process of healing.

      • Scorned says:

        Bill: Your tone is very condescending—like “Father knows best.”

      • George says:

        Just because the perpetrator is dead, doesn’t mean that he is absolved from his crime. He ought to be exposed for the scoundrel he was. This is essential to progress moving forward both socially and personally, in that it will encourage other victims to stop repressing their past. A crime against humanity lives on forever.

      • Althea says:

        I think that Ms St. John should act in whatever way she sees fit, in order to speak the truth about a serious crime which was perpetrated against her in her childhood.

        Most people on this forum believe her, and are supporting her – either through their comments, or through their up-and-down-voting.

        Please remember that her decision to go public was made response to a post about how to handle sexual abuse in institutions effectively – by a man whom she regards as having handled her own case ineffectively.

      • Avery says:

        This is a more sophisticated version of what St. John heard when she first tried to tell the dean: questions meant to lead to the conclusion that she has everything to lose and nothing to gain if she goes public. They may seem rhetorical to the person making the comment, but his understanding is very limited. If he wants to keep his head buried in the sand, that’s his prerogative. To suggest that St. John keep the secret private because Brodsky is long dead perpetuates the problem. It takes years of work to untangle the trauma of being abused. Most aren’t able to speak up at all, as they’re consumed with guilt and self-doubt, not to mention having higher rates of mental illness and suicide.

        Also, it’s important to note that members of the clergy are not trained in psychology and are therefore woefully inadequate when it comes to helping victims of sexual assault.

        Stay strong, Lara.

      • Bill says:

        I was hoping for some actual discussion rather than the easy mashing of a thumbs-up or down button. Maybe no one has any actual considered opinions they are willing to attach even a pseudonym to?

        I’ll restate the question as a complete hypothetical. A friend/colleague/family member confides in you that something like this happened to them years ago. The perpetrator is no longer in a position to abuse anyone else. When asked for your advice, what do you say, and why?

        • SLM says:

          Bill-

          Now that the moderation of comments has caught up with the voting — apparently NL occasionally requires sleep — you see that your initial comment elicited many “considered opinions” and responses.

          The question I want to pose to you is this:

          Is there something that would qualify you to tell a grown woman (who happens to be very accomplished) how to best manage her life?

          I, for one, would not presume to take that position with anyone, even if I knew them well.

          Your comment shows a lack of respect for St John’s ability to make her own conscious choices. It smacks of the patriarchy that brought us here.

        • Rose says:

          Bill I have a 14 year old daughter. She takes lessons with various different teachers. We read the Inquirer article together and discussed what a proper process should have been. We discussed what she would do if anyone tried to do this with her. We talked about how brave Lara was to come forward. Lara speaking out gives power to young women (and men) everywhere to speak out against the hidden secrets that sexual predators and those who enable them want kept hidden. Every time someone shines the light on abuse, even abuse that happened decades ago, it gives strength to others to speak up and encourages our institutions to revise their policies and stop protecting abusers. I would never tell anyone to keep an abusive situation a secret.

        • Smoosh says:

          Hi Bill,

          I noticed you’re not actually asking for the input of survivors – rather, you’re asking for the input of fellow bystanders, about what THEY would do if they were confided in, not what a survivor with actual knowledge and experience knows to be best for them. Isn’t it the survivor themself who’s best equipped to know what’s best for them? Why the hell are you soliciting advice solely from those who are as ignorant as you?

          I myself am a survivor, and as I -and any other survivor who has braved the repercussions of coming forward – can tell you, yes, there IS value in her coming forward now, for herself and for others like us. Of course you “don’t know” if its what’s best (a sneaky way of voicing disapproval without actually taking accountability for the fact that you’re doing so); you’re not the one it happened to. Also, she DID come forward at the time, you idiot – did you read the article?

          Your entire comment reads as “Well that made me uncomfortable, so I dont think she should have done it!” and your follow up reads as infantile whining because people with brains and common decency downvoted your dumbass, dishonest commentary. Fuck off.

    • H. Bosch says:

      Obviously so.

  • 2sides says:

    I’m sorry, but I must voice an opinion of dissent. I am a strong supporter of the #metoo movement. I have marched with my daughter in the women’s march several times and believe we are truly heading in a better direction with the systematic abuse that has afflicted the under represented for too long.

    That said, there are so many things about this story that don’t add up. People who knew Brodsky will admit that he would have affairs that were consensual but he would never, ever rape someone or use his power to try to destroy someone. We know many in the industry that would and they were well known before becoming public. Brodsky was never one of those people.

    As well, Lara has always been known to be someone who desperately seeks attention. She was then and is now. So there are many, many others who know both parties and don’t believe Lara. She is the only one to make such a claim against Brodsky. The Inquirer looked, but could not find anyone else. With all the years and students he taught, you think someone else would’ve come forward with a similar story. Not one.

    If you are making assumptions based solely on the Inquirer story, please realize there are plenty of people who call this whole thing into question. Their voices have not been heard because the environment right now casts aspersions on anyone who might question someone who comes forward with a story like this. But know that there is another side, from women who studied with him, from people who knew Lara, that tells a very, very different story.

    • Laura says:

      2sides: I appreciate your effort to be fair. Without meaning to cast aspersions, I want to comment that you are mistaken about several things.

      “People who knew Brodsky will admit that he would have affairs that were consensual but he would never, ever rape someone.” Consent cannot occur when there is such a huge power differential. Children cannot consent to being exploited. It’s a challenging concept for some, but there are times when human beings are powerless. Rape has many forms. It doesn’t always involve being dragged into an alley, screaming.

      “She is the only one to make such a claim against Brodsky. The Inquirer looked, but could not find anyone else.” Why are you ignoring the four other former students who told the Inquirer he pursued them? Those are similar stories. If he was capable of preying on students, can you imagine a scenario in which one of them would have felt unable to reject his advances? Would you consider that consensual? It is not. Unfortunately, in order to survive the experience psychologically, some victims will reframe their abuse as consensual.

      “Lara has always been known to be someone who desperately seeks attention.” As performers, don’t we all seek attention? This is a perfect example of questioning her motives, as if anyone would relish announcing their victimization publicly.

      If you were robbed on the way to work, it would be the most normal thing in the world for you to tell your co-workers. What if, instead of showing sympathy, some decided it wasn’t true and you were only telling them because you wanted attention? That would probably add insult to injury, wouldn’t it?

      I welcome your comment, as discussion of this issue is what will lead to a more complete understanding of sexual assault.

      • 2sides says:

        Laura, et al.

        Thank you for the opportunity to have a civil debate about a very serious topic. I hope to engage on a level that is both insightful and intellectually honest. Please excuse the length of the post as I feel it’s appropriate to unpack many things here.

        Let me begin by saying in a situation like this, we have only one person’s account of what happened. In a personal story like this, I think it’s fair to all involved to take each allegation on a case by case basis. The claims brought to public light are, I hope you will agree, not all equal. As much as I respected Bill Cosby as a comedian, his acts were truly heinous and I feel like justice was served. However, my personal opinion is that Al Franken took one for the “team” but I certainly can’t paint both men with the same brush. In the most recent Supreme Court fight, I happen to believe Christine Blasey Ford, but not Julie Swetnick or Judy Munro-Leighton. Why? Because in trying to see the whole picture, for which we only know a limited amount, one has to make the best guess determination based on a certain amount of evidence. Often, public accusations are not a presentation of evidence that can be upheld in a court of law, but rather the court of public opinion.

        To that end, I would like to submit some facts. First, in favor of Ms. St. John. False allegations of rape are seen as rare. Widely held methodology right now puts the figure anywhere between 2-10% and as we all know, many victims of rape never report it for various reasons including fear of reprisal. This would clearly fit Lara’s narrative. She had unwanted advances from a person in a position of power, felt she couldn’t say no, and this abusive behavior continued leaving her unable to continue at school. She came forward repeatedly over the years to call out the abuse only to be ignored. Only now is the story finally getting the traction it deserves so she can protect others in a potentially similar situation.

        Who would be so cold hearted and misogynistic not to believe that? There was a pattern established of sexual predatory behavior so what’s not to believe?

        Now for facts in opposition. The formal accusation of rape is very serious. The Inquirer clearly paints a picture of the most widely held definition – and most images that people think of in relating to that term – being that of forced, unwanted sexual penetration. I understand that there are more broad definitions today, but I think that term was used purposefully by Lara and in the paper to conjure a particular image. For some sobering statistics: the average age of a man committing rape is 31yo with the majority (a stunning 83%) being between the ages of 18 and 39. Men over the age of 50 committing this crime is approximately 7% with no clear data for men over 60, over 70, or in this case, close to 80 years of age. Does that mean it didn’t happen? No, but clearly the statistics are stacked against the claim. Another way to look at it is that the chances of a man that age raping a women is probably equal to the amount of false rape claims.

        Further, the claims of the women being pursued sexually by Brodsky are clearly inappropriate by todays standards. As a teacher myself, I cannot defend those actions and I’d be surprised if anyone would although the lens through which we view that has also changed (and, I would argue, for the better.) But it is also a far stretch to equate these allegations as proof for the claim of rape. Research shows that men usually rape initially in the late teens or early twenties, and if someone were to rape at an advanced age of 78, the chances are there would be many others with the same story. We’ve seen this “track record” show up in other public cases recently.

        But what the Inquirer also shows through the stories of his sexual advances is that when asked to stop, he did. And not one person that we know of today left his studio because they felt threatened, or felt coerced or intimidated. Does this indict the teacher, or does it call into question the validity of Lara’s claim? Is is possible she was the only one, out of hundreds he taught, that was forcibly raped? Possible, but my personal opinion is that it’s very unlikely.

        One more point, I would ask people to consider the well known sexually exploitative album covers that Lara put out only a few years after her time at Curtis. Again, the facts show that most survivors of sexual abuse, assault, or in her case, rape, have terrible associations with their body; unable to view it in the mirror or have any physically intimate relationship for a long time. While some people may become “hyper-sexualized” after a trauma like rape – seeing sex as a way to regain control – the majority of people suffer with tremendous insecurity, embarrassment, guilt, etc. The image portrayed in the article of a woman who is suffering enough to attempt suicide, and the one who has – publicly – displayed confidence enough with her body to promote herself as a sexual object stands in direct contrast. It’s hard for me to look at her album covers and think “rape victim.”

        Finally, I will end to say again, I judge the claim is based on knowledge of the individual; a person who has always desperately sought out the spotlight. This being beyond the typical narcissism most musicians are afflicted with. People in school with her at the time will attest to that fact. Does that automatically make her claim false? No. But it puts a perspective on what could potentially motivate an individual to make such a sensational claim. False, or perhaps exaggerated claims do occur. None of us will no the full truth. We can only base our judgements on the story reported (for most of the public) and from personal insight and accounts. For me, I can’t believe the allegation. I am open minded enough to be willing to change my opinion should there be other evidence to arise, but for now I find too many pieces that don’t add up. I will concede that this post, or any that question this allegation, will probably not change anyone’s mind who choose to believe Lara, but I do want to attempt to shine a light on what many of Brodsky’s students feel is a impossible claim.

        • One in Three says:

          I take issue with this statement: “It’s hard for me to look at her album covers and think ‘rape victim.'”

          Rape victims do not look or act any certain way. We’re all around you, and we’re all unique.

          The “desperate” need for attention you describe may actually have made her more vulnerable to grooming by Brodsky.

          We don’t know the inner workings of her mind in regard to the album covers.

          One of the reasons victims don’t come forward is that they fear their past (like being divorced, having a sexual history, etc.) will be used against them.

          • 2sides says:

            One in Three,

            You’re absolutely right that rape victims are as unique and individual as anyone else, and they all process it differently. However, my point was that after a sexual trauma there are consistent and traditional affects on most people regardless of the individual.

            It is highly unusual for someone to be suffering life ending depression, and yet portray herself as a sexual object. To me, that is hard to reconcile.

    • Althea says:

      I would just like to point out that even had Lara consented to the relationship – which I don’t believe for a moment, not least because children can’t give meaningful consent to intimacy with teachers who wield absolute power over them – it still would have been statutory rape, because she was under the age of seventeen (assuming that the law on statutory rape was the same in the mid-80s as it is now).

    • Louise Dubin says:

      I’m not sure which article YOU read, but there are several collaborators who received similar treatment. And please consider the possibility Brodsky wasn’t trying to “destroy” anyone- maybe he was a pedophile using his unquestioned power at Curtis to get away with it. I know Lara personally and I believe her 100%. I’m so glad you march with your daughter. If she ever suffers a horror like this, even if by someone you know, I hope you’d support her and believe her, even if it took her years to have the courage to come forward and go public about it, if she ever did. But thanks to women (and men) like Lara, hopefully this abuse will become more rare.

      • 2sides says:

        Louise.

        I appreciate your sentiment and respect it.

        To your point, I would certainly believe my daughter and I would expect Lara’s parents – and friends like you – to also believe her. I would also expect my daughter to tell the truth. You can certainly read my opinion about why I don’t believe Lara above. But the point is this, there are two sides to this story and, while I’m perhaps in the minority here, I want to bring some awareness to what many others – not adequately represented in the Inquirer – feel is a false claim. I am not someone who would “stir the pot” just for the sake of it. This is a serious allegation and I don’t enter into this conversation lightly as I hope you can respect, even if we disagree.

    • J. Epstein says:

      Finally, amid all the din: the truth. Thank you.

  • Herbert von Solti says:

    It was always my understanding that the term “Coitus” Institute was coined in the late 20s into the 30s in reference to all of the girls that Stowkowski banged.

  • H. Bosch says:

    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.

  • Anon says:

    It’s a systemic problem at all of the conservatories I’ve seen. Someone should ask Wolfgang Justen at the Peabody Conservatory how many students he sexually assaulted as he’s currently still alive and teaching.

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