A Zimbalist attacks Curtis

A Zimbalist attacks Curtis


norman lebrecht

August 08, 2019

The Philadelphia Inquirer has published an appeal from a member of the founding Zimbalist family for an independent inquiry into sexual abuse allegations at the Curtis Institute.

David Zimbalist writes:

My cousin Efrem Zimbalist began teaching at the Curtis Institute in 1928, and served as its director from 1941 through 1968. He was also the second husband of Mary Louise Curtis Bok, the founder of the prestigious music conservatory….



Curtis should pay for a third-party agency to take future reports of abuse.

And anyone involved with issuing that recent denial email should resign immediately.

Despite the Inquirer’s persistence, one gets no sense of movement from Curtis.


  • Edgar Self says:

    I don’t recall any scandal attaching to Curtis in the time of Efrem Zimbalist, Sr., the great Russo-American violinist and friend of Fritz Kreisler, or that of Josef Hofmann, great Polish-American pianist or in the tenures of Rudolf Serkin or Gary Graffman. although personal problems and differences with Mrs Bok did lead to Hofmann’s departure in the late 2930s under less than amicable circumstances. Mieczyslaw Horszowski was also closely associated with Curtis at one time.

    At one time Curtis charged its students nothing for tuition, room or board. I don’t know if that is still the case.

    • rintentente says:

      Hofmann dismissed in scandal! Carlos Salzedo…!

    • Ortambert says:

      You have no idea. Hofmann was forced to leave in 1938 because he impregnated a 15yo student. Mr. D. Zimbalist also is clueless. Curtis today bears no resemblance to those halcyon days, fortunately. You also know nothing about Curtis today. Yes, it’s tuition free since 1927.

      • Gregor Benko says:

        Pianist Josef Hofmann was 47 years old in late 1923 when he impregnated Elizabeth Short. She was not 15 years old – she was born on Jan. 7, 1905, so she was 18 years old. Their son Anton Hofmann was born in London on July 22nd, 1924. The Curtis Institute opened later, in the fall of 1924. It took Hofmann some time to divorce his first wife and marry Betty Short (who was never a student at the Curtis Institute). Members of the Bok family, especially Mary Louise and her elder son Curtis Bok, went to some trouble to assist Hofmann in obtaining the divorce and avoiding scandal. Hofmann and Short married as soon as the divorce from his first wife was finalized, and they had two further sons. Hofmann was at first head of the piano department at the Institute, then named Director in 1927. He served in that capacity until the fall of 1938, his resignation having nothing to do with his affair with Betty Short from fourteen years earlier. There was no subsequent occasion for scandal concerning Hofmann and young women.

        • Ortambert says:

          There was another child fathered by Hofmann in the 30s with a student. I could go on but you are obviously a know-it-all on this topic. Kudos to you.

        • Ortambert says:

          Hofmann left because he wanted more money. That’s the PC version.

          • Gregor Benko says:

            Having examined the documentary evidence over decades and interviewed many dozens of individuals who were involved, I know these two further claims are not true.

          • Ortambert says:

            My dear Gregor, please reveal the secret of Hofmann’s Curtis demise from the depths of your profound knowledge. (alcoholism?) PS: are the original Hofmann recordings used for the LPs of the 1938 Casimir Hall Recital back in the Curtis archives or are they in the LC in DC?

          • Gregor Benko says:

            No comment on the first query; don’t know the answer to the second – you’d have to make inquiries at Curtis and LC.

          • Ortambert says:

            Perhaps at U of Maryland? Just curious.

        • Edgar Self says:

          How good to see Gregor Benko’s name and expertise on view. IPA lives! Servus, Mr. Benko.

        • SP says:

          Mr Benko, are you still working on Hofmann’s biography? It’s such a shame that nobody has published a biography of one of the greatest pianists of all time. Also a few days ago a silent clip from the 1910s appeared on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-e0kCLvKDk

          • Gregor Benko says:

            I am, every day. Astonishing how long research has taken. Polish television will broadcast an hour long documentary on Hofmann next year, which probably will be available through other channels. The silent footage you reference and other clips of Hofmann will be included, plus tons of still photos as well as appearances by people who knew Hofmann and current personalities discussing him and his playing.

      • prof says:

        Mr Self is right!; Also, for the period between 800 and 1955, the Roman Catholic Church had no incidence of sexual abuse whatsoever!

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    What role does this Zimbalist have, if any, in the governance of the Institute? Is it only being run by the Bok family, a largely unmusical bunch? They may be the ones responsible for its shifting standards and priorities. The structure of governance warrants looking into. At least the Zimbalist family have multi-generational artistic qualifications.

    • Ortambert says:

      “run by the Bok family, a largely unmusical bunch”

      Nice. Cyrus H.K. Curtis, founder of the Curtis Publishing Co. (you remember them, surely: Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Philadelphia Public Ledger, Norman Rockwell, etc, etc.) was the father of Mary Louise Curtis founder of the Curtis Institute of Music. He was also an amateur organist from Portland, Maine for whom several pipe organs and important nature preserves are dedicated throughout the USA. Such a shame he didn’t do more…and…this tribe also produced Derek Bok (grandson of Mary Louise Curtis Bok) former president of a certain university. Whatta bunch o losers…

    • Bill says:

      They may have “multi-generational artistic qualifications” but they aren’t too good on factual accuracy! Efrem Zimbalist Sr. was not a founder of the institute, and didn’t join the faculty until the 4th year. David Zimbalist made the same erroneous claim elsewhere, so he’s apparently fine with telling untruths if he thinks it gives him more credibility.

      • Ortambert says:

        Go, Bill. A person like DZ who exaggerates his bio should not be expounding on a topic totally beyond his expertise and experience. I wonder if the Phila Inquirer staff have your sharp eye. The truth has escaped them b4.

      • Ortambert says:

        The veracity of the DZ bio might make one question the validity of his op-ed piece in the local rag so gleefully reported by some.

  • Y2K says:

    I completely agree. Lives and reputations have already been destroyed. Curtis continues to bury its head under the sand. This problem won’t go away by staying silent and ignoring it. They need to acknowledge and investigate so that they can move on.

  • Cyril says:

    David is right, but I doubt it will make much difference in the way Curtis handles this, despite his family connection. Diaz is following a standard template provided by the risk management group that was brought in when this all blew up.

  • Mark says:

    Cousin ? How old is this person – Efrem Zimbalist died in 1987 at the age of 98 or so.

      • Ortambert says:

        Thanks for this important info: Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. and Alma Gluck (died in 1938), founders of Curtis Institute (not!!),

        Some people think Curtis was founded by Mary Louise Curtis Bok (her first husband, Edward Bok who died in 1930). Zimbalist was her second husband whom she married around 1942-43). She died in 1970 at the age of 96, Efrem Z died in 1985 at the age of 96. I hope David Zimbalist will correct his bio.

      • Ortambert says:

        Correction, Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist died in 1970 at the age of 94 (born in 1876 !!_

  • william osborne says:

    In an editorial, the Philadelphia Inquirer said that an investigation should be conducted about past abuses at the school, and that the results should be made public. (And according to accepted practices, excluding the victims names.) I wonder of the NY Phil is listening.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Some may remember better Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (1918-2014), television actor in The FBI, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, etc. He was musically trained and composed in his youth. Zimbalists are long lived. Happy future, David Zimbalist. Good genes and a distinguished family.

    • Ortambert says:

      Get a hold of yourself Edgar. Thanks for reminding us of Junior’s career which has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

      • Edgar Self says:

        Others wrote of Zimbalists, their life dates, longevity, and cousinship, which is where this thread started, so I tried to help out. Your own posts are exemplary.

        • Ortambert says:

          Thnx dude. My first name is the same as yours.

          • Edgar Self says:

            Two Eds are berter than one. Three is stretch. Did one change his moniker? Back on thread, the cover of Lara St. John’s debut CD could be blamed for all this.

          • em says:

            Blaming the victim? Revolutionary.

            What Lara St. John was or was not wearing on her debut CD cover has literally NOTHING to do with the abuse perpetrated against her. Consent, consent, consent. Learn it. Happy to point you toward a dictionary if you need one.

          • guest says:

            Actually, you really don’t know what happened. You choose to believe everything that is said by one person. Your ears are shut to any other version because this is “blaming the victim”. Get off your self-righteous soap box.

          • Observer says:

            To guest and all of those who doubt Lara-

            “Your ears are shut to any other version…”

            No one ever thinks we should hear the criminal’s side, or other versions, except in cases of sexual assault.

            This is from a NYTimes article:

            “Because many people are not psychologically prepared to accept how common harassment and assault are, experts say, they tend to look for reasons to disbelieve.”

            You may be under some widespread misconceptions. “The number of false reports is vastly overestimated. Common responses to trauma are often viewed as evidence of unreliability. And when it comes to the most serious assaults, the public imagines that they are committed by strangers in a dark alley, and base their view of how victims should react on that idea — even though the vast majority of assaults occur between people who know one another.”

            “When it comes to a victim of interpersonal violence we think there’s a way they should act.” “The victim doesn’t act like one” is a textbook response to reports of sexual assault.

            The article explains that victims behave in a wide variety of ways. “There is no one response to sexual assault. A trauma victim can as easily appear calm or flat as distraught or overtly angry.”

            “Later, they may react by self-medicating, by engaging in high-risk sexual behavior, by withdrawing from those around them or by trying to regain control.”

            If they report the abuse, “the victim faces scrutiny of her failure to resist, and of every decision she made before, during and after the ordeal.”

            And yet we rarely if ever would consider blaming victims of other types of assault.

            But it’s not just blaming the victim that’s so troubling to me. It’s seeing nearly all of the typical reactions, over and over, every time one of these reports surfaces.

            These are some of the traps:

            Blaming the victim
            Not believing the victim Minimizing the abuse Questioning the victim’s motives
            Trashing the victim’s reputation

            If you fall into these traps, you’re doing what most people do, no matter if we’re talking about Brodsky or Bill Cosby.

            Apologies for the length of my comment. I don’t mean to be self-righteous; my goal is to educate. Circumstances have forced me to look deeply into this issue.

          • Elizabeth Ostling says:

            Thank you, “Observer.” You are correct, and I appreciate you educating readers of this blog. Well done.

            I think you are referencing this NYT article?


          • Ortambert says:

            No one is arguing that something inappropriate happened in 1986 to Ms St John instigated by Brodsky. Why is this incident the fault of today’s Curtis? What is the outcome that you want? Jascha Brodsky was not Harvey Weinstein with a violin. Aren’t we still waiting for additional Brodsky rape victims to come forward?

          • Go Brodsky! says:

            Sorry to interrupt your angst but the law is clear: Innocent until *proven* guilty.

            You might want to read up on it and educate yourself.

            The rest is all gossip and defamatory hearsay. Nothing proven. Brodsky has been slandered.

          • Bill says:

            That concept applies in a criminal case, which this is not. And it only applies to the legal system, not the general population. Maybe you should take your own advice about reading, hmm?