It’s not too late for Eastman to roll back

It’s not too late for Eastman to roll back


norman lebrecht

October 29, 2019

The decision to go ahead with an orchestral tour of China after three South Korean students were refused visas has put Eastman School of Music on the spot. On the one hand, it needs to be polite to China in order to ensure a flow of fee-paying students, on the other it looks as if it is prepared to throw students overboard if their nationality interferes with the demands of a difficult partner. So it dumps the Koreans.

Who’s next?

Think President Trump and the Kurds and you have just about got the picture.

Many former alumni have written to us, publicly and privately, protesting Dean Jamal Rossi’s decision.

Others have gone online.

The composer Armando Bayolo has written to Rossi:

In the 22 years since graduating from Eastman, I have also had the honor of teaching students of all ages. Part of the responsibility of a teacher, particularly of music teachers working, as we do, within the master/apprentice model, almost alone among all disciplines, we have a responsibility beyond merely providing unforgettable experiences to students and help guide and teach them INTEGRITY. As teachers, we have an immense responsibility to our students, part of which is teaching them to stand up for their convictions and to do what is right and honorable. What students in the Eastman Philharmonia are learning from this debacle is that the interests and integrity of three students are worth sacrificing for the sake of 80 other students who now seem far more privileged than their South Korean peers. An ensemble is a team, if not a family. If one student in the Philharmonia cannot attend the tour because of who they are and how a government sees them, then NO STUDENT IN THE PHILHARMONIA SHOULD ATTEND. That this was ever up for discussion is stupefying and, frankly, repugnant, and speaks ill for the values Eastman espouses.

It is time to be a LEADER, not just to the community within Gibbs street but to the community of alumni and fellow musicians around the world for whom Eastman is a name that implies excellence. I urge you to do the right thing here. The eyes of the world are upon you.

He’s nailed it.


  • Anon says:

    China sees American installation of THAAD in South Korea an attempt to weaken their MAD deterrence and therefore a severe threat to national security. What Eastman should do? Armando Bayolo suggests this music institution needs to toe the line of US foreign policy.

    “As teachers, we have an immense responsibility to our students, part of which is teaching them to stand up for their convictions and to do what is right and honorable.” Indeed.

    • anon says:

      I fail to follow the perverted logic. Are you suggesting that it is in the US best interest to reward the Chinese authoritative regime by proceeding with a “feel good, we are all one big happy family united by our music” tour? (Financed, of course, by US dollars?)

      Xi’s government has made its expansionist policy clear. Are you aware of Xinjiang re-education camps interning Uyghur Muslims, the decades old “free Tibet” movement, the designs on Taiwan, threats to Hong Kong’s Basic Law, movements into SouthEast Asia, buy up of Australian and Hong Kong properties, and on and on. Yet, you suggest that the US should not support its allies in the region?

      Eastman fails to work for its students in proceeding with a tour on terms that should be easily found unacceptable, pure and simple. Interestingly, this puts Eastman in the same situation as the Catholic Church under Pope Francis who has recalled legitimately named Bishops and recognized several illegitimately named by Chinese authorities. Integrity is indeed dead. Be proud of your decision, Eastman.

    • It wouldn’t be hard for China to eliminate the reason for THAAD in South Korea… and everyone in North Korea would be better off for it.

  • Tamino says:

    Isn’t that – unfortunately – standard procedure for many years, for ALL international orchestras touring China, that the South Korean nationals can not come along?

    • K says:

      ESM should have done their research prior to the tour being on the books. All someone needed to do was to ascertain the policies regarding travel to China of foreign nationals. They would have discovered the Chinese position. Then they -ESM- could have made other plans, cancel the tour, travel somewhere else, etc. ESM’s position in undefendable.

      • Nick2 says:

        K’s comment is perfectly reasonable, but let’s recall that planning for touring anywhere overseas takes a great deal of time – more than a year in most cases. It does indeed seem that many commenting here failed to do their research.

        In March and April this year the Cleveland Orchestra toured seven cities in China. I believe that orchestra has at least two Koreans in its ranks, including Jung Min Amy Lee, its Associate Concertmaster. As far as I am aware, that tour took place. So it is wrong to blame Eastman for lack of research. Additionally, responsibility for ensuring there are likely to be no visa problems rests primarily with the Chinese promoter which should be far more clued in about the policies of its government than a touring orchestra.

        • K says:

          Thank you for your clarification/perspective.

        • Anon2 says:

          Skimming through Jung Min Amy Lee’s bio on Cleveland Orchestra’s website makes me think she is most likely a naturalized American citizen, which would explain why she didn’t have any issues being granted a visa alongside the rest of the orchestra.

    • K says:

      If it is, then ESM is again at fault for not knowing about this and planning the tour around their uninformed position. I’m guessing, based on the fact that there actually are some very smart people there, that they knew full well the policy. They were probably hoping for minimal blow-back after they announced that they would go anyway, despite the restriction on the Korean students. I don’t know which is worse, but what a terrible stance to put students, faculty, alum and the rest of the administration in. There is no academic, performance, or branding issue here. It is wrong. And if Julliard opens a school there, as has been suggested, fine, its all theirs. This feckless decision by ESM will be around for the current and next generation of those associated with ESM. I personally feel this is a terrible legacy.

    • Music lover says:

      Yes, that is why orchestras with South Korean musicians in them don’t go to China or as Maestro Slatkin mentioned, they work it out so no one musician is left behind.

    • Anon says:

      No, it’s not.

  • LeMaitreSansMarteau says:

    The Invertebrate School of Music

  • John says:

    To paraphrase George Szell: “Either the entire Cleveland Orchestra plays, or none of the Cleveland Orchestra plays.”
    ( Birmingham Ala in reference to cellist Donald White being refused stage admission because he was African American).

  • Bill says:

    This is what happens when you dismantle your diplomatic infrastructure in favor of bellicose posturing.

    Back before Trump all but decimated the State Department, this would have been dealt with through diplomatic channels that would have certainly worked something out, and the public would not have heard a word about it.

    Situations like this happen all the time, but now we have to deal with it in a tit-for-tat escalation played out in public with even the most innocuous situation, like a music conservatory’s tour, fodder for a fight. This never ends well for anyone.

    There’s a reason why these institutions exist; they didn’t spontaneously pop up to inconvenience the whims of a failed businessman who played one on tee vee who likes to pretend he’s a tough guy.

  • Anon says:

    Since we are on the topic of pandering to the China… It is estimated that ~40 million children are learning to play the piano in China. How might one get 10 yuan from half of those families? My best idea yet, a Lang-Lang bobble head metronome…

  • A solution might be to go, but first clearly denounce the US actions that led to the Chinese boycott of S. Korea. THAAD is a high altitude anti-missile system that is useless against the short range, low altitude missiles and artillery with which N. Korea threatens S. Korea. Under the fake excuse of protecting S. Korea, the THAAD system was deployed so that its extremely advanced radar systems could weaken the deterrent function of China’s nuclear weapons.

    Such unilateral erosion of nuclear systems is destabilizing and puts humanity in even greater danger of nucelar war. There was little justification for the US actions, other than a desire to increase its hegemony in the region. We need dialog and regional cooperation with China, not increased nuclear threats. And we don’t need music schools being used as propaganda pawns for anti-Chinese sentiments.

    So denouncing the US governments madness is what Eastman would do if it really wanted to do the right thing. They could also note that it is the US government that is using S. Korea (and thus its students) as pawns. But of course, there is not a music school in the country that has that kind of courage and integrity. And one only need look at all the people jeering at Eastman to see how the American government dupes its citizens.

    • anon says:

      “We need dialog and regional cooperation with China” – would that it were so simple. Have you spoken with the victims of intellectual property theft? Taken a look at the Chinese expansion of their Asian sphere of influence recently? The Chinese play by their own rules – me first.

      And, yes that applies to Chinese students educated in US conservatories and then being granted work visas to remain in the US as well. Yet, Eastman courts such governments and students.

    • almaviva says:

      Of course, anyone with any critical views of China’s (communist) government is duped by the US government. So, let me see: you are not troubled by the active concentration camps in which millions of Uighurs are raped and tortured, the ethnic cleansing going on in Tibet, the expansionist policies in Southeast Asia (and beyond), the neo-colonialist involvement in Africa, the cult of personality of dear leader Xi – but the US defending a long-standing ally by employing missiles to deter such Chinese aggressive posturing is what troubles you?

      My hope is that in spite of your obsessive Americanophobic tirades around here, you will be able to set aside your ideological blinkers and be able to recognize the Chinese regime for what it really is.

  • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    As an Eastman DMA graduate, I’m disappointed to see how willing ESM is to throw their South Korean students under the bus for the sake of this tour. It really does seem to be about the money: Chinese students generally pay the full tuition at American colleges and universities.

  • Scott says:

    What if the students were gay, or black, or muslim? Would the dean make the same decision?

  • K says:

    Here is the letter Dr. Rossi should have sent.

    Dear [Chinese cultural minister],

    I am saddened to inform you that due to your restriction on entry into China by Korean nationals, the Eastman Philharmonia will not proceed with its tour to your country. This is a performance ensemble that is the premier orchestra at the Eastman School of Music.

    The Philharmonia’s members represent countries from all over the world, including, on occasion, students from China. To restrict the membership of the touring members of the Philharmonia based on nationality goes against our national values, our societal values, but most critically in this case, our artistic values.

    We believe that music is an internationally shared experience and that setting limitations to participate in that experience goes against all that we believe in. We do not ask you to necessarily hold the same beliefs, but we do ask that as invitees to your nation, you would understand that the Philharmonia is a team, a family as such, and therefore, you would not ask us to break up the team or family in order to visit your nation.

    We cannot ask you to put aside your political imperatives and we ask that you not ask us to put aside ours. We humbly submit that as a unanimous voice of students, faculty, administration and alumni, we cannot allow the exclusion of any student from any country, from any walk of life, from any religious denomination, from any gender or any ethic background, to override our fundamental national and artistic values. We will not be bringing the Philharmonia to China.

    We wish you or your nation no animus. Your performers are always welcome here. Perhaps an exchange is in the future. For the time being, we will not tolerate the exclusion of the Korean students.


    Jamal Rossi

    [and the entire ESM community!]

    • The View from America says:

      Offer two alternatives: Either the orchestra will tour China with all of its regular members present and accounted for … or it will tour with its members present except the South Korean AND PRC students.

      If the South Korean students are made to suffer through no fault of their own but because of the PRC government, then the PRC students can have a taste of the same medicine — through no fault of their own but because of their government.

    • anon says:

      Bravo – have you sent this along to Dean Rossi? His email is readily available.

      • K says:

        It seems that the tour is off (10-30-19). ESM has made the right call. I give them credit, even if under pressure, to reverse their initial decision. Perhaps those in leadership positions can do the right thing after all.

  • Stephen Tomchik says:

    Utter nonsense! Bayolo is advocating that Eastman should stand for the equal dignity and humanity of all its students, whatever their origin. It is Anon who is advocating that Eastman should toe the line on Chinese foreign policy, like the National Basketball Association.

  • There is a big difference between professional orchestras and ones comprised of students. As I mentioned in a previous post, it would have been impossible for Detroit to go without its seven Korean musicians, including the concertmaster. Relacing seven players quickly, as negotiations were proceeding, was not feasible. We would have cancelled that portion of the tour if they were not allowed in, based on purely artistic matters.

    I will be at Eastman next week and have a discussion with all concerned. If their tour is just to China, the issue becomes tricky. Most professional orchestras make this as part of an overall Asian tour. They are large groups and can leave their Korean musicians in Japan or even Hong Kong and then do China without taking the Koreans. I do not know if Eastman is planning other countries. But it is worth seeing what other orchestras, both professionals and student ones have done during these past couple years regarding this issue.

    And the financial considerations are considerable. Money has to be raised separately over a couple yearsand many donors have connections to Chinese businesses. At this point, it is probably wise to keep considering diplomatic options, disconnecting this visit from THAAD and focusing on the experience for all the musicians. Since the students are not paid, money is not being taken from the Chinese and that is an important element of the conflict.

    By the way, other countries are also making it more difficult for American artists to enter their countries so this is not an isolated incident. Denying the vast majority of the students the chance to bring their artistry makes for a very difficut position.

    And what does one do with the money allocated for this trip? Usually it is tied directly to the tour and cannot be utilized for something else. I do not believe that the Chinese government cares if Eastman comes or not. It is about making a fiscal and politcal statement. Perhaps some goodwill can still be accomplised but time is running out on issuing the needed paper work.

    • K says:

      Maestro Slatkin-

      You’ve made some very good, well-founded points. Here are some counter ideas.

      1. We are on the cusp of 2020. We live in the most connected temporal point in existence. Why, on the eve of the tour, is this being decided now? Where is the prior tour research? Where is the communication with the state department?

      2. I will put aside the unfortunate optics of fellow ESM students wanting to tour and leave their South Korean cohorts behind. That being said, in this particular case, China is being a bully. And bullies continue to operate because no one will confront them. This was an opportunity to do so.

      3. “I do not believe that the Chinese government cares if Eastman comes or not.” I think they do care. They are challenging us to put our values on the line. These small political victories are exactly how they gain accumulated power. ESM capitulated, and now China will continue to exploit its political/monetary hegemony.


    • anon says:

      ” I do not believe that the Chinese government cares if Eastman comes or not.” This is an important consideration and one on which Dean Rossi deludes himself. I certainly agree, the Chinese government could care less about Eastman’s touring orchestra, faculty or chamber groups. Eastman perceives these tours as necessary to its own image and ability to recruit Chinese students.

      Dean Rossi tells his students that “Music is not a vehicle to divide people one from another” while he simultaneously singles out three members of the orchestra for exclusion. In essence, Rossi feels so strongly that recruiting Chinese students is necessary to his bottom line that he denies the tour to current students who have paid tuition for an Eastman education. Let us hope for Dean Rossi’s sake as Dean that this decision does not backfire and cause other potential recruits to search out an institution more supportive of the students it enrolls.

      Money, Mr Slatkin? I miss your point. If the tour goes, that will be US currency to an oppressive, restrictive regime. If the tour is canceled, I fail to see the difficulty in returning donations not already spent being returned to the donor.

    • anon says:

      I’m concerned with some of your thinking:

      “it is worth seeing what other orchestras, both professionals and student ones have done during these past couple years regarding this issue.” I’m totally missing the logic. Sounds like an invitation to rationalize a current bad decision by resorting to moral relativism. If XYZ Conservatory left their Koreans at home and slipped under the public radar on this issue, it must be fine to follow suit.

      “many donors have connections to Chinese businesses” As a US conservatory, should this be a consideration for Eastman? Is it Eastman’s duty to provide the best for all of its students – or to exercise subservience to Chinese business people from whom Eastman hopes to benefit?

      “Denying the vast majority of the students the chance to bring their artistry makes for a very difficut (sic) position.” Only if the assumption is that there is intrinsically more artistic value to the student in performing in China rather than in Europe, Singapore, Taiwan, S. Korea, Hong Kong, New York City, Chicago, San Fransisco, on and on and on. On the other hand, Dean Rossi seems to believe that by performing in China with a sub-set of the orchestra, great value will accrue to Eastman’s reputation and recruitment efforts. Eastman wins – students lose.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Your points are excellent, Maestro. The difference between student and professional orchestras concerning visas is often striking. In the case of most American professional ensembles, the musicians of South Korean origin have either become American citizens or have permanent resident status. That said, there can still be bumps in the road.

      All American student ensembles with multi-national membership who travel abroad have an international student adviser who must check and re-check student documents before during and after the tour. They often travel with the group in order to deal with any visa problems that arise during the time outside of the USA. Even with that protection, I know of cases where traveling international students have been stopped at the border, sometimes at the border of the USA, when they try to re-enter under the conditions of their American-issued student visa stamped in the passport from their home country. The complications are infinite.

      Dean Jamal Rossi is an honorable man faced with a difficult binary choice: cancel the tour, or travel without the excluded students. Those who judge his decision are entitled to their opinion but they are not entitled to cast aspersions on the reputation of a man who has devoted his life to music and music students with a high level of competence.

      I hope that you, Leonard Slatkin, can shed the light of your wisdom and experience for the benefit of the Eastman community during your residency.

      • K says:

        I agree with some of your points. Ad hominem attacks are never effective in winning arguments, and certainly can be hurled at undeserving recipients. Dr. Rossi is all the things you said he is, but honorable people can make bad decisions with negative consequences. It seems the tour is off for the time being (10-30-19). I applaud Dr. Rossi for making another difficult decision. I do wonder, as a point of inquiry only, why we had to go thru these painful machinations?

  • E P Biggs says:

    Six members of the Toronto Symphony were denied entry to the United States for a tour in November 1951. Coming at the height of the McCarthy era in the US, the musicians were denied visas on suspicion of being involved in “communist activities.”
    At the end of the season the TSO fired them all, stating that they had “not fulfilled their contractual agreements.” They appealed to the union, which refused to support them. The TSO’s music director, Sir Ernest MacMillan, made no public statement of support and the musicians were shunned by their colleagues for fear of guilt by association.

    One of the musicians fired was Steven Staryk, one of the greatest violinists Canada has ever produced. He used the opportunity of his job loss to audition for Sir Thomas Beecham, who hired him as concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic on the spot, saying “Now I can record Sheherazade.” That half-century old recording is still considered one of the best in the catalogue. Staryk went on to become concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony, among others. Later in life, fully aware of the irony, he was engaged as concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony. Full disclosure – this writer studied with Staryk and was a member of the Toronto Symphony for seven years, where this shameful story was only too well known. Google “Symphony Six” for more details.

  • Vance Koven says:

    There are serious issues under discussion here, but I couldn’t resist this observation:

    Former alumni? I didn’t know you could resign as an alumnus.

    “General Stanley is no orphan!
    More than that, he never was one!”

  • ASouthKorean says:

    I agree completely with Armando Bayolo and am glad there are others that are just as outraged as I am at hearing this news. For the record, I am not a student at Eastman but I did graduate from the U of R and I am very disappointed.

    • K says:

      I don’t know if this will mean anything, but I am an ESM alum and I am also outraged/disappointed in the initial decision. I have made many comments on this forum to express this position. It seems that ESM was getting a lot of similar expressions about Dr. Rossi’s first letter. The tour is now cancelled (10-30-19). I lived in South Korea for a year; a great country with great people!

  • Michael Zerbe says:

    Too many responses just slithering around the issue and refusing to acknowledge that ESM is just flat out wrong.

  • Hmus says:

    This whole fiasco is, as has been mentioned, a total failure of diplomacy, and from both ends. It makes both Eastman and China look bad – Eastman looks greedy and/or cowardly, and China looks petty and bullying.

    The kids in the Eastman orchestra are little more than teenagers – how far into the future does China wish to project this squabble – how many generations ahead does it want to advance this alienation and it’s reputation for pettiness? It is always said that the Chinese are particular about saving face – as the English idoim goes – maintaining dignity. This does not achieve that purpose for either group.

    Are there no adults in the room, as it were? As I write, the Philadelphia Orchestra is on tour in China. I have no idea if there are actual Korean nationals in the group, but there are certainly some Eastman graduates who in thoery will find themselves at some sort of influential receptions… I have met not only Chinese musicians, but also Chinese scientists in the US all of whom were quite level headed about the tensions between the US and China. Is there actually no one in China who can fix this?

  • Mr. Knowitall says:

    The USA doesn’t have high moral ground on these types of matters. Visas are routinely and captiously denied to members of ensembles that want to tour the States. And unlike China, the USA doesn’t offer clear explanations for the denials. Recently two colleagues of mine were excluded from a series of concerts that their New Music ensemble played in the States. We tried to guess what the grounds might be but we came up short.

    • K says:

      You are right, we (USA) don’t. But ESM, as a unique institution, does. In this particular situation, ESM made the wrong initial call. But, the tour is off as of 10-30-19.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    So; instead of disappointing three students, disappoint eighty students. Principles must remain pure.