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Amid allegations at Juilliard, classical music leaders demanded changes

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An open letter Calling on the Juilliard School to take disciplinary action against composer Robert Beaser for “decades of alleged abuse of women and power” drew signatures from around 450 composers, musicians, educators and arts leaders.

On Friday night, after 120 people signed the letter, Beaser, 68, a former chairman of the composition department at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, took time off from his teaching job as the school launched an independent investigation. on the allegations.

“In light of the ongoing investigation and following discussions with Bob earlier this afternoon, we wish to inform you that Bob will be stepping down from his teaching duties and other faculty responsibilities while the investigation is ongoing,” Juilliard Provost Adam Meyer wrote in a letter to composition teachers on Friday. “This change will be effective immediately.”

Last week, the Berlin classical music website VAN magazine published the results of a six-month investigation in misconduct allegations against several Juilliard faculty members, including Beaser, who the magazine said “faces multiple undisclosed allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct from the late 1990s and 2000s “.

These include alleged “repeated sexual advances to sexual relationships with students,” as well as claims that these relationships directly affected the critical decisions Beaser enacted as Juilliard department head.

The report cites the account of an unnamed former student who described a “case in which Beaser offered him a promising career opportunity before attempting to obtain sexual favors in return.”

“What are you going to do for me?” Beaser would have asked.

“I am more than willing to participate in Juilliard’s outside investigation in order to protect and defend my reputation,” Beaser wrote in a statement to The Washington Post on Sunday. “Until the school completes this process, I have agreed to be on leave from my teaching position.”

VAN’s story also included accounts of other abuse at the school, including allegations of a student alleging uninvited advances from composer and Juilliard professor Christopher Rouse, Pulitzer and Grammy winner, who died in 2019, as well as allegations against Juilliard professor John Corigliano, a longtime composer and faculty member accused by eight former Juilliard participants of an alleged “unofficial policy” against hiring female students. (Corigliano denied the allegations in an email to VAN.)

The open letter — hosted on a Medium account assigned to “Composers Collective” — focused on Beaser.

“While we recognize and appreciate the need for due process,” the letter reads, “the sheer volume of allegations, testimony and evidence supporting Beaser’s misconduct is undeniably disturbing. Until the investigation is resolved, Beaser’s presence in Juilliard’s composition department could compromise students’ emotional well-being and inhibit a safe and healthy learning environment.

“Gender discrimination and sexual harassment have no place in our school community,” Rosalie Contreras, vice president of public affairs at Juilliard, wrote in a statement Saturday. “We take all of these allegations very seriously.”

While the VAN report was unable to confirm whether two student complaints filed against Beaser in 2018 ever led Juilliard officials to launch Title IX investigations, Contreras did confirm that internal investigations took place. at school “in the late 1990s as well as in 2017.” 18 but did not elaborate on their findings.

“Allegations that were previously reported to The Juilliard School were addressed at the time, based on the information provided,” the statement said. “However, in order to review new information and better understand these past allegations, the current school administration has launched an independent investigation.”

Juilliard’s policy on consensual faculty-student relationships explicitly prohibits undergraduate faculty-student relationships, and “discourages” them for graduate students.

“In addition to creating the potential for coercion, such a relationship compromises the integrity of the educational process by creating a conflict of interest and can influence the learning environment of other students.”

Students contacted for VAN’s report casting Beaser’s conduct as far beyond an “open secret” and paints a picture of the general climate for women enrolled at the prestigious music school as stubbornly toxic.

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, who helped write and publish the open letter on Friday, is part of an alliance of anonymous female composers confronting the alleged ‘long history of tolerance and covering up sexual misconduct and discrimination’ from school. Snider brought the coalition together following #MeToo to provide a forum for female songwriters to discuss their own experiences of abuse and harassment in their profession.

Snider did not attend Juilliard and has no professional affiliation with it (in addition to working as a composer, Snider is also co-artistic director of New Amsterdam Records), but feels that this distance from the institution – as well that the scope of his influence on composers’ careers – is what gave him the freedom “to speak for my many female colleagues who could not”.

She is also quick to point out that the scourge of sexual harassment in composition programs extends far beyond a single school; it’s deeply rooted in the culture of classical music education, she says. As a student, Snider had her own run-ins with sexual harassment from a powerful professor (whom she declines to identify) who she says continues to be “painful and traumatic.”

“That’s why I connected with these women in the first place,” she says. “I could really sympathize with what they went through and the feeling of helplessness and helplessness, because it’s usually not about your abuser; It’s about the network of men at the top of our field who are friends and protect each other. … If you come forward and appoint someone, you demand retribution from a cabal of older, successful men who hold the keys to all opportunity.

Following the publication of the open letter, Snider received notes from men at Juilliard who also feel unable to come forward for fear of reprisal.

“They are the masters, and they are infallible, and they can make or break you,” wrote Snider, a conservatory composition teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional reprisals in a text message shown to The Post. “Access control doesn’t even cover that.”

Composer Jefferson Friedman, who attended Juilliard from 1998 to 2001 and then taught at the school for several years, left a comment on one of Snider’s recent Facebook posts in which he recalled being “really scared of [Beaser].”

Did I know what Beaser was doing back then? Friedman wrote. Yes, everyone did. Would I have liked to have spoken? In hindsight, of course, yes. But Beaser was the ultimate keeper back then. … His whole deal has been to create a fiefdom where he has as much power imbalance as possible.

On Sunday, several high-profile names from the fields of classical and new music had signed the open letter, including Missy Mazzoli, Gabriela Lena Frank, Vijay Iyer, Tyondai Braxton, Andrew Norman, Claire Chase and Nico Muhly.

Snider was met with particular trepidation from men in the music community, reluctant to sign for fear of reprisal. Although sympathetic, the dissonance was not lost.

“What I kindly tried to tell them is that it’s the same kind of fear that women have always had,” Snyder says. We are so often harassed, mistreated or abused, and there is no one to talk to about it. Moreover, we must then try to ensure that these aggressors continue to like us enough to write letters of recommendation or recommend us for awards. It is an impossible situation for women to defend themselves.

At the 3 p.m. signing deadline on Friday, Snider says 90% of the men who were on the fence showed up last minute with signatures.

“I think they’ve started to see there’s more safety in numbers.”

Snider and the as-yet-unknown coalition of songwriters are planning their first in-person strategy meeting in January to discuss further actions to directly address “intersectional” abuse and harassment in the songwriting community and classical music at large – where systemic inequalities and imbalances have roots that go back centuries.

“The positive thing to say about all of this,” says Snider, “is that this is one of the very first times—perhaps the first time in the history of our composition community—that men, women and people of all genders gathered to stand up and protect another. This is such an important opportunity in our field, and I think it speaks volumes about the possibility of growth and change.

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