Amid the allegations at Juilliard, classical music leaders are calling for change

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An open letter calling on the Juilliard School to take disciplinary action against composer Robert Beaser for alleged “decades of abuse of women and power” has received the signatures of about 450 composers, musicians, educators and cultural figures.

Late Friday, after an initial 120 people signed the letter, Beaser, 68, a former composition department chair at the prestigious Manhattan music school, had left his teaching post as the school launched an independent investigation into the allegations.

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

Last week, Berlin classical music website VAN magazine published the results of a six-month investigation into allegations of misconduct against several Juilliard faculty members, including Beaser, who, according to the magazine, “is facing multiple, previously undisclosed allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct from out.” the late 1990s and 2000s.”

These include alleged “repeated sexual advances in sexual relationships with students” and claims that those relationships directly influenced critical decisions Beaser made while he was Juilliard’s department head.

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

“What will you do for me?” Beaser reportedly asked.

“I am more than willing to participate in Juilliard’s outside investigation 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 teaching.”

The VAN story also included reports of other abuses at the school, including allegations by a student alleging uninvited advances from Pulitzer and Grammy Award-winning Juilliard professor Christopher Rouse, who died in 2019, and allegations against Juilliard professor John Corigliano. A longtime composer and faculty member who has been sued by eight former Juilliard participants for an alleged “unofficial policy” against hiring female students. (Corigliano denied the claims in an email to VAN.)

The open letter — hosted on a Medium account attributed to Composers Collective — focused on Beaser.

“While we recognize and appreciate the need for due process,” the letter reads, “the body of allegations, testimonies and supporting evidence of Beaser’s wrongdoing is undeniably troubling.” Until the investigation is complete, Beaser’s presence in the Juilliard School’s composition department could put students’ emotional well-being at risk and compromise a safe and healthy learning environment.”

“Sexual 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 such allegations extremely seriously.”

Although the VAN report could not confirm whether complaints by two students filed against Beaser in 2018 ever led to Juilliard officials opening Title IX investigations, Contreras confirmed that internal investigations at the school “both ended the 90s as well as 2017” took place. 18,” but did not elaborate on their findings.

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

The Juilliard policy on consensual faculty-student relationships specifically prohibits and “disadvises” faculty-student relationships for graduate students.

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

Students contacted by VAN for the report called Beaser’s behavior far more than an “open secret” and paint a picture of the general climate for women enrolled at the prestigious music school as persistently toxic.

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, who helped write and send Friday’s open letter, is among an alliance of anonymous female composers grappling with the school’s alleged “long history of tolerating and covering up sexual misconduct and discrimination.” Snider assembled the coalition as part of #MeToo to provide a forum for female composers to discuss their own experiences of abuse and harassment in their profession.

Snider hasn’t attended Juilliard, nor does she have any professional connection with it (in addition to her work as a composer, Snider is also co-artistic director of New Amsterdam Records), but believes in this distance from the institution – as well as the reach of its influence on careers composers – gave her the freedom to “speak on behalf of my many female colleagues who could not”.

She’s also quick to point out that the scourge of sexual harassment in composition programs extends well beyond a school; it’s deeply embedded in the culture of classical music education, she says. As a student, Snider had her own encounters with sexual harassment at the hands of a powerful professor (whom she declined to name), which she says continues to be “painful and traumatic.”

“That was the reason why I came into contact with these women in the first place,” she says. “I could really empathize with what they had been going through and the feeling of powerlessness 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. … When you come forward and name a person, you are essentially demanding retaliation from a cabal of older, more successful men who hold the keys to all possibilities.”

Following the release of the open letter, Snider has received messages from men at Juilliard who also feel unable to come forward for fear of retribution.

“They are the masters, and they are infallible, and they can make you or break you,” wrote a male conservatory composition professor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional retribution, in a text message to Snider shown by The Post would . “Gatekeeping doesn’t even cover it.”

Composer Jefferson Friedman, who attended Juilliard from 1998-2001 and then taught at the school for several years, commented on one of Snider’s recent Facebook posts, recalling that he was “actually scared of [Beaser].”

“Did I know then what Beaser was doing?” Friedmann wrote. “Yes, everyone has. Do I wish I had spoken? In retrospect, of course, yes. But Beaser was the ultimate gatekeeper back then. …His whole deal was to create a fiefdom where he has as much power imbalance as possible.”

As of Sunday, several high-profile names from both 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 drew particular concern from men in the music community who were reluctant to sign for fear of retribution. Although sympathetic, the dissonance was not lost.

“What I was trying to tell them gently was that this is the same kind of fear that women have always had,” says Snider. “We are so frequently harassed, abused or abused and there is no one to speak to about it. In addition, we must then try to silence these perpetrators as we enough to write letters of recommendation or recommend us for prizes. It is an impossible situation for women to stand up for themselves.”

By the 3 p.m. Friday signing deadline, Snider says 90 percent of the men who stood on the fence got through with last-minute signatures.

“I think they started to see that there was more safety in numbers.”

Snider and the as-yet-unnamed coalition of composers are planning their first in-person strategic meeting in January to discuss further actions to take direct action to combat “intersectional” abuse and harassment in the composition community and in classical music more generally — where systemic inequalities and imbalances have existed for centuries are deeply rooted.

“The positive thing about all of this,” says Snider, “is that it is one of the very first times—perhaps the first time in the history of our composition community—that men and women and people of all genders have come together to stand up and to protect each other. It is such a significant event in our field and I think it speaks volumes about the possibility of growth and change.”

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