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Former music students accuse two Juilliard teachers of sexual misconduct

A 2005 exterior shot of The Juilliard School, which is located on the campus of Lincoln Center in New York City.
Stan Honda
AFP via Getty Images
A 2005 exterior shot of The Juilliard School, which is located on the campus of Lincoln Center in New York City.

The Juilliard School in New York — among the world's most famed training grounds for classical musicians — is facing allegations that two of its professors engaged in sexual misconduct against aspiring and enrolled students at the school. Additionally, accusers say that the conservatory has known about some of those allegations for at least four years, but, as far as they know, the school did not take significant action.

Specifically, two people described alleged incidents involving Robert Beaser, the renowned school's former head of its composition department and a current member of its faculty, and another person described an alleged incident involving the Pulitzer- and Grammy-winning composer Christopher Rouse, who died in 2019. The accusations date back to the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The accusations were published Monday by the Berlin-based classical music publication VAN, working with the Investigative Reporting Workshop based at American University in Washington, D.C. In a statement to VAN, Juilliard said that it has hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations raised in the magazine's reporting. In an email to VAN, Beaser wrote: "I am aware that there will be an independent investigation. I look forward to cooperating with it."

VAN says it has corroborated the three sets of accusations. Several other female-identifying former students, current faculty and other notable composers attested to the magazine that they knew about the climate at Juilliard for female composition students over the years.

One of the accusers, Suzanne Farrin, says that she auditioned for Juilliard's doctoral program in the spring of 2001, with hopes of joining Rouse's studio as his private student. She has alleged that he invited her to dinner after her audition, where he tried to kiss her. After she rejected his advances, she asserted to VAN, her application was denied the next day. She also told VAN that when she called the admissions office a few days later to complain about Rouse's alleged behavior, a staffer reportedly immediately replied, "If you're calling about Professor Rouse, he's a big supporter of your music." (Farrin went on to attend Yale University for her doctorate and later won a Guggenheim fellowship for her work.)

VAN also obtained a 2018 memo from Juilliard's Title IX office, referring back to an alleged report from a former composition student who had been at the school in the early 2000s. The former Juilliard student, who asked VAN for anonymity due to fear of professional reprisals, said that they had reported knowing of Beaser allegedly attempting to start sexual relationships with at least two students. (Title IX of the Education Amendments Act is a 1972 federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination in any educational institutions or programs that receive federal funding. It is not clear what Juilliard's guidelines were regarding potential sexual misconduct or relationships between faculty and students at the time of this complaint about 20 years ago.)

A second former Juilliard student was also in contact with the school in early 2018 regarding similar allegations against Beaser dating back to the 1990s. The second former student, who has also remained anonymous in the VAN article for fear of professional blowback, alleged that Beaser had repeatedly made sexual advances to her during private lessons at his home, where he frequently taught Juilliard students, and that Beaser suggested that he could secure a professional opportunity for her in exchange for sexual activity. The woman said that a few years after the alleged incidents, she was questioned about Beaser by a Juilliard lawyer.

Later in 2018, Juilliard named composer Melinda Wagner as the chair of its composition department, replacing Beaser. A spokesperson told VAN that the two separate sets of allegations against Beaser "were handled according to school procedures at the time," but did not elaborate.

In the meantime, several former Juilliard students told VAN that allegations against Beaser were "an open secret" at the famed institution in the 1990s and 2000s.

One professor emeritus at the school, composer Samuel Adler, acknowledged to VAN that he had previously heard of allegations about peers at Juilliard. "It is true that some women did not feel comfortable with some of my colleagues," VAN reported Adler as saying.

Additionally, eight female-identifying former students at Juilliard told the German magazine that one of the school's most visible and celebrated composition teachers — the Pulitzer, Oscar and Grammy-winning composer John Corigliano — almost never invited female students to become part of his teaching studio, thereby cutting them off from professional development.

VAN compiled a list of 190 former Juilliard composition students from 1997 to 2021 via the school's own published materials as well as from public websites and biographical materials. Of those 190 former students, only one female-identifying composer listed Corigliano as their former teacher at Juilliard, compared to 28 male-identifying students who had attended Juilliard.

In a statement to VAN, Corigliano said that he recalls having one very gifted female student in his studio during that timespan, and noted that in the past year, his studio included two female students out of six total, adding: "It saddens me to read that you have been told by eight female students, formerly at The Juilliard School, that there was an unwritten policy by which they perceived that I favored the men over the women. Such a position was neither my preference nor my policy. I have taken great joy in working with many very gifted young women and men in my long teaching career."

The reporter of the VAN piece, Sammy Sussman, previously reported on sexual misconduct at the University of Michigan while he was enrolled there as an undergraduate student. The subject of his 2018 investigation, former UM School of Music, Theatre & Dance professor Stephen Shipps, faced allegations of 40 years of misconduct at the university and elsewhere. Earlier this year, Shipps was sentenced to five years in prison for sexual misconduct against a high school student in 2002.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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