Singing the #metoo Classical Music Blues

August 3, 2018, 1:32 PM · The announcement that Bill Preucil, a leading pedagogue and the Cleveland Orchestra's consummate concertmaster since 1996, renowned worldwide for his impeccable performances, would play concertmaster in Mahler's monumental Third Symphony brought a flush of excitement to many participants at the 2018 Grand Teton Music Festival. In anticipation of a week in ‘his' violin section, I knew a YouTube listen-to-Preucil was in order. In surround sound mode, it was easy to waft away on the wings of mellifluous melody: he is a great musician who possesses a gossamer sound, the magic to soar above the orchestra and lead with finesse.

William Preucil concertmaster

Inside the Cleveland Orchestra he is prized for his superlative rapport with the oft-elusive Music Director. For years, deleterious observations with regard to Mr. Preucil's darker side have been relegated to the back pages of social media along with the ‘everyone knows that about him' rumor mill. Yes, Mr. Preucil's salary is reputedly the highest in the concertmaster business, and yes, a dynasty of family members have gained coveted places in his home orchestra.

His soft spot for female students, the stuff of much speculation for decades, was reported back in 2007. A local Cleveland rag (Cleveland Scene) broke a story that detailed the darker side of the concertmaster's activities. The relevant portion focused on a specific incident in which Mr. Preucil's unwanted advances led to a deal and a cover up: in return for silence, the female violin student was transferred to another top musical institution, far from Cleveland's shores. The reputation of not only the star concertmaster but also the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music and, of course Mr. Preucil's principal employer, the Cleveland Orchestra, was spared unwelcome media attention. No further media repercussions, no career consequences.

Just now en route to the music festival and the long-awaited chance to experience Mr. Preucil's artistry and leadership firsthand, the email message written by the Grand Teton Music Festival's CEO struck like lightning.

"Many of you saw the unfortunate article in today's Washington Post concerning sexual harassment in classical music. In that article, there were allegations of sexual misconduct by William Preucil, concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. Mr. Preucil was scheduled to be concertmaster for Festival Orchestra during Week 6. Earlier this evening, the Festival rescinded its invitation to Mr. Preucil."

Had the Washington Post discovered something new that smacked of criminal behavior?

Cringing in the aftershock of Harvey Weinstein's #metoo bevy of beautiful casualties, classical musicians held their collective breaths, wondering when the myriad of incidents of abuse on and offstage would capture media attention. For decades, such stories were more apt to escape any media attention whatsoever or fuel "Mozart in the Jungle" scriptwriters, than to reach courtroom scrutiny.

A quick mini-investigation I conducted in the form of questions posed to former Preucil students, coincidentally an equal number of male and female students, yielded a crop of comments of a thought-provoking nature. One former student, at present a member of a leading orchestra, observed, "not that again, I really don't have much to say about what may have gone on at the Institute in the three years that I studied there. He was an imaginative teacher, a great listener and the person who helped me get to the great place I am at now." Another former student, a ‘female' concertmaster shared, "I studied with Bill Preucil, the amazing musician, and had nothing to do with Bill Preucil, the man."

Enter into the grey zone between the accused and the victim. Where lies truth? Where do we draw the line between unwanted attention and camaraderie, between the inappropriate and criminal? And will the floodgates post- #metoo ever close?

Music lessons are one-on-one, deeply personal, and to a substantial degree, physical in nature. Karen Tuttle, a force of nature amongst 20th century viola educators, insisted that her students pull up their shirts, uncovering the left shoulder, in order to place the instrument on 'bare skin,' exposing the body to unique contact and the vibrations of ‘a piece of wood.' Memory lane takes me back to a master class with the legendary concertmaster-soloist Joseph Silverstein in sweltering Sarasota, Florida.. Hands-on demonstration was key to unlearn bad habits. The maestro pummeled and pushed, in an attempt to coax some modicum of relaxation, as sweat poured my face. In the context of the post-#metoo epoch, Tuttle and Silverstein would have been chastised, publicly named and shamed for their actions.

Accusations roam in rough terrain. We have landed in postmodern confusion, as we wait to see: How many of the mighty will fall, and how fast? Behind the accusations detailed in the Washington Post is the insinuation that Mr. Preucil's sexual advances were tied to a threat: satisfy my needs or suffer in your career down the road. The career-loss threat as an implication is dastardly, and the smarmy situation bears resemblance to Weinstein's notorious casting couch. Does Mr. Preucil deserve total destruction?

No apologist for behavior that crosses into the legally no-fly zone and a vociferous opponent of inappropriate behavior at work or school, legal beagles (pun intended) plead for a dogged investigation of the bad, i.e. predatory actions/criminal behavior, coupled with true caution regarding actions that fall within an acceptable spectrum of behavior. Within days of the Washington Post revelations, Mr. Preucil has lost his position at the Cleveland Institute of Music and has been put on probation at the Cleveland Orchestra. Conductor Daniel Gatti, whose actions were brought to the fore in same article, just stepped down as Music Director of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra following allegations of inappropriate behavior. How the mighty have fallen and how swiftly!

Mr. Preucil, Mr. Gatti and others who have been placed in the classical #metoo limelight are celebrities whose status helps grab headlines. As the dust settles, will those who have suffered and the countless, voiceless benefit? Real change, ‘change we can believe in,' moves slowly, is totally unspectacular and its legalistic detail will not reach headlines or even the back pages. The power of the #metoo narrative will dissipate unless the discourse widens to analyze the culture that has permitted pervasive abuse and that continues to turn a blind ear to skewed power relationships and protected hierarchies. Without respect and trust, the music profession -- and all professions for that matter -- will drift into a witch-hunting frenzy, where individuals lose careers but discriminatory behavior will persist.

A still small voice begs for caution before we enter into the stone-throwing arena. Until the parameters of appropriate behavior at workplaces and schools are subject to open discussion first, and rulemaking second, the temptation to sit back and applaud as ‘another one bites the dust' makes us all culpable of smug hypocrisy.

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August 3, 2018 at 07:43 PM · A few inaccuracies:

Preucil became concertmaster of TCO in 1995, not 1996.

Gatti didn't step down; the KCO fired him, and he is threatening legal action in response.

Preucil's salary is a matter of public record in TCO's IRS Form 990 filings. He has not had the highest concertmaster salary in any of the years I have checked - usually around #3 to #5. Glenn Dicterow was usually #1 (longtime CM at big orchestra, even longer tenure than WP), followed by Sasha Barantschik and Martin Chalifour (both at orchestras with very healthy finances compared to TCO).

August 3, 2018 at 07:45 PM · Thoughtful piece. My perspective on this sentence: "Does Mr. Preucil deserve total destruction?" is yes, he does. He was perfectly willing to destroy those who didn't acquiesce to his illegal demands. He didn't make these demands in the open- he did so behind closed doors, clearly showing he knew his behavior to be wrong. Moreover, institutions and their heads who allowed this to continue must be held accountable as well. I find it stunning that people are worried about the abusers being railroaded, given that by the time these accusations are acted upon, there are dozens of accusers. At that point, clearly, the institution that ignored complaint after complaint is as complicit as if they were in the room while the abuse was happening.

Most corporations have put processes in place to investigate and control workplace sexual harassment. The Ubers are the exception, not the rule. It's a problem that's already been discussed, negotiated, and solved. Why the insistence that there's still work to do on this front?

August 3, 2018 at 08:14 PM · Anyone in a position of authority, especially a teacher, must be held to a higher standard and held accountable. When careers of students are on the line, the potential for abuse is exponential.

Should a teacher have students move their shirts to touch the instrument to bare skin? Absolutely not. Tell the student to wear a tank top next time, and explain why.

More than hand-wringing over what you call a witch hunt, we should be hand-wringing so we don't put students in a position where they feel we have taken advantage of them.

August 3, 2018 at 09:00 PM · The sad fact is that abuse has been the method of indoctrination into just about every field of human endeavor for centuries, if not millennia. Bad enough in gender specific areas, explosive in mixed gender fields. It's all about how we use whatever power we manage to acquire mixed with our own desires. Simply put "Power Reveals" and what is shown is both who you are and also hints on how you came to power and what you had to endure.

That doesn't excuse unethical or immoral behavior, it only focuses a light on the genesis of the abuser.

We have come to an age where it is no longer acceptable. Perhaps it is time for all of us to adopt a rule first written well over 6000 years ago in what was to become China: "Do not do to others that which you would not have done to you."

Abused people do tend to become abusers themselves and while they hate the abuse they pass it along rather than say: "I hated it and I will not do it to those who follow me."

Humanity is still evolving and evolution is painful.

August 4, 2018 at 12:38 AM · Dear Contributor's & Heather Kurzbauer ~

Firstly, upon reading Heather Kurzbauer's superbly written article just above, fueled by a blast of public disclosures and responses of those named for more than immoral behaviour, I applaud all here for your sincere soul searching Replies, each of which contains thoughts of Good amid all the Bad sensed & are now witnessing within our classical music profession in these past 8 to 10 days ~

There is No Question of a 'Movement' now lit into its Active + phase and not only in America, but in more 'casual' Europe vis a vie interchanges between those in top authority & those they have authority over ~

The most touching opinions by Men here on this August 3rd, 2018, Discussion about moral codes and behaviour enactment have offered this contributor a Branch of genuine Hope in that there are many who respect and adhere to healthy morality in our profession and do so silently but with quiet dignity ... I say, THANK YOU ALL!!!!!

The Quote cited by George Wells, 'Do not to others that which you would not have done to you', says all & says much about the "Ten" personhood of George Wells ~ After a shadowed & disheartening day, I am uplifted by having come here. In one's heart, both my teacher/performer parents are in a sense being honoured by all of you unknowingly as neither took on the side commissions when sending students to x, y or a, who would then purchase an instrument, although it was common practise among most, nor did either even think of using the one on one teacher-pupil professional platform except to remain wholly fidel stewards of Teaching and Music Making ~ Their Legacy is assured evermore in lieu of the shocking status of Tips of the Iceberg's which, tragically, we may be yet saddened to see

Saluting the time known phrase, 'Nice guys finish last', maybe 'things' are in the pained process of Moral Change or certainly a Moral Awakening in All Walks of Life ~

Respectfully offered from the Heart

Elisabeth Matesky

August 4, 2018 at 03:48 AM · This is sad. But hopefully this means the Suzuki accompaniment CDs/MP3s by Bill Preucil will be priced at deep discounts!

August 7, 2018 at 05:35 PM · Wow, so glad to read another view on this issue, are we forgetting the legacy of great players?

August 8, 2018 at 05:55 PM · In the business world, a now common practice is that whenever a male manager has a one-on-one meeting with a female associate, to avoid both temptation and false accusations, the door either has a large window, or is left open. The studio where I work has large windows on all of the rooms, and I keep the curtains open.

August 8, 2018 at 05:58 PM · "A local Cleveland rag (Cleveland Scene) broke a story that detailed the darker side of the concertmaster's activities."

For REAL? Are you really being unbiased here?

I don't exactly understand the viewpoint you are trying to express in this article. On one hand, you seem to be advocating for people who have been victims of sexual harassment have more room to speak up, and then on the other hand, you make a straw-man of "#metoo", implying that any kind of non-sexual touching would be seen by people nowadays to be sexual touching, and that any teacher touching their student in the course of a lesson would lose their career. Does pushing and prodding your student in order to get them to relax seem like a stupid way of teaching? Sure. Is anyone calling that sexual harassment these days?

A lot of this article reads as an apology for Preucil, and makes a number of attempts to compare his actions to other, completely unrelated things, and some of this article makes a cursory attempt at support for people who got their careers derailed by scummy people by virtue of the fact that they were dumb enough to be physically attractive.

I think if you want to state your opinion, whether it's popular or unpopular, you should just say it, instead of trying to hide behind a "fair and balanced" voice, and the florid prose doesn't exactly help.

August 10, 2018 at 04:23 PM · Having served twice as a trial juror, I know the importance of hearing both sides of a case. I've never harassed anyone, so I can throw stones. But I'm not about to throw them indiscriminately.

If Preucil and Gatti did, in fact, commit the alleged misdeeds, that's reprehensible.

It's the timing of the accusations that I find suspect -- especially when I recall the 1991 Senate hearings in which Anita Hill accused US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. What struck me then is the same thing that struck some Senators: Why did Hill wait 10 years to publicly accuse Thomas?

With today's smart phones that can take pictures and record voices, it shouldn't be at all hard to stop the harasser in his tracks with a little advance warning to back off -- or you will record the conversation. If you don't have the alleged harasser's own face and words, then all you have is hearsay.

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