American Presenters Respond to Pinchas Zukerman Engagements

The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has canceled Zukerman's future appearance, while Aspen and Ravinia Music Festivals have kept him in their programs

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Zukerman will not perform at Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's opening night at their Carnegie Hall concert on January 29, 2022.

The news comes as a result of Zukerman's insensitive racial and cultural comments made to two Juilliard pre-college students this past June.

In a statement released by the ensemble, "The Orpheus family provides an inclusive environment for its valued musicians and audiences and places great value on respectful collaboration. We will communicate an exciting new opening night program very soon."

Upon further request, Orpheus Executive Director, Alexander Scheirle told The Violin Channel that "the democratic model upon which Orpheus Chamber Orchestra was built is engrained into every aspect of our operations."

"We take the utmost care in selecting guest artists as these musicians briefly become a part of our orchestra. Because it is crucial to our ethos that soloist and orchestra operate as one entity, mutual trust and respect is paramount to our collaborative process," he added.

The comments in question happened during a virtual masterclass presented by The Juilliard School's Starling-DeLay Symposium, in which Zukerman made culturally offensive to two pre-college New York-born sisters of part Asian descent. Such comments included that "In Korea, they don't sing. It's not in their DNA," and mimicking a  sing-song vocal style that has been stereotyped as Asian.

The Juilliard School took down the video, stating that "those remarks did not represent the values of the Symposium or The Juilliard School."

Zukerman later commented: "I am sorry that I made anyone uncomfortable. I cannot undo that, but I offer a sincere apology. I learned something valuable from this, and I will do better in the future."

The students have since received personal letters of apology from Zukerman this summer, The Violin Channel has learnt.

Founded in 1972, The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is known especially for its cooperative mindset and flexible, unconventional interpretations, due in part to its conductorless nature.

According to its recording label Deutsche Grammophon, the ensemble was "facilitated by the zeitgeist: the antiestablishment values of the protests against the American war in Vietnam, as well as the cooperative spirit fostered by the rising ideal of collective artistic leadership."

The orchestra is the first to cancel engagements with Zukerman and he has declined to provide a comment on the news.

Summer festivals such as Aspen Music Festival and Ravinia Festival have decided to keep Zukerman's concerts. On August 17, Aspen presented a concert with the Zukerman Trio with cellist Amanda Forsyth and pianist Shai Wosner.

"Pinchas Zukerman is a dear friend of many of us in Aspen, and I consider him to be among the most extraordinary musicians now in front of the public," Aspen President and CEO Alan Fletcher told The Violin Channel. "In a Juilliard class, he said some unutterably stupid things, and he has acknowledged this. I understand there is more history, as well. There is also a record of his support for Korean musicians over decades of engagement. In fact, he spent important time with me this week advocating for some young Korean musicians with whom he is working."

"In Aspen, we decided that this is not the time to try to cancel a career of such tremendous range and importance, and his performances with the Zukerman Trio were a highlight of our summer season," he added.

"At the same time, as part of our own ongoing introspective process and growth, we invited Jennifer Koh to address our Board of Trustees this week, which she did with great eloquence. We have made strong commitments to a process of change around diversity, access, equity, and inclusion, and have done so precisely because we believe it is possible for all of us."

In an article written by violinist Jennifer Koh for The New York Times, she addressed the stereotypes associated with Asian Americans in the classical music industry. Koh poses the question: "How can classical music empower and create space for all members of our community?"

To start off, Koh suggests that those in the industry "ask Asian Americans to curate programs and create work — not just about Asia, with token Lunar New Year concerts, but about our unique experiences and contributions as Americans of Asian descent."

Secondly, those in power can "hire and commission Asian and Asian American singers, instrumentalists, conductors and composers to break stereotypes and amplify our individualities and complexities."

Koh proposes other actionable steps: "Mentor Asian Americans at the beginning of their musical careers. Sponsor and promote Asian Americans in arts management and administration. Recruit Asian Americans onto the boards of arts organizations."

The Violin Channel also spoke with Chief Content Officer and Senior Vice President of WQXR Ed Yim at the time of the initial Juilliard masterclass. In regards to Zukerman, Yim said that "having known him as a fine artist and colleague for over 25 years, I choose not to assume bad intent and am heartened by his apology and vow to choose his words more carefully.

"I am even more heartened that comments like these, no matter how they were intended, can be publicly acknowledged as inappropriate and hurtful. For too long, AAPI members of the classical music community have shrugged off incidents like this and carried on. Mistakes should be noted, apologies made, and lessons learned. Only then, can we progress to greater understanding and equity."