Curtis Institute Issues Public Apology Over Shocking Historical Sexual Abuse

The Curtis Institute of Music publicly acknowledged the credible evidence that violinist Lara St. John was the victim of sexual abuse as a 14–year–old student at the school by her then teacher, Jascha Brodsky

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Canadian–born violin soloist Lara St. John told the Philadelphia Inquirer in July of last year that as a first year student in 1985, her then 78–year–old violin teacher, Jascha Brodsky, attempted to kiss her and touch her inappropriately on multiple occasions over a six month period. The behavior then progressed to a rape in his office.

St. John also said that Brodsky made suggestions to her at the time that herself and her brother, former Curtis Institute violin student Scott St. John, may be forced to leave if his advances were rejected.

“The board recognizes and profoundly regrets the incalculable physical and emotional toll that Ms. St. John suffered as a result of her Curtis experience,” said a statement issued today by the Curtis Institute Board of Trustees. “We were wrong, and we express publicly our sincere apology to Lara St. John for the way she was treated by Curtis for the past 34 years.”

“We failed to provide her with a safe learning environment, failed to carefully investigate her claims, failed to communicate our grave disappointment in how she was treated by Curtis, and repeatedly failed to communicate the steps that were taken to prevent such abuse from occurring in the future.”

Yesterday’s apology succeeds the publishing of a 52-page investigative report, written by attorneys Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez of the Cozen O’Connor law firm. The damning report was written following more than 30 interviews with former Curtis Institute students, alumni, and administrators.

The report concludes that St. John had previously reported the assaults numerous times to the music school, but had been ignored.

St. John said previously that in 1986, she and two classmates reported the sexual abuse to the then Dean of the Curtis Institute, Robert Fitzpatrick, but the three students were mocked and the allegations disregarded. 

When she suggested her intention to report the assaults to the police, St. John was told by the head of the school at the time, “Oh, for God’s sake, who do you think they’re going to believe? Some 15-year-old kid or someone who has been here for decades?”

Jascha Brodsky, who first joined the Curtis Institute teaching faculty in 1932, continued to teach at the school until shortly before his death in 1997.

The report also found evidence of approximately two dozen other accounts of inappropriate conduct at the school, dating back more than half a century.

“It took a lot of life-force to make this happen,” said St. John, now 49. “Not only that, but many newspaper articles and outraged alumni. It took way more than it should have and it shouldn’t have taken 35 years. That said, I am glad at last they have admitted their wrongdoing.”

Brodsky’s other students at the Curtis Institute included violinists Hilary Hahn and Leila Josefowicz. Both musicians previously told The Philadelphia Inquirer that they have nothing but fond memories of their instructor.

St. John switched out of Brodsky‘s studio immediately following the rape and left the Curtis Institute at age 17 after a suicide attempt, before completing her Bachelor’s degree.

In September of last year, a “We Believe You” solidarity concert was held in New York City for all female musicians who’ve suffered sexual abuse in the classical music industry. During the event, St. John shared a digest of more than 400 personal emails she has received since going public with her experience, including an account sent to her about an 8–year–old music student who had been sexually violated and who ultimately committed suicide.

The string of emails, read aloud to the audience, detailed multiple historical sexual assaults that reportedly took place at the Curtis Institute, Juilliard School, Cleveland Institute of Music and Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.

“I am grateful to Leslie and Gina from the firm of Cozen O’Connor for having spent many months on assembling their diligent and remarkable report, which at last moved the Curtis Institute to take responsibility for the wrongdoing inflicted on me and many others,” St. John today told The Violin Channel.

“I hope that true change will come of my persistence, at Curtis and other schools. Then, it will have been worth it.”