As reported on violinist.com, Pinchas Zukerman's actions have caused a heated online furor regarding racial and cultural stereotyping in classical music. The event in question was a virtual masterclass presented by the Starling-DeLay Symposium. After the live stream, The Juilliard School said that they will not be releasing the video for further viewing.
Zukerman made comments to two pre-college New York-born sisters of part Asian descent. After performing Spohr's "Duo Concertante" the students were encouraged to have more fun.
According to the violinist.com report, Zukerman commented, "It's almost too perfect, I mean that as a compliment. Think less about how perfect to play and to play together, and more about phrasing. A little more vinegar — or soy sauce."
"More singing, like an Italian overture, he added. "The violin is a singing instrument, not a stringed instrument. Sometimes if you have a question about how to play it, sing it. I know in Korea they don't sing."
After he elaborated, one of the sisters said, "But I'm not Korean."
Zukerman asked where they were from and they explained that they are of half Japanese descent. He interrupted, "In Japan, they don't sing either." He continued to mimic a sing-song vocal style that has been stereotyped as Asian.
Later in the Q&A section of the masterclass, Zukerman again repeated, "In Korea, they don't sing. It's not in their DNA."
Symposium Artistic Director Brian Lewis and Juilliard School Director of Lifelong Learning John-Morgan Bush later released a joint public statement stating, "Unfortunately, we will not be posting the video of Friday’s final master class with Pinchas Zukerman, who in the course of the class used insensitive and offensive cultural stereotypes. Those remarks did not represent the values of the Symposium or The Juilliard School."
Today, the 72-year-old violin and viola virtuoso released a statement to The Violin Channel apologizing for his comments. "There is nothing more important to me than imparting the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the course of my career to future generations," Pinchas Zukerman said.
"In Friday’s master class, I was trying to communicate something to these two incredibly talented young musicians, but the words I used were culturally insensitive. I’m writing to the students personally to apologize. 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 Violin Channel also spoke with Chief Content Officer and Senior Vice President of WQXR Ed Yim on the matter.
"With Korean singers performing at the highest levels — Sumi Jo, Kathleen Kim, Andrew Stenson, Hei-Kyung Hong, and KwangChul Youn to name a few — I am somewhat mystified by Zukerman’s comment," he said.
"However, 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."
Japanese-German concert violinist and a former student of Zukerman at the Manhattan School of Music, Koh Gabriel Kameda, told the Violin Channel that "Yes, it is a stupid and insensitive thing to say to anyone."
"But I studied with Pinchas in New York for three years and we’ve been good friends ever since. He is an extremely passionate teacher and person, and perhaps sometimes everyone's ideas or thoughts come out the wrong way. However, as someone of Asian descent myself, I know he is not racist or intentionally hurtful, and I would prefer to focus on what he does best, his artistry and incredible knowledge of how to play the violin and the viola, rather than a mistake."
"Pinchas is not a politician, he’s a musician," Kameda added.