Arts

Former Juilliard Chair Goes on Leave Amid Sexual Misconduct Investigation

The Juilliard School has placed a professor on leave and commissioned an independent investigation after a magazine article said he had sexually harassed students while chair of the New York conservatory’s composition department, a role he held from 1994 to 2018.

A spokeswoman for the school said that Juilliard had conducted investigations of the professor, Robert Beaser, in the late 1990s and a few years ago but that recent reporting by VAN, a magazine about classical music, brought new allegations to its attention. Juilliard declined to say what its previous investigations concluded, and the spokeswoman, Rosalie Contreras, said that further comment could compromise “the integrity of the investigation.”

Beaser, 68, went on paid leave on Dec. 16 while an outside law firm investigates. He will not perform “teaching duties and other faculty responsibilities while the investigation is being conducted,” Adam Meyer, Juilliard’s provost, wrote in an email to faculty.

An article that VAN published last week about misconduct allegations against Juilliard faculty members reported that Beaser had sexual relationships with students and that in one instance he had implicitly tied a female student’s career opportunity to her willingness to comply. The people making accusations against Beaser were not named in the article.

The article reported that some Juilliard faculty had long been aware of allegations against Beaser, and that the school’s Title IX coordinator was notified of allegations in 2018. (It was not fully clear how that official responded to the complaints, the article said.)

Beaser did not reply to a request for comment. “I am aware that there will be an independent investigation,” he told VAN. “I look forward to cooperating with it.”

Robert Beaser in 2014.Credit…Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

Paola Prestini, a composer and the co-founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn music nonprofit National Sawdust, said that she had experienced gender discrimination while studying composition at Juilliard beginning in 1994, when Beaser was chair of the composition department as well as her instructor, and that she believed she was far from the only woman there who did.

“Beaser was responsible for creating a toxic environment,” she said, also calling it “predatory” and adding that he “definitely hindered my career.”

The day before Beaser went on leave, a group called Composers Collective began collecting signatures for an open letter calling for him to be placed on leave until the investigation was complete. The letter now bears hundreds of signatures, including those of several leading lights of classical composition.

“Though we recognize and appreciate the need for due process,” the letter said, “the volume of allegations, testimony and supporting evidence of Beaser’s misconduct are undeniably unsettling. Until the investigation is resolved, Beaser’s presence in the Juilliard composition department could jeopardize the emotional well-being of students and inhibit a safe and healthy learning environment.”

Composers Collective informally came together more than a year ago to support victims of discrimination in the small, rarefied world of academic music composition, said one member, Missy Mazzoli, a composer and faculty member at the Mannes School of Music and at Bard College. She was offered admission to Juilliard’s composition program two decades ago, she said, but turned it down because of rumors of gender discrimination.

The VAN article made her think “of the hundreds of women who didn’t get in because there was no one to teach them,” she said, “or, like me, turned down the opportunity to study at the best school in the country.” She noted that mentors were important to composers beyond their school years, providing recommendations and “all the things you need to move a career forward.”

Juilliard’s investigation into Beaser comes several years into a reckoning with the ways in which powerful institutions have tolerated abuse by powerful and talented men. Most notably in the world of classical music, the Metropolitan Opera fired the celebrated conductor James Levine in 2018 after an investigation prompted by a New York Times report found evidence of “sexually abusive and harassing conduct.”

“Classical music as a whole tends to be a step or two behind the larger culture when it comes to both political and aesthetic issues,” said Timo Andres, a composer, pianist and Mannes faculty member who signed the open letter about Beaser. “There’s still a lot that needs to happen, that we’re rooting out or figuring out.”

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