Update as of Dec. 18: About 450 composers, musicians, educators and arts leaders signed an open letter, published on Medium, to the administration, calling on the Juilliard School to take disciplinary action against composer Robert Beaser for alleged “decades-long abuse of women and power.” The reaction to charges of abuse and harassment were published by the classical music magazine VAN last week, and today by IRW, a contributor to the investigation. Beaser is now on leave from teaching while the school launches an investigation.
NEW YORK — In the spring of 2001, Suzanne Farrin auditioned for the Juilliard School’s prestigious composition program. The night after her audition, she says that Christopher Rouse, a faculty member at the time, tried to kiss her. “I sort of twirled out of his arms and ran away,” Farrin said.
The stakes of a doctoral audition to Juilliard are high. A composer will need to have been studying classical music since their teens at the latest, to have two degrees from prestigious universities, to have gotten good recordings from (near)-professional ensembles of their music and to have won prizes.
Getting into Juilliard rather than even a slightly less prestigious school could mean the difference between being able to teach composition later as an academic or giving private lessons in piano.
Farrin knew that she wanted to study with Rouse. She had traveled to New York in the months before her audition to show him her music. She had read a book about counterpoint that Rouse suggested.
“You went to Juilliard to study with one person,” Farrin said. “And that person needed to accept you in order to go there.”
Farrin knew that her pedagogical relationship with Rouse was ruined after she rejected his advances. Farrin had agreed to join Rouse for dinner to discuss her audition. But after he tried to kiss her, she questioned why Rouse had previously expressed interest in her music.
Farrin had recently gotten married. She recalled that Rouse had told her he was “very negative about marriage.”
“I would go back and forth in the months afterward thinking, ‘Oh, that’s how he operates,’ ” Farrin said, “or, ‘Oh, he’s trying to find a graduate student girlfriend and he wanted me to be that.’ ”
Farrin’s application to Juilliard was rejected the day after her dinner with Rouse. She still does not know if this decision was based on her music or her response to Rouse’s advances.
IRW spoke with three people that Farrin said she told of her experience with Rouse in 2001. All three independently corroborated the consistency of Farrin’s account.
Farrin’s allegations are not the only previously unreported incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct uncovered by IRW in a six-month investigation of Juilliard’s composition department. Robert Beaser, the department’s former chair and current faculty member, faces multiple, previously-undisclosed allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct from the late 1990s and 2000s.
The allegations against Beaser range from repeated sexual advances to sexual relationships with students. Other young composers in the department believe these relationships influenced Beaser’s decision-making as department chair.
IRW found that Juilliard’s Title IX coordinator was made aware of these allegations in 2018. It is unclear what steps the coordinator took to investigate them at the time.
IRW also found that multiple Juilliard faculty and staff have been made aware of allegations against Beaser since the early 2000s. Samuel Adler, a former department faculty member and current professor emeritus, acknowledged that he had heard of these allegations.
“It is true that some women did not feel comfortable with some of my colleagues,” Adler said. He declined to discuss specifics, citing his continued close relationships with other members of the faculty.
In a statement, Juilliard spokesperson Rosalie Contreras wrote that “in order to review new information” raised by VAN and IRW’s reporting, “Juilliard has retained an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation.”
In an email, Beaser wrote, “I am aware that there will be an independent investigation. I look forward to cooperating with it.”
Though Rouse died in 2019 and allegations against Beaser stem from the early 2000s, women who were in the department at the time said that these allegations continue to affect the new music industry.
“There are still people teaching there that have this tainted history,” Vivian Fung, a former student and faculty member, told IRW. “We need to tell the truth about what happened.”
These are not the only recent allegations of sexual misconduct involving the Juilliard community. Earlier this year, a former employee brought sexual misconduct allegations against Julian Wachner, a New York-based music director who participated in an event at Juilliard.
According to a 2020 survey conducted by the school, 11 percent of respondents indicated knowledge of a sexual assault that took place in a Juilliard-related context. Four percent of respondents said they had been a victim of sexual harassment at a Juilliard program or activity. (Though the school completes these every other year, Juilliard has not yet released the results of its 2022 survey.)
“The Juilliard School is committed to providing a safe and supportive environment for all members of our school community,” Contreras wrote. “Sexual discrimination and sexual harassment have no place in our school community. We take all such allegations extremely seriously.”
Farrin was part of an “alliance of anonymous women composers” that sent a letter to The New York Times in 2019 about allegations against members of the Juilliard faculty. After interviewing multiple women, The Times decided not to move forward with an article about these allegations. (IRW obtained a copy of this letter, and further communications between the women and a Times reporter.)
The women wrote in their letter to The Times that “Juilliard has a long history of tolerating and covering up sexual misconduct and discrimination. Until the school publicly acknowledges and redresses this, its claim of zero-tolerance rings hollow.”
Laura Karpman, an alumna of Juilliard and a noted film composer, was also involved in this letter. “I wouldn’t even call it an open secret. I’d just call it open,” Karpman told IRW. “These women feel incredibly vulnerable. If they come forward they have no protection… They have no guarantees that anyone will listen.”
Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, who was also involved in the letter, never attended Juilliard but said she was aware of the allegations.
“Juilliard had this outsized responsibility. When you pride yourself on being the best in the country or in the world, then people look to you for their standards and expectations,” Snider said. “Teachers at other schools knew about it, they made references to it. It became a joke, a constant punchline.”
* * *
Melinda Wagner became the first woman on the Juilliard composition department faculty in 2016. In fall 2018, she also became the first woman to be the department’s chair. Wagner stepped into a position that Robert Beaser had held since 1994 after joining the faculty in 1993. (Wagner did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment for this article.)
A female student composer in the department in 2018 said that Wagner helped change the department’s culture. This student asked to remain anonymous, citing fears of professional retribution given how recently she left the department.
“Wagner has been so wonderful to me, such a great supporter,” the student said. “It was so stuffy and male before she got there and she really changed things.”
On January 11, 2018, approximately nine months before the planned change from Beaser to Wagner as department chair, Juilliard’s Title IX office contacted a former composition student from the early 2000s. “I received a confidential report,” Camille Pajor, the school’s Title IX coordinator, wrote in an email obtained by IRW. “You were referenced as an individual who may have more information about the matter.”
That former student asked not to be identified in this article, citing fears of professional retribution. Though the information they shared with the Title IX officer is not described in the emails—the former student said they believed that Juilliard personnel intentionally avoided putting this in writing—they said that they told the Title IX officer about Beaser’s alleged attempts to initiate sexual relationships with at least two students.
The student also told the Title IX officer that they believed this affected decisions Beaser made as chair.
Pajor has since left Juilliard. She did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment for this article.
This former student does not know what prompted Juilliard to contact them in 2018, over a decade after they graduated from the department.
According to emails obtained by IRW, a second former composition student was also in communication with Juilliard’s Title IX office regarding allegations against Beaser in January 2018. This second student asked to remain anonymous in this article, citing fears of professional retribution. IRW spoke to two individuals familiar with the former student’s allegations at the time. Both independently corroborated the consistency of her account.
In a draft of a statement she sent to Juilliard, this former composition student described repeated sexual advances made by Beaser in lessons. She wrote that lessons with Beaser took place in his apartment off campus. (Four sources familiar with Beaser’s teaching at the time also said that he frequently taught students in his apartment.)
The former student described one instance in which Beaser offered her a promising career opportunity before attempting to obtain sexual favors in return.
“What will you do for me?” she said Beaser asked.
“I knew that composition was a man’s field—I never had any allusions to it being different— and I knew how to play. So I sucked it up, and dealt with the reality as best as I could,” the student wrote in the draft of a statement to the school obtained by IRW.
The student wrote that in the early 2000s, a few years after she entered the department, “stories about him rose. I was summoned to the school lawyer where she asked me questions about him, and all I remember was wanting to again, run. I had not come to Juilliard to be part of this kind of environment.”
Four of the women interviewed for this article said that allegations against Beaser were an “open secret” when they studied in the department from the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The student who was in the department in 2018 said that numerous Juilliard faculty and students alluded to the allegations against Beaser while she was at the school.
She also recalled one instance in which an important figure in the larger New York music world asked if she felt comfortable with Beaser.
“It was a question that was posed to me multiple times,” the student said, “whether I felt safe studying with him and if I heard about his history with female students.”
The student said she “didn’t personally have any problems,” though “people would bring it up pretty often.”
* * *
Suzanne Farrin said that she called Juilliard’s admissions office days after the school rejected her application in 2001.
“I still had a naive idea,” Farrin said, “that people cared and that institutions tried to do the right thing.”
Farrin identified herself at the beginning of her call. She said she wanted to report “an incident with a Juilliard faculty member.”
“‘If you’re calling about Professor Rouse,’” Farrin said the staff member replied, “‘he’s a big supporter of your music.’”
Farrin quickly got off the phone with the staff member. Two decades later, she said she still wonders if this staff member knew of Rouse’s attempt to kiss her.
“They knew who I was calling about despite the fact that I had not mentioned his name,” Farrin said. “They were prepared for my call.”
Juilliard’s Title IX policy from 2001 is not readily available. But Juilliard’s current sexual misconduct policy differentiates between an “initial inquiry” into an individual’s behavior and a “formal complaint”—a Title IX investigation begins only when the Title IX office receives a formal complaint.
IRW could not confirm if the two students’ 2018 complaints about Beaser were classified as “formal complaints” or “initial inquiries.” As such, IRW could not confirm if formal Title IX investigations were prompted by these complaints.
Both former students who communicated with the Title IX office in 2018 said that they do not know what steps Juilliard took to investigate their allegations. Though they did not hear of any investigative findings prompted by their reports, they knew that Wagner replaced Beaser as the department chair the following September.
Contreras, the Juilliard spokesperson, said, “The decision to pursue a change in chair predates the investigation” in 2018. (Juilliard has changed president, provost and dean of music since 2018, complicating the school’s efforts to prove the nature of this change.)
Contreras added, “Allegations that were previously reported to The Juilliard School were handled according to school procedures at the time,” citing the school’s 2018 Title IX policy. She declined to comment further, writing that “confidentiality is paramount to the integrity of our process, and discussing cases could discourage individuals from coming forward with their experiences.”
Elizabeth Abdnour, a former Title IX investigator and attorney, said that Juilliard should have launched their own investigation into these allegations in 2018.
Nothing in the Title IX guidelines says that “if you don’t have an initial complaint, there’s nothing to look at,” Abdnour said. “You still need to address that if you have multiple complaints coming in about one professor.”
Juilliard’s institutional culture is also atypical in that professors cannot obtain tenure. Everyone in the school works under a one-, two- or three-year contract.
Abdnour said these contracts probably offer professors less protection in a Title IX investigation.
“With the tenure system, you usually have to afford someone a process to adjudicate what has occurred before they can be removed,” Abdnour said. “But you usually have a section in a contract that would allow the employer to void the contract early if something has happened.”
It is unclear if Juilliard’s faculty contracts include this provision. Juilliard did not clarify when Beaser last signed a contract with the school or what the term was for that contract.
“Juilliard’s Sexual Misconduct Policy applies equally to all faculty, students, and staff, regardless of employment status,” Contreras told IRW. “The Policy and Adjudication Procedure outlines our reporting, investigation, adjudication and appeal processes and provides fair treatment of all individuals involved.”
* * *
Eight women who attended Juilliard in the 1990s and 2000s alleged that they faced an additional hurdle to their composition education: They said that John Corigliano, a prominent composer and faculty member since 1991, almost never accepted female students.
Cristina Spinei, a pre-college, undergraduate and master’s composition student at Juilliard from 2002 to 2008, recalled speaking with male students about this unofficial policy.
“It was said like a joke,” Spinei said. “‘You couldn’t study with him’ or something.”
To investigate these eight women’s allegations, IRW compiled a list of approximately 190 former composition students listed in recital programs and other archival documents in Juilliard’s publicly available online archive. (Juilliard declined IRW’s request for access to complete graduate records.)
IRW then found websites, biographical statements and other pages created by these students that listed their pronouns and former teachers. This confirmed that only one female-identifying student composer listed in archival documents between 1997 and 2021 currently describes Corigliano as their former teacher.
For comparison, 28 male-identifying student composers named in archival documents from 1997 to 2021 currently list Corigliano as a former teacher. In the larger department, 31 of the 190 students named in archival documents are female.
Contreras, the Juilliard spokesperson, wrote that “Juilliard does not have, and has not had, a written or unwritten policy or practice pertaining to women in John Corigliano’s studio.”
In an email asking about his studio at Juilliard from the late 1990s to early 2010s, Corigliano said, “I do recall that, during that period, I had one female student in my studio who was very gifted.” He denied he treated female students differently and noted that he taught two female students in his six-person studio this past year.
“It saddens me to read that you have been told by eight female students, formerly at The Juilliard School, that there was an unwritten policy by which they perceived that I favored the men over the women,” Corigliano wrote. “Such a position was neither my preference nor my policy. I have taken great joy in working with many very gifted young women and men in my long teaching career.”
In an interview, Adler, the former department faculty member, said that Corigliano did not take female students “in the beginning.” He did not clarify when this practice changed.
Karpman, the film composer and Juilliard alumna, noted that being admitted to Juilliard’s prestigious program is an early career highlight for many young composers. She said that it builds their self-confidence. But she added that this is impossible in an environment where some students cannot comfortably study with specific professors.
“When you’re young—and even when you’re not young—you blame yourself. You don’t know that he doesn’t take female students,” Karpman said. “It’s institutionally aided sexism that is an ax to the body of confidence you build as a student. And then when you see others being buoyed and rewarded and uplifted. All these things create an ecosystem of depression and denigration for female composers.”
Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum, a department alumna, said she knew of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Beaser while she was at the school. She also heard that Corigliano did not take female students. “Less than half of the faculty were people that we felt we could safely study with,” she said.
Juilliard has taken steps recently to increase diversity. In 2018, the school launched their Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (EDIB) Initiative. The school partnered with National Sawdust to launch the composition department-specific Blueprint Bridge Fellowship, a program that pairs women composer mentors with students and alumni.
Though Juilliard’s current composition department is much more diverse and open to women, Karpman believes Juilliard needs to add women to their upper administration. (Juilliard’s president, provost and dean of music are all men.) “You have to have a place where women feel that they can go to someone in authority,” she said.
Kroll-Rosenbaum emphasized that these events continue to affect the industry. “This is not deep history. We’re not looking at the 18th century,” she said. “There’s this idea that whoever is on faculty is part of the canon. The implications are massive. It’s why we don’t see female faculty at so many institutions.”
Fung believes that Juilliard needs to contend with its past. “The truth needs to come out,” she said. “We have to shed light on the fact that this occurred. We have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
In the draft of her statement, the second former student contacted by the Title IX office in 2018 spoke of her continued struggle with her experiences at Juilliard.
“I feel anger for putting my 20-year self in a situation where I could not succeed,” she wrote. “Anger for the years lost. Anger for the women who were further marginalized because of a school’s decision to not treat women fairly.”
Sammy Sussman is a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia Journalism School. He is a former intern at the Investigative Reporting Workshop and a graduate of the University of Michigan.