Canadian-born violinist Lara St. John made headlines this past July when The Philadelphia Inquirer published a 5,000 word exposé detailing St. John’s allegations of sexual abuse against former Curtis School of Music faculty member Jascha Brodsky. The article also contained allegations that St. John had told Curtis administrators of this abuse, first in 1986 and more recently in a letter she wrote to the school’s president in 2013.
The Daily spoke to St. John by telephone about the #MeToo movement, classical music, her allegations of abuse and others that have rocked this industry.
The Daily: How do you think the #MeToo movement has affected classical music as a whole?
St. John: I think pretty strongly in the past two and a half years. It started with Levine and then there were some other conductors like (Charles Dutoit) and then William Preucil in Cleveland. I came out with my allegations against my teacher in Curtis. I don’t think I would ever have been listened to back then. And I probably would have been blacklisted … I’m sure it still happens but hopefully those would-be perpetrators are shaking in their boots at this point.
TMD: Your allegations spoke to institutional culpability that extended a lot beyond one person. How has the structure of the industry at large dealt with this?
St. John: I don’t think the institutions have been dealing well with it. I think every school is hoping that this will just go away, that we’ll just forget about it. It’s like the anonymous commenters that are just like, “Get on with it. Go on with your life.” And it’s just like, “No!”
TMD: How have people who don’t have an institutional tie and don’t have a reason to be scared been responding to you?
St. John: I sort of became a hotline this past summer. I heard from a lot of people for a couple of months. People are afraid because it’s their livelihood and if they do come out with their name, it’s still possible that presenters or orchestral representatives will blacklist them. People will say to me, “Look I’ll talk to you but it has to be off the record.” Of course I won’t ever out them but it’s really upsetting. It shouldn’t have to be that way. That’s what I want to change and that’s what hasn’t ever changed.
If you look at Placido Domingo, for example, who was one of the latest who was accused of harassment — everyone’s known that. It was an open secret. But only two of the many women came out with their own name. It was something like 10 percent of (the women) came out with their name and it hurt the other 90 percent.
The Daily: You came forward so publicly with this allegation and you refused to stop speaking about it. How has your role in the industry evolved?
St. John: People talk to me a lot, which is why I am working on a documentary about this. I feel like people will speak to me long before they will speak to some interviewer like you or Katie Couric or one of those people. It’s an understanding that I have that maybe the average person doesn’t have.
I have yet to see what’s going to happen. It’s totally probable that there’s going to be some dude in Kentucky that doesn’t want to hire me because I said this or that, but in that case I don’t want to work with someone who won’t work with me because I was raped as a child.
The Daily: Right.
St. John: (Laughing) And I shouldn’t have said Kentucky! I mean any place, of course.
The Daily: If you look back ten years and then come back to the present, what has changed over the past ten years? Do you think institutions have made changes?
St. John: There’s no question that these institutions wouldn’t have changed without the pressure of the press …. Without sunlight as the disinfectant nothing would have changed. They would keep trying to pretend that nothing happened. And I think that people are less and less willing to allow that to happen.
And this is not to say that only women are abused by their teachers, but women have had a lot more recognition in the past ten years. And as women get more chances these things start to change. You see a lot more women composers being recorded, being performed. Women conductors are (becoming more common) as well. It’s not great but it’s a start. And it’s much, much better than it was ten years ago.
The Daily: And here we’ve had the allegations against David Daniels and Stephen Shipps and we’re in the same state as Larry Nassar. How do you think education has been affected by this too?
St. John: I know when I was a kid there was this mentality, especially in music, that your teacher is God. I think it’s changing now, especially because a lot more teachers are women, especially in the violin world. If you look at Curtis right now, for example, (many) of the teachers are women. And none of the teachers think “in order to teach you I need to break you down psychologically.”
I’m hoping that, given what’s come out in the past two years, it will scare potential perpetrators from doing these things. And windows in doors — I mean how hard is it to put windows in doors? These are simple steps that need to be taken.
The Daily: And what do you see going forward? If this movement were to continue to evolve, how do you hope it would?
St. John: In music … we start so young. It’s all one-on-one and it’s so intense and it’s so much practice from such a young age. It’s so ripe for abuse. I just hope we can keep future 14-year-olds from having this happen to them. And if it does happen — when it does happen — they won’t be ignored, and mocked, for what someone did to them. I want people to be listened to and I want people to be believed.