In 2018, the tables began to turn on several eminent classical musicians accused of sexual abuse and harassment.
As titans of the industry like James Levine and Charles Dutoit saw their legacies roiled by revelations of abusive conduct, many of the country’s musical institutions launched into difficult conversations about some of the most powerful men in the field.
Portland violinist Raffaela Kalmar is part of a cohort of musicians who spoke out about sexual abuse by the eminent concertmaster William Preucil. Concertmaster to the Cleveland Orchestra and a longtime instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Preucil was named in a July Washington Post article about abuse in the classical music world.
Kalmar said when she saw the article, “My first thought was, ‘It’s about time.’” Reflecting on her own experiences as an Institute of Music freshman, she made the decision to speak to the Cleveland Plain Dealer about Preucil’s conduct toward her during a late-spring lesson in 2003.
When Kalmar came to Cleveland, she already had a connection to Preucil, having studied for years with his mother. Doris Preucil is a renowned teacher who set the standard for music education at the Suzuki method school she founded in Iowa City, Iowa, and strongly recommended William for Kalmar’s college-level studies.
“I knew him as a teacher,” Kalmar said. “He would come to the [Preucil] School. At that point, I hadn’t had an individual conversation with him.”
But Kalmar said she was only a year into her studies when she got firsthand experience of how her mentor’s son manipulated his young female students. One day she turned to find him lying on the ground looking up her skirt during a lesson.
“He put his hand on my shoulder and said, with a kind of sly smile, ‘But you won’t tell anyone, right?’ I don’t think I could even manage to stammer out, ‘Yes.’ And then we went on with the lesson,” Kalmar said.
While there was never any doubt in her mind what had happened, Kalmar said she was initially reluctant to tell her story in public. But when violinist Zeneba Bowers broke the silence by publicly accusing Preucil of an assault, Kalmar said she decided to speak on the record.
“My silence,” Kalmar said, “was keeping him [in the] clear.”
Since the accusations of Kalmar and others became public, Preucil was fired from the Cleveland Orchestra, resigned his position at the Institute of Music and experienced other sanctions.
The institute sent OPB the following statement:
“The Institute’s administration understands the weight of its responsibility to students, and is following the protections and requirements that Title IX affords to all parties. Every day, CIM cultivates and defends an environment where students and employees are comfortable sharing concerns in the belief they will be taken seriously.
“CIM does not tolerate sexual harassment of its employees or students by fellow employees, students or outside associates of CIM. CIM’s policy is to provide for students, faculty and staff an environment that is free of sexual harassment and misconduct. All CIM employees are required to regularly complete training on preventing sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace.
“In recent years, CIM has refocused and formalized its efforts to identify instances of sexual harassment and enforce its policies regarding it. CIM has adopted clearer policies and procedures for reporting this type of activity, as well as enforced regular training requirements to ensure understanding and compliance among our staff and students.”
In October, the Cleveland Orchestra published a 12-page account of its own investigation into Preucil and another orchestra member fired this year. Executive director André Gremillet’s public statement, (which can be read in full here) says in part, “We want to thank the victims for having the courage to come forward, and we are truly sorry about the reprehensible behavior of the two members of The Cleveland Orchestra that caused them so much harm … . Our community is rightfully proud of the world-wide reputation The Cleveland Orchestra has for its musical excellence. We want to be equally known for the caliber of the environment in which that music is created.”
Efforts to reach Preucil for comment were not successful.
For her part, Kalmar said she’s mostly satisfied with the sanctions against Preucil.
“But I think it’s hard to account for what many of his female students lost,” Kalmar said.
She said generations of female CIM students may spend years fending off suspicions about their advancement, in light of Preucil’s unscrupulous conduct.
As for the institutions that allowed Preucil to abuse women unchecked for decades, Kalmar said the message to victims was clear: “Here’s this star teacher, and someone complaining. Let’s get rid of the problem.”