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Just in: RNCM renames piano prize after abuse allegations

We hear from an ex-student that the college has decided to rename the Ryszard Bakst Prize. It will be known in future as the RNCM prize for Chopin.

Bakst is one of several ex-teachers at the Manchester college who have been named by ex-students as serial sex abusers and are under police investigation. Bakst died in 1999.

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  1. On balance I think this was a wise decisision.

  2. Malcolm James says:

    I am slightly worried that this smacks of a rush to judgement before the facts have been investigated. If Bakst is shown to be a serial abuser, by all means rename the competition, but until then he must be presumed innocent. However, any presumption of innocence and respect for due process seems to be getting lost in the current fevered atmosphere, which is coming to resemble a modern-day witch hunt.

  3. Marcus Davison says:

    Similar, but not quite the same, are the stories of pressure allegedly (but unsuccessfully) exerted by The Establishment on the University of York and the Royal Academy of Music to drop the ‘Sir” from their “Sir Jack Lyons” concert venues when Lyons was stripped of his knighthood following conviction in the Guinness trial. The difference is the lack of any connection between Lyons’ wrongdoing and the objects of his philanthropy: it was not as if, for instance, the philanthropy had been directly funded by the ill-gotten gains in question (if indeed there were any such in the Guinness case, which is doubtful).

    But a further similarity with the Lyons’ case is the RNCM’s rush to judgment. The European court subsequently declared his conviction unfair on the grounds that he had had no right to remain silent during the separate DTI investigation which preceded the criminal trial, and he had therefore been forced to incriminate himself. Conversely, Bakst, being dead, has no right to defend himself.

    No easy answers.

  4. Concerned parent says:

    No easy answers indeed, but would the same question arise with Jimmy Saville? I suspect that the evidence against Bakst is pretty overwhelming – coming from numerous sources – so what exactly is RNCM supposed to wait for? As you say there can be no trial and in any case an institution is not required to act according to the innocent until presumed guilty standard that exists in criminal law. RNCM has to safeguard its own standing, and there is no doubt that the prize has been brought into disrepute and would be controversial for all the wrong reasons if his name continued to be attached to it. I don’t think RNCM had any choice actually – what would they have said if potential entrants, judges or audience members decided to boycott the prize/its award in support of the victims who have spoken out? Given the huge response to Ian’s petition, this must have been a possibility RNCM considered. I also think it’s really important that music institutions waste no time at all in sending out a very clear message that there is zero tolerance for abusive behaviour, either by those who commit it or those in positions of authority who ‘for the sake of the institution etc’ seek to shield the abusers from being held publicly accountable for their actions. Music institutions should be aware that they are under intense scrutiny at the moment, and attempts to be evasive or hide behind fears of a witch hunt are liable to backfire as they will simply fuel suspicions that they have not moved on from the old culture where managers and governors sought to cover their own backs at the expense of their students.

  5. Malcolm James says:

    Unfortunately saying that people must not hide behind fears of a witch hunt is precisely how you get one. Someone only has to shout ‘witch’ or ‘abuse’ and everyone starts jumping around.

  6. Concerned parent says:

    Malcolm James – I don’t understand what you are saying. I don’t think there has been a witch hunt over Bakst. The fact that other teachers are now under scrutiny and an atmosphere has been created in which victims feel able to speak out because they think that for the first time what they have to say will be heard and taken seriously must be a good thing. And it’s long overdue.

    The fact is that instrumental teachers at music schools have been under far less scrutiny than teachers at any other school in the UK (with the possible exception of ballet schools). Their lessons are not inspected by Ofsted or ISI (which in any case is part of a trade/lobbying organisation for independent schools). They do not have to have any kind of training at all in child pedagogy or education – the assumption being that if they are themselves a great player, they will be a great teacher, especially if they have a track record of producing “stars”. What happens is that these people make up the teaching side of it as they go along. If they are reflective, interested in their pupils and able to learn from them, they may become sensitive, responsive teachers – however many simply fall back on the way they themselves were taught, which is how some very arrogant, old-fashioned and frankly sadistic attitudes have been able to survive in 21st century instrumental teaching. Schools anxious to retain instrumental teachers may put down problems between a pupil and teacher X to a lack of fit between teacher and student, or a lack of effort or talent by the student. While this may of course sometimes be true, it is not always the whole truth about what has gone wrong in a relationship, and may mask abuse – where that is present in whatever form, the longterm effects on the student who “didn’t get on” with teacher X can be very damaging. A number of the 1000+ signatories to Ian Pace’s petition testify to this.

  7. Malcolm James says:

    The RNCM may have a lot of evidence to back it up, but it’s just that in the current climate they might feel pressured to do it even if they didn’t simply to prove that they take this sort of thing seriously. As Robert Fitzpatrick wrote, the distance between omerta and a witch hunt is dangerously short.

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