Not long ago I was having dinner with some reasonably substantial people in the orchestra world. And as often happens when people inside the business get to know me, the conversation turned to critics. Why, I’m regularly asked, do critics…and here we can fill in the blank with whatever odd behavior some critic recently exhibited. (Though the question people really want to ask is a lot simpler, and eventually they get around to it: Why don’t critics know how the music business works?)
This time, though, my dinner partners wanted to ask something much more dangerous. Why, they asked, do critics so often and so strongly praise a musician widely said to be a pedophile? Though “widely said,” in this context, isn’t putting the case strongly enough. This musician is an international celebrity, one of the most famous names in the business. He’s wildly popular in New York and elsewhere, and has worked for years with one of the most powerful institutions in classical music.
And yet people in the business don’t just whisper rumors that he’s a pedophile. They take for granted that he is, and that his pedophilia takes especially disgusting forms. This man forces himself on boys, people confidently state. He’s been arrested for it, they add, and on more than one occasion has been bought out of trouble, allegedly with enormous sums of money. Since everybody knows this, my dinner companions asked, why do critics (especially in his home city) so strongly praise the man? Shouldn’t they deplore him and expose him?
This question was asked very seriously, with a lot of moral fervor. I had to explain that neither I nor my critic colleagues — or, for that matter, my dinner companions — have any evidence for all these charges. We don’t know the dates or places of the supposed events, or the names of anyone involved. In all my years in the business, despite all the conversations I’ve had on this subject, I’ve never spoken to anyone with firsthand knowledge of these things, or even to anyone who claimed to know someone with firsthand knowledge.
That puts a journalist in a tough position. You can’t just write a story saying, “X is a pedophile — everybody says so.” You have to name your sources, and show where they got their information. You need hard facts — documentary evidence (arrest records, perhaps), or else eyewitness reports from people who’ll let you print, with their names attached, that they saw something — saw a child molested, saw the musician in police custody, know the parents of a molested child, once worked for a corporate CEO who ended one of these affairs with money, and who once came into the office and indiscreetly said, “I just paid $5 million to get charges dropped against X. Don’t tell anyone!”
This wouldn’t be easy; to find these sources (if they could be found at all) might take months of work, and even then you might never persuade them to speak on the record. It’s no wonder no music journalist has written this story.
And yet I think it could be written, by someone who isn’t a music journalist, but instead is an experienced investigative reporter. We’re not talking here about military secrets; if these things really happened, eventually somebody will talk. I don’t claim to have much investigative experience, but I might start with a major orchestra that not too long ago considered this musician for an important job. (With what result I won’t say.) Some board members were said to oppose the appointment on moral grounds. I could call each member of the board, in search of someone so outraged that he or she might talk. (And then, of course, there are staff and board members, past and present, from everywhere this musician has already worked; employees, past and present, of his management; and, if we learned the place where any of the alleged events had happened, the police department wherever that might be).
But even without a full investigative study, here’s a question worth asking. Never, in all my years in this business, have I talked about all this with anyone who thinks the stories aren’t true. Why, then, do we treat this musician with such respect? If we praise his performances, why don’t we do it with reserve? How can we support him for major appointments, as many of us have done? Including me, I have to say; I need to rethink my own behavior, just as much as anybody else.
One thing at stake here is classical music’s credibility; our need, which I think is very urgent, to show we live in the same world as everybody else. So enough with the artistic piety, the pretense of loftiness, the wish to be judged by higher standards than those of everyday life. Which is more important — the glory of classical music, or the safety of our children?