As recently reported, Juilliard’s administration has removed Levine from an upcoming conducting engagement with the Juilliard Orchestra following a statement issued by the Juilliard Student Council. President Joseph Polisi has also issued a statement reminding all Juilliard community members of the school’s Sexual Misconduct and Adjudication Procedure and encouraging the reporting of any misconduct to the Title IX Coordinator or any Deputy.
These actions are necessary and are to be commended. It seems James Levine may never conduct at Juilliard again, and rightly so. And students must indeed be aware their institution’s leadership seeks to create a safe learning environment and does not tolerate sexual misconduct.
But if reporting and adjudication procedures alone were enough, we would not live in a world where sexual violence and abuse still thrive.
Numerous musicians, off the record or on, now admit they have been aware of Levine’s alleged sexually abusive behavior—and understood it to be a well-known open secret—for decades. We can’t help but reflect on the number of times Juilliard has engaged Levine as a performer and educator amid these pervasive rumors. Equally unsettling are the prestigious awards Juilliard has bestowed on Levine, including an Honorary Doctorate in 2000 and the President’s Medal in 2005, on the occasion of Juilliard’s Centennial.
Juilliard is not alone in this largesse and what seems to many a longstanding, willful disregard of Levine’s behavior and the irrevocable harm it has caused. Many major performing arts organizations have thus been complicit in sustaining a culture that enables celebrated artists to abuse vulnerable young people without repercussion.
These circumstances present a crisis of conscience for our field. Juilliard’s response, thus far, is not enough. President Polisi, in his book The Artist as Citizen, speaks of the vocation of the performing artist as leader and communicator of human values. As a universally respected arts leader and public intellectual, Polisi now has a unique opportunity to leverage the full power of his platform and create lasting change in building a culture of accountability. In his final year at Juilliard’s helm he has everything to gain by taking a truly principled stand.
Levine’s conduct should have been investigated decades ago, but our institutions and communities turned a blind eye. Now, four courageous, credible survivors of sexual violence have publicly detailed the violations and pain they experienced. Through whatever means necessary, challenging as they may be, Juilliard must examine its own complicity and lead the way for our Lincoln Center neighbors to do the same.
BM ’04, MM ’06, GD ’19