The Cleveland Orchestra has fired two of its star musicians following accusations of sexual misconduct — including with multiple students — that have come to light in recent months. The two men are William Preucil, the Orchestra’s concertmaster and lead violinist, and Massimo La Rosa, its principal trombonist.
According to an independent investigation commissioned by the Orchestra, “both men used their positions of prominence in the Orchestra to entice women into situations in which Preucil and La Rosa engaged in sexual misconduct,” and then “relied on that imbalance of power to ensure that those women remained silent.”
La Rosa also served as a trombone instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He resigned Wednesday night in the wake of the investigators' report and his termination from the Orchestra.
In mid-August, the Orchestra hired attorneys from the New York-based law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to investigate Preucil’s tenure at the orchestra. Debevoise was instructed to look into any allegations of sexual misconduct at the Orchestra.
Debevoise relied on documentary evidence and interviewed more than 70 people including Preucil, La Rosa, victims of misconduct, current and former Orchestra members, and others.
The Allegations Against Preucil
The report’s authors concluded that Preucil “engaged in sexual misconduct or sexually harassing behavior with at least 12 female musicians while he was employed by the Orchestra.”
“The earliest instance of misconduct directly reported to the investigators took place in 1996, and the latest reported incident took place in 2007. The youngest victim was 17,” according to the report’s findings.
The report notes women had fears of retribution for rejecting Preucil’s advances. While the investigators said they couldn’t confirm specific negative career actions, they said the women's fears were reasonable given his standing in the classical music community. The report also says several women “chose not to audition for or accept positions with the Orchestra as a result of Preucil’s presence there.”
In an interview with the law firm, Preucil admitted to three incidents of sexual contact with female students that were “wrong,” but denied other acts of misconduct.
The Allegations Against La Rosa
Debevoise & Plimpton's investigation brought to light allegations against La Rosa.
The reported incidents of sexual misconduct by the trombonist took place between 2010 and 2012. The youngest victim was 17.
The investigators found that under the guise of breathing exercises, La Rosa would touch women “inappropriately both over and under their clothes. … He also partially removed students’ clothing or his own clothing during lessons.”
In an interview with investigators, La Rosa admitted to “inappropriate behavior with a student during a lesson at the University of Iowa” in 2011.
The report details concerns by two unnamed universities about the Iowa incident. One university requested that the trombonist “not be permitted one-on-one contact with students on its campus.” The second university agreed La Rosa would not hold private lessons.
In 2017, the University of Iowa banned La Rosa from its campus.
The report also concludes that La Rosa “engaged in at least six additional instances of sexual misconduct while employed with the Orchestra.”
Orchestra: Not Fully Aware of Allegations
The Orchestra says neither its management nor its board “at the time had full knowledge of the incidents uncovered in our investigation,” but it admits the available information may have been worthy of an investigation.
The current leadership of the Orchestra condemned the behavior of the two men.
“Mr. Preucil’s and Mr. La Rosa’s conduct was inappropriate, appalling and inconsistent with the expectations we have for the members of our Orchestra, our staff and our board,” said Richard Smucker, president of the Musical Arts Association, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Orchestra.
The report cites a 2007 Cleveland Scene article alleging Preucil engaged in sexual misconduct at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The investigators found “neither former Orchestra management nor former Board leadership took steps to investigate or otherwise act upon the sexual misconduct allegations in the Cleveland Scene article.” They conclude, “Former Orchestra leadership should have done more to investigate the reports.”
In a press release Wednesday, the board said it had revised its anti-harassment policy which “expressly prohibits all forms and gradations of sexual misconduct and sexually harassing behavior. Clear consequences are outlined for anyone who violates the policy.”
The orchestra has also created an independent confidential hotline for anonymous reports of misconduct, and trustees must refer accusations of misconduct for investigation.
The Lead-up to the Investigation
The Orchestra announced the firings Wednesday afternoon, three months after the Washington Post published an investigation into sexual misconduct in the classical music world. In that article, a former violin student, who Preucil taught during a stint at Miami's New World Symphony in 1998, describes an incident in which she says Preucil invited her to his hotel room, proceeded to forcibly kiss her, and tried to push her onto his bed.
On July 27, the day after the Post story came out, the Orchestra suspended Preucil, promising to investigate the accusations detailed in the article. Preucil had been the Orchestra's concertmaster since 1995. Soon after, the Cleveland Institute of Music, where Preucil was a Distinguished Professor of Violin, announced that he had resigned from the school.
In mid-September, the Orchestra announced yet another suspension as a result of its investigation: its lead trombonist, Massimo La Rosa, who has been with the Cleveland Orchestra since 2007. The Orchestra did not detail the reason for La Rosa’s suspension at the time. The Cleveland Institute of Music, where La Rosa taught, suspended him in mid-October.
In early October, the Plain Dealer published a story containing additional accusations of sexual misconduct against Preucil.
This is a developing story, and we will be adding to it as we uncover new information. This story has been updated to reflect Massimo La Rosa's resignation from the Cleveland Institute of Music.