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Two more women accuse Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil of sexual misconduct

October 7, 2018

Two more women accuse Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil of sexual misconduct

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The list of allegations against Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil remains unverified, but is getting longer.

While the orchestra continues to investigate one woman’s allegations of sexual misconduct by Preucil, two other women have told The Plain Dealer the violinist engaged in similar behavior with them.

Preucil, who remains a suspended member of the orchestra, did not reply to several e-mails requesting comment. An orchestra spokesman said the group’s investigation is ongoing. 

The two new accounts are similar to the experience of Nashville Symphony violinist Zeneba Bowers, first reported in July in The Washington Post.

“I started shaking [when I read the Post article], because it was so similar to my experience,” said Emilia Mettenbrink, a substitute violinist with the Minnesota Opera, one of two women to speak on the record with The Plain Dealer. “It meant a great deal to me that [Bowers] spoke up in that way.”

Like Bowers, Mettenbrink alleges an encounter with Preucil in a Miami hotel room, in September 2005. At the time, she was 26 and a new member of the New World Symphony, an orchestra for young professionals, and Preucil, she said, was at New World giving master classes and private lessons.

Her one scheduled lesson with Preucil went forward without incident, she said. Then, citing lack of space at the school, Preucil offered her a second lesson, in his hotel room. Nothing about the offer struck her as risky, she said. On the contrary, she thought she was lucky.

A second lesson “was unheard of,” Mettenbrink said. “There was no doubt in my mind this was an excellent opportunity for me to gain more knowledge.”

For a time, it was. When she went to leave, however, Preucil asked about some jewelry she was wearing, asked her to sit down, and then grabbed her and “stuck his tongue down my throat,” Mettenbrink said.

Mettenbrink said she broke free of Preucil’s grasp, retrieved her violin, and bolted into an elevator. “I remember there were mirrors in the elevator,” she said. “I couldn’t look at myself.”

New to South Florida and the New World Symphony, Mittenbrink had no close friends to turn to. Instead, she chose to confide in a friendly fellow orchestra member, who urged her to report the incident to management.

She did, she said. Like her, though, the symphony’s personnel manager was unsure how to proceed, Mettenbrink said.

According to Mettenbrink, the only official response she received at the time was an offer by the orchestra a few days later to put her in touch with Preucil by phone, which she declined. “I just didn’t want to talk to him,” she said.

The New World Symphony did not return a request for comment or documentation of any statement Mettenbrink may have made to the organization.

As Mettenbrink saw it, she had only two choices, short of pressing the issue and branding herself at New World as a Preucil accuser: ”[P]ut it away or fail,” she said.

She chose the former. She stayed away from orchestra rehearsals for a few days, told a few colleagues, and waited for Preucil to leave Miami, she said. For several weeks, she couldn’t even bring herself to tell her family. She survived by staying busy, distracting herself.

“It just gave me the sense that nobody took it seriously or cared much,” Mettenbrink said. “I felt like nobody was prepared at that time.”

Violinist Raffaela Kalmar recalled an incident when she was 19 and just finishing her freshman year at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where Preucil served on the faculty.

At the start of a private lesson in Preucil’s CIM studio in late May or early June 2003, Kalmar said, she looked down after unpacking her instrument and found Preucil lying face-up on the ground with his head between her legs.

“He was on the floor, looking up my skirt,” said Kalmar, now a member of the Pacific Northwest Ballet orchestra in Seattle. “He said, ‘I just want to see what’s up there.’ ”

Kalmar said she believes her “childish” reaction warded off any further advances. By giving Preucil “nothing to go on,” she said, she kept the incident from escalating into a physical encounter.

Kalmar said she’d heard from other students about incidents involving Preucil, and was on her guard.

“I knew it had happened to others, and I guess my time came,” Kalmar said.

Still, looking back, Kalmar said she wishes she’d behaved differently. She kept the matter secret and continued studying with Preucil, regarding him as the best possible instructor. She said that she believes she did a “disservice” to herself and others, and condemned herself to years of worry.

Preucil never acted out again, she said, but, “every time I walked in for a lesson, I wondered what was going to happen.”

For a time, both women questioned their futures in music.

Mettenbrink said she suffered a total loss of confidence. She spent the rest of her training and early professional career viewing praise as strategic flattery or special treatment, fearing male instructors, and getting angry whenever she heard praise for Preucil. She said she suspects he has either totally forgotten her or long ago justified his behavior.

“My ability to take lessons and receive feedback has been forever altered,” she said. “I don’t believe anything.”

She also passed up career opportunities, in an effort to avoid Preucil. Where others saw plum job openings in the Cleveland Orchestra or gigs at high-level festivals where he played, she saw only impossibilities. To this day, she said, she can’t help but wonder how many women gave up music altogether or settled for less “because [Preucil] destroyed them.”

Mettenbrink said she harbors no ill will toward the New World Symphony. On the contrary, she remains an active supporter of the group, believing that in her day, ”[T]hey really didn’t know what to do.”

Kalmar is somewhat less forgiving. She said she disbelieves CIM’s claims of ignorance and disagrees with the Cleveland Orchestra’s decision to investigate, rather than dismiss, Preucil.

“I don’t know what else could persuade the orchestra to do the right thing,” she said.

Mettenbrink and Kalmar say they’re looking not for revenge, but for change.

Both said music schools need to confront the reality of sexual misconduct, rather than sweep allegations under the rug on the basis of what Mettenbrink called an “obsession with talent.”

“We’re whole people, not just the talent,” she said. “There has to be an asterisk next to the ‘Because you’re amazing’ part.”

The new rule, they said, has to be transparency. Institutions need to draft detailed policies and establish protocols for responding to allegations. They also need to make sure all students, staff and faculty are aware of those policies, and understand that all allegations will be taken seriously.

As a society, “we need to change the way women’s bodies are viewed,” Kalmar said. “I think the attitude about women in general has to change.”

Both women said they see some progress.

As more victims speak up, Kalmar said, the bad actors in classical music are getting “weeded out.” Meanwhile, she said, institutions are coming to realize that fame isn’t everything.

“There are a lot of great violinists in the world who don’t grab women,” Kalmar said. “Let’s give one of them a try.”

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