Top violinist apologises after making ‘culturally insensitive’ comments about Asian people in Juilliard class

‘I learned something valuable from this,’ Pinchas Zukerman said

<p>Pinchas Zukerman performs at the British Friends’ Of The IPO 80th Anniversary Celebration at Kensington Palace on 28 February, 2016 in London, England. </p>

Pinchas Zukerman performs at the British Friends’ Of The IPO 80th Anniversary Celebration at Kensington Palace on 28 February, 2016 in London, England.

Top violinist Pinchas Zukerman has issued an apology after making “culturally insensitive” comments about Asian people while teaching a masterclass at Juilliard.

Video of the masterclass on Friday had been withheld, with the performing arts school appearing to distance itself from the prominent musician following his offensive remarks, first reported by Violinist.com.

According to the publication, Mr Zukerman made the comments after two sister violinists, both from New York, performed a piece that he described as “almost too perfect”.

“I mean that as a compliment,” he reportedly said, before saying: “Think less about how perfect to play and to play together, and more about phrasing. A little more vinegar – or soy sauce!”

The violinist then went on to say: “Sometimes if you have a question about how to play it, sing it,” before asserting: “I know in Korea, they don’t sing.”

When one of the violinists said she was “not Korean”, but of partial Japanese descent, Mr Zukerman reportedly responded: “In Japan they don’t sing either”.

He then “mimicked a sing-song vocal style that has been stereotyped as Asian”, according to Violinist.com, before saying: “That is not singing. Violin is not a machine”.

On Monday, the top violinist issued an apology for his comments, The New York Times reported.

“In Friday’s master class, I was trying to communicate something to these two incredibly talented young musicians, but the words I used were culturally insensitive,” he reportedly said, adding “I’m writing to the students personally to apologise.”

“I am sorry that I made anyone uncomfortable. I cannot undo that, but I offer a sincere apology,” he continued.

“I learned something valuable from this, and I will do better in the future,” the violinist added.

Hyeyung Yoon, a violinist who recently founded the Asian Musical Voices of America, told NYT Mr Zukerman’s remarks were representative of thinking that “dehumanises a group of people without actually getting to know who they are”.

“It’s so prevalent in classical music, but also prevalent in the larger society,” she said.

According to the publication, Juilliard appeared to distance itself from Mr Zukerman after the class, referring to him as a guest instructor and asserting that his remarks were not representative of the school’s values.

Violinist.com editor Laurie Niles said the school took the “appropriate course” by not releasing the video.

“This was a virtual event, but if I’m honest, if it had been live I would have stood up and walked out of the hall,” the editor wrote. “Instead I lay down on the couch next to my computer and put my hands over my face as the class continued.”

The Independent has contacted Juilliard for comment.

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