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Conductor withdraws from upcoming Cleveland concert after sexual assault accusations

Posted at 12:55 PM, Dec 22, 2017

The stellar career of world-renowned conductor Charles Dutoit has come crashing down in the wake of sexual assault accusations by three singers and a musician. Symphonies from Boston to Sydney have severed ties with the maestro, and he has canceled guest appearances with other major orchestras.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, where the 81-year-old Dutoit is artistic director and principal conductor, issued a statement early Friday saying the symphony and Dutoit "have jointly agreed to release him from his forthcoming concert obligations with the orchestra for the immediate future."

The Royal Philharmonic statement says the facts should be determined by a legal process and that Dutoit "needs to be given a fair opportunity to seek legal advice and contest these allegations."

Meanwhile, orchestras in New York, Chicago and Cleveland announced that Dutoit has withdrawn his services for upcoming concerts.

The Cleveland Orchestra sent the following statement to News 5:

As a result of the serious allegations reported today about conductor Charles Dutoit, Mr. Dutoit informed The Cleveland Orchestra that he has withdrawn from leading concerts scheduled for February 22, 23, 24, 2018.  While we are not aware of any specific complaints related to Mr. Dutoit during his previous engagements with The Cleveland Orchestra, we are completely committed to providing a professional and safe workplace devoid of all forms of inappropriate conduct.  The concerts in February remain scheduled with a replacement conductor to be announced at a later date.

In addition to Sydney and Boston, the San Francisco Symphony cut ties with Dutoit, citing the "serious nature of the allegations" detailed by The Associated Press. He had been set to appear at the New York Philharmonic next month; the other performances were scattered through 2018.

Aside from the orchestra statements attributed to Dutoit about his voluntary withdrawals, the famous conductor has remained silent.

Prior to release of the AP story, Dutoit did not respond to multiple attempts for comment through the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and his office in Montreal. The Royal Philharmonic said Dutoit was on vacation, but that it had forwarded the AP's emailed requests for comment directly to him. The AP also reached out to Dutoit's office with several phone calls and emails.

The reaction to the graphic sexual assault accusations made by the four women has been swift in the classical music world, accompanied by assertions about Dutoit's decades-long reputation for inappropriate behavior. The developments also have left the orchestras scrambling to find substitute conductors.

Joe Kluger, former president of The Philadelphia Orchestra from 1989 to 2005, told The AP that Dutoit's reputation as "extremely flirtatious" was one factor that caused the organization to pass him over twice for the job of music director during those years.

He said rumors of Dutoit's "inappropriate behavior with women were common knowledge in the classical music business." He added: "I do recall telling our staff to be wary around him and encouraged them to report any inappropriate behavior immediately."

Kluger said he was unaware of any formal complaints filed about Dutoit by musicians or staff members. He said he had never heard that Dutoit had assaulted women.

The AP story published Thursday included detailed accounts by the four women, who said Dutoit attacked them on the sidelines of rehearsals and performances with orchestras in five cities -- Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Saratoga Springs, New York. All four told the AP they never filed formal complaints because they were young and Dutoit was the maestro; they figured they would lose their jobs, not him.

They said the incidents occurred between 1985 and 2010 in a variety of places, including a moving car, Dutoit's dressing room, a hotel elevator and his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago.

The women, two who were named, said the Swiss-born conductor physically restrained them, forced his body against theirs, sometimes put his tongue in their mouths and, in one case, stuck her hand down his pants.

One of the women who spoke to the AP said Dutoit attacked her on four occasions during performances with The Philadelphia Orchestra in 2006 and 2010.

The accusations against Dutoit made him the second high-profile figure in the classical music world to be accused of sexual misconduct recently. Earlier this month, the Metropolitan Opera suspended conductor James Levine when misconduct accusations surfaced.

In a long, distinguished career, Dutoit has traveled the world as a guest conductor and led several highly regarded orchestras, including the Orchestra National de France, the NHK Symphony in Tokyo and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Pascale Ouimet, spokesman for the Montreal Symphony, where Dutoit served as music director for nearly 25 years until 2002, said he had no comment on the allegations.

Dutoit's long relationship with Montreal came to an acrimonious end in 2002, following a dispute with the musicians' union.

Natasha Gauthier, a writer based in Ottawa, said Dutoit's reputation as a womanizer was common knowledge in the Montreal classical music world and she even wrote about her own unwanted encounter with the conductor in 1995 for a prominent weekly magazine.

She described how she arrived in his dressing room for an interview only to have him snatch away her notebook, then lean in, putting his hand on her knee while trying to give her a massage. She said he asked about her marital status. Gauthier quoted Dutoit as saying he would not speak to her for the story when he learned she had been inquiring about his reputation.

She didn't expect him to be fired as a result of the story, but she was stunned by the silence from orchestra management.

"Nobody doubted that this had happened just as I had described," Gauthier said, "but I'm the one who got blacklisted."

Among those who spoke to AP were soprano and two-time Grammy winner Sylvia McNair, 61, who said Dutoit had cornered her in a hotel elevator after a rehearsal with the Minnesota Orchestra in 1985.

"As soon as it was just the two of us in the elevator, Charles Dutoit pushed me back against the elevator wall and pressed his knee way up between my legs and pressed himself all over me," said McNair, who was 28 at the time. "I managed to shove him off and right at that moment, the elevator door opened. I remember saying, `Stop it!' And I made a dash for it."

Retired mezzo-soprano Paula Rasmussen said Dutoit summoned her to his dressing room at the LA Opera in September 1991, before a dress rehearsal for "Les Troyens."

"He threw me against the wall, shoved my hand down his pants and shoved his tongue down my throat," she said. She refused to ever be alone with the maestro again, said Rasmussen, 52, now an attorney in the San Francisco area.