Charles Dutoit, conductor accused of sexual assault, leaves Royal Philharmonic

Incidents alleged at SPAC, Tanglewood
Conductor Charles Dutoit toasts his final performance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in in August 2010.
Conductor Charles Dutoit toasts his final performance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in in August 2010.

Charles Dutoit is stepping down from his post as artistic director and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London following accusations that he sexually assaulted several women between 1985 and 2010, including one at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the orchestra announced Tuesday.

Dutoit, 81, had originally planned to retire from the orchestra nearly two years from now, in October 2019, when he was to be named its “honorary conductor for life.” But after several women publicly accused him last month of sexual misconduct, the orchestra’s board held an emergency meeting, consulted with Dutoit and, the orchestra said in a statement Tuesday, “together decided to bring forward his resignation” to take immediate effect.

“Whilst Mr. Dutoit continues to seek legal counsel to defend himself, the protracted uncertainty and media reporting makes Mr. Dutoit’s position with the orchestra untenable,” the orchestra said in the statement. The Philharmonic said it was “committed to the highest standards of ethical behavior and takes very seriously its responsibility to maintain a safe working environment for all its artists, musicians and staff.”

His departure from the Royal Philharmonic — which he first led in 1966 — was the latest indication that the reckoning over sexual misconduct is now international in scope, and has reached the world of classical music much as it has Hollywood, the news media, the restaurant industry and politics. The Metropolitan Opera suspended James Levine, its longtime conductor, last month while it investigates accusations of sexual misconduct against him, which he has denied.

The accusations against Dutoit were first reported by The Associated Press, which quoted four women — singers and musicians, two of whom were named — who said that he had sexually assaulted them. They said that his behavior had included physically restraining them, forcing his body against theirs, putting his tongue into their mouths, and, in one case, sticking one of their hands down his pants.

The woman who recounted an incident in Saratoga Springs was one of two accusers cited in the AP story who were granted anonymity by the news organization.

She said she was assaulted by Dutoit four times while playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra, with the first of those incidents happening at SPAC in 2006.

Dutoit denied the accusations, saying in a statement that while “informal physical contact is commonplace in the arts world as a mutual gesture of friendship, the serious accusations made involving coercion and forced physical contact have absolutely no basis in truth.”

Another woman told The Boston Globe that Dutoit had sexually assaulted her 20 years ago at Tanglewood, where she was working as an intern and he was a guest conductor of the Boston Symphony. The woman, Fiona Allan, told The Globe that she was later warned not to see him alone. “They had a system in place,” she said. “And the system was called: Don’t go in there by yourself. Like, we’ve had complaints, therefore the way we get around that is that we send people in, in pairs. Not: We don’t employ that person anymore.”

After the allegations were made public, several leading orchestras cut ties with him, including the Boston Symphony, which said that it was investigating Allan’s account. The Philadelphia Orchestra stripped him of his title as its conductor laureate. The New York Philharmonic, which Dutoit had planned to conduct in a Ravel program later this month, announced that Joshua Weilerstein would be taking his place.

The Daily Gazette contributed to this report. 

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