Charles Dutoit is stepping down as artistic conductor and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London nearly two years before his scheduled departure, the orchestra announced Tuesday. The move follows multiple sexual assault allegations made against Dutoit in the last month.
“Following an emergency Board meeting and further dialogue with Charles Dutoit, the RPO and Charles Dutoit have together decided to bring forward his resignation from his role as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor,” the RPO said in a statement. “Charles Dutoit had already announced in June 2017 that he would stand down in October 2019; this will now take place with immediate effect.”
“This decision has been made following allegations of inappropriate conduct by Mr Dutoit, which were first reported on 21 December 2017. 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. “The RPO is committed to the highest standards of ethical behaviour and takes very seriously its responsibility to maintain a safe working environment for all its artists, musicians and staff.”
“The RPO enjoys relationships with a roster of distinguished guest conductors who will undertake Charles Dutoit’s future projects with the Orchestra in London, the UK and internationally. Further details will be announced at www.rpo.co.uk in due course.”
The Associated Press first reported the accusations of sexual assault made against Dutoit by four women – three opera singers and an instrumentalist. Mezzo Paula Rasmussen claimed Dutoit “threw me against the wall, shoved my hand down his pants and shoved his tongue down my throat” in his dressing room in 1991, while soprano Sylvia McNair alleged the conductor accosted her in an elevator 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.” The two other alleged victims have asked not be identified.
Another woman, Australian Fiona Allan, has since come forward with further allegations, telling The Boston Globe that Dutoit sexually assaulted her at the Tanglewood music festival in 1997. Allan was working as an intern at the time, while Dutoit was a guest conductor of the Boston Symphony. It was when she entered his dressing room alone to deliver some papers that Dutoit “somehow manoeuvred me up against a wall and put his hand on my breast,” she said.
“That in itself was shocking and surprising. But I think what shocked and surprised me equally was the sense of… entitlement. It was like I was this decorative thing that had come to his dressing room that he somehow felt entitled to touch.”
She added that upon leaving Dutoit’s dressing room, she immediately bumped into then-BSO orchestra manager Ray Wellbaum, who cautioned her not to see Dutoit alone.
Allan, who is now artistic director and chief executive at the Birmingham Hippodrome, said she did not inform anyone about the alleged incident at the time, stating that she was “very shocked” and did not want to be perceived as a “troublemaker”.
“But it was also the fact that they already knew. It was like, OK, they already know he’s a problem and they’ve got a system for dealing with that, so what is saying anything going to do?”
Dutoit’s retirement from the Royal Philharmonic is the latest in a series of announcements by orchestras distancing themselves from the conductor. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which Dutoit has regularly conducted since 1977, released a statement the day The Associated Press issued its report.
“We are extremely disturbed by the lengthy, detailed allegations published by Associated Press this morning against conductor Charles Dutoit,” the statement said. “The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has a zero tolerance policy for anyone engaging in serious misconduct, including sexual harassment and we will not be engaging Mr. Dutoit as a guest conductor in the future”.
The Boston Symphony, which has said it is investigating Allan’s allegations, has cut ties with Dutoit, as has the Philadelphia Orchestra, which has stripped Dutoit of his conductor laureate title, and the San Francisco Symphony. Dutoit withdrew from engagements with the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra not long after the accusations were made public.
“The allegations made against me are as shocking to me as they are to my friends and colleagues. I do not recognise the man or the actions being described in the media”, Dutoit said in a statement to The Associated Press.
“Whilst 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. I am taking legal advice and plan to meaningfully defend myself and I believe within this current climate, media accusations on serious physical abuse do not help society tackle these issues properly if the claims are in fact not true”.