Charles Dutoit shut out of 7 symphonies amid sexual assault accusations

Symphonies are cutting ties with conductor Charles Dutoit following sexual assault accusations made by three opera singers and a classical musician. Dutoit, currently the London Philharmonic's artistic director, previously served as music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Ottawa critic wrote of 1995 incident with Dutoit in Montreal 'but I'm the one who got blacklisted'

Symphonies are cutting ties with Charles Dutoit, who has also withdrawn from a host of other orchestral engagements worldwide, following accusations of sexual misconduct by the famed conductor. (Kyodo News/Associated Press)

Symphonies in Boston, San Francisco and Sydney have severed ties with world-renowned conductor Charles Dutoit.

Meanwhile, classical orchestras in New York, Chicago and Cleveland announced that he's withdrawn his services for upcoming concerts, including at the Royal Philharmonic in London, where currently Dutoit serves as artistic director and principal conductor.

The reaction has been swift in the classical music world, following graphic sexual assault accusations made by three opera singers and a classical musician to The Associated Press.

Dutoit responds

In a written statement released Saturday from Dutoit's office, the conductor called the allegations "shocking."

"I do not recognize the man or the actions being described in the media," he said. "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."

Dutoit said he's "taking legal advice" and plans to defend himself, adding "media accusations on serious physical abuse do not help society tackle these issues properly if the claims are in fact not true."

'Extremely flirtatious' reputation

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 rumours of Dutoit's "inappropriate behaviour 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 behaviour 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.

Longtime head of Montreal Symphony

Pascale Ouimet, spokesperson for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, 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, but he returned to the city to conduct the MSO for a pair of sold-out concerts in February 2016.

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."

Officials at the City of Montreal say they are "following the file closely" and add that Dutoit, who last year was a recipient of the Order of Montreal, could lose that acknowledgement.

"If the allegations are confirmed, we will have to withdraw this recognition," a spokesperson from the office of Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante told CBC.

No formal complaints filed

All four accusers 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.

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, N.Y.

Four women have accused Dutoit of sexual misconduct that allegedly occurred on the sidelines of rehearsals or performances with some of America's great orchestras. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

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.

New York's Metropolitan Opera is grappling with a host of sexual misconduct allegations levied against its longtime music director James Levine, seen at left with general manager Peter Gelb. (Henny Ray Abrams/Associated Press)

Other musicians and singers interviewed by the AP spoke of a culture of sexual misconduct in the classical music world that they said has long been implicitly tolerated by people in positions of authority.

The same day the accusations were published, six major symphonies ended long relationships with the 81-year-old Dutoit or announced that he had withdrawn from upcoming performances. Except for the "withdrawal" comments attributed to him by three of the six orchestras, the two-time Grammy winner remained silent.

In making their announcements about their relationships with Dutoit, the orchestras issued strongly worded statements about "the extremely troubling allegations" and a commitment to a harassment-free workplace. He had been set to appear at the New York Philharmonic next month; the other performances were scattered through 2018.

Royal Philharmonic cuts Dutoit loose

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London issued a statement early Friday saying it and Dutoit "have jointly agreed to release him from his forthcoming concert obligations with the orchestra for the immediate future."

The orchestra statement says the facts should be determined by a legal process.

It says Dutoit "needs to be given a fair opportunity to seek legal advice and contest these allegations."

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 four accusers told AP they never filed formal complaints against Dutoit because they worried they would lose their jobs, not the maestro, who has led top orchestras around the globe. (Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

In a long, distinguished career, Dutoit has travelled 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 MSO.

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.

With files from CBC's Sean Henry and CBC News