Conductor Charles Dutoit faces new allegations of sexual harassment, assault
Dutoit statement says he is 'appalled and sickened' to be accused 'of the heinous crime of rape'
Six more women have stepped forward to accuse prominent conductor Charles Dutoit of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the United States, France and Canada, including a musician who says the maestro raped her in 1988.
The women say they were compelled to speak out after The Associated Press published a story Dec. 21 detailing accusations from three singers and a musician who said Dutoit forcibly restrained them, groped them and kissed them without permission.
The 81-year-old Grammy-winning conductor emphatically denied the accusations, but eight major orchestras immediately distanced themselves from him and two launched their own investigations.
The new accusers said they were angered by Dutoit's initial denial and wanted to show the scope of his sexual misconduct during his globe-trotting career. They said the Swiss-born conductor attacked them in Paris, Montreal and the United States over a four-decade period, starting in the late 1970s.
Dutoit had been principal conductor and artistic director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. Hours after the AP sent Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic detailed summaries of the new allegations, the orchestra announced Wednesday that he was leaving those posts.
Dutoit issued a statement saying he was "appalled and sickened" to be accused "of the heinous crime of rape."
"I am shaken to the core by this bewildering and baseless charge. To this, I submit my categorical and complete denial," he said.
Dutoit also has held such notable positions as music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The woman who accused the conductor of raping her said the assault occurred when she was working with Dutoit at an orchestra on the East Coast of the U.S. The AP does not publish the names of people who say they are victims of sexual assault without their permission so, to protect her identity, the AP also is not disclosing the instrument she plays, her orchestra or the city where she said she was attacked.
Three of her colleagues in the same orchestra told the AP that the woman confided in them after the encounter.
Symphony allegedly looked the other way
One of the new accusers told the AP that the Boston Symphony was aware of the famed conductor's behaviour and looked the other way. The symphony declined to answer repeated questions from AP about whether it had received prior complaints about Dutoit, a regular guest conductor since 1981.
The musician accusing Dutoit of rape was then 28 and auditioning for an orchestra in early 1988 while he was guest-conducting. She said they were staying at the same hotel and rode the elevator together up to their shared floor one night.
"As soon as I got to my room, the phone rang. It was Maestro Dutoit," she said.
She had heard rumours about inappropriate behaviour but said she thought nothing of it when Dutoit told her his luggage was broken and asked if she had a specific tool sometimes used to fix musical instruments. He invited her to come in when she brought it to his room, she said, first offering her a drink, which she declined. Within minutes, he forced himself on her, she said.
"He came closer to me and tried to kiss me, and held my head so strongly it ripped my earring out," said the musician, now in her 50s. "He pinned my wrists to the wall and pushed me to the bed.
"His pants were down in a split second and he was inside me before I could blink," she said.
The woman said she started crying, told him to stop and that she was married, but that it made no difference.
When she blurted out that she was not on birth control, he quickly pushed her out the door, she said. "I'll get some condoms and I'll get you back," she quoted him as telling her.
Male friend served as chaperone
AP spoke with two male musicians who said she confided in them immediately after the encounter. One of them recalled she was afraid to be alone and said he served as her chaperone at subsequent concerts. Another said he urged her to report Dutoit to police but that she never did. "I was so afraid I would never be asked to play again," she told the AP.
A third man who joined her orchestra after the attack said he had generally known for years that something had happened with Dutoit, but did not learn the details until a decade ago.
All three spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the musician's identity and because they remain professional musicians and said they fear retribution within the industry.
French soprano Anne-Sophie Schmidt was 31 in May 1995 when she said Dutoit began singling her out for attention. She was singing the principal female role in Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande with Dutoit conducting the Orchestre National de France in Paris.
Dutoit offered her rides home in his chauffeured car, then started leaving messages on her answering machine telling her she was "marvellous" and that he desired her, she said. Schmidt said he became angry when she ignored his advances and began humiliating her in front of the orchestra — a tactic mentioned by other accusers in interviews with the AP.
On the day of a dress rehearsal at the Theatre des Champs-Élysées, she said, she found herself in an empty hallway with the conductor.
"He came out of his dressing room and he jumped on me, pushed me against the wall and started to touch me everywhere, on my chest, between my legs. He forced me to kiss him. I fought back, and I pushed him away," Schmidt, now retired from opera, said in a telephone interview from southern France.
Dropped from future performances
Shortly after the opera's run ended, she said, Dutoit dropped her from future recitals and concerts around the world.
Two of Schmidt's friends told the AP she described the experience to them several years ago.
One, a Paris-based lawyer, said Schmidt told him Dutoit had "wanted to sleep with her and she refused, and he cancelled all their concerts." The attorney, who works in the music industry, asked not to be identified because of fear of retribution.
The other friend, Suzanne Delorme, recalled Schmidt saying that Dutoit had harassed her, humiliated her during rehearsals and at one point "cornered her and touched her all over her body."
"When I read what the other women were saying, how he cornered them against a wall, it was exactly what he did to me," Schmidt said.
Musician Mary Lou Basaraba was in her early 20s and working as a journalist in the winter of 1977-78 when the Montreal Symphony Orchestra asked her to interview Dutoit for an in-house publication, she said. Basaraba said she was told Dutoit had specifically requested her for the interview, to be held at his apartment.
Within minutes of her arrival, she said, Dutoit forced himself on her, kissing her and placing his hands on her breasts and crotch. "It was so uninvited, it was so crass," said Basaraba, now the chorus master for the California Philharmonic and Golden State Pops Orchestra.
She pushed him away, she said, insisting she was there to work. He later walked her to a cab, where she remembers him saying: "I find you very charming. I'd like you to be the woman in my life when I'm in Montreal."
Basaraba's ex-husband, conductor Clyde Mitchell, who played French horn in Montreal under Dutoit, said she told him about the maestro "attacking her on the sofa in his apartment." A friend, Nancy Newman, also said Basaraba told her years ago that Dutoit "chased her around the room" and "asked her to be his mistress."
Years later, in 1991, when Dutoit was conducting at the LA Opera, Basaraba said he called her twice on the day of a performance and asked her to come to his hotel room after the show. She did not go, she said.
Canadian soprano Pauline Vaillancourt told the AP that Dutoit tried to force himself on her in March 1981 after inviting her to dinner "to discuss work" after her performance as a soloist with the Montreal Symphony.
As he drove her home, she said, he pulled the car into a dark spot, groped her breasts and legs and asked her to come back to his room. She told the AP she pushed him away and insisted he drive her home.
"When I opened the car door to return home, he told me, 'I need this after a concert. I need a woman to come home with me,"' she said.
"He said it like he was angry that I had taken away something he needed."
Vaillancourt's brother said his sister told him of the incident the next day. Dutoit had "touched her breast and made it clear that if she wanted to pursue her career it would help if she was more co-operative with him, which she declined," said Jean-Eudes Vaillancourt, a pianist, conductor and classical music professor at the University of Montreal.
In the light of the growing accusations against Dutoit, Pauline Vaillancourt, now 72, said she wonders: "Does that mean he did this to someone after each concert?"
Pianist Jenny Q. Chai, now 34, said she encountered Dutoit by chance after a Philadelphia Orchestra concert in the early 2000s. Chai had gone backstage hoping to meet acclaimed pianist Martha Argerich, one of Dutoit's ex-wives, but instead was greeted by the conductor, who she said spoke with her, then leaned forward, kissing her cheeks and lips and trying to put his tongue in her mouth while touching her body.
And Fiona Allan, now 50, said Dutoit pushed her against a wall and put his hand on her breast when she delivered documents to his dressing room while interning in 1997 at the Tanglewood Music Festival, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Allan, now chief executive of the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre in England, said she fled the room and encountered Ray Wellbaum, the Boston Symphony's then-orchestra manager, who told her that officials had received complaints about Dutoit from other women and warned her not go into his room alone.
"I said, 'It's too late. I've already been in there,"' Allan recalled.
Both women's accounts were first reported in the classical music blog Slipped Disc.
A friend who also is a pianist said he recalls Chai visiting him in 2000 or 2001 and telling him she had attempted to see Argerich backstage after a concert and that Dutoit "tried to kiss her on the lips with his tongue sticking out in front of everyone." The friend asked not to be identified because he still works in the industry.
Chris Stafford, chief executive at the Curve theatre in Leicester, England, said Allan told him in 2015 that Dutoit had groped her in his dressing room while at Tanglewood.
The Boston Symphony was the first orchestra to announce that it was ending its relationship with Dutoit and has said it is hiring a law firm to investigate Allan's allegations. The symphony said Wellbaum retired in 2016. He did not return a message left at his home seeking comment.