SAN FRANCISCO /January 10, 2018 (AP)(STL.News) — Charles Dutoit has stepped down as artistic director and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra following multiple allegations of sexual assault, the orchestra said Wednesday.
The renowned conductor’s departure had been scheduled for October 2019, but the London-based orchestra said in a statement that his departure was effective immediately. The decision, made jointly with Dutoit, followed an emergency board meeting and ongoing dialogue with the conductor, according to the statement.
Multiple symphonies distanced themselves from the 81-year-old Dutoit after The Associated Press reported Dec. 21 that three opera singers and a classical musician had accused him of sexually assaulting them between 1985 and 2010. His office has said there is no truth to the allegations.
“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 women had said Dutoit sexually attacked them on the sidelines of rehearsals and performances with orchestras in five cities — Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Saratoga Springs, New York.
In his earlier statement, Dutoit 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.”
None of the accusers filed formal complaints because, they said, they were young and feared their careers could be harmed by speaking out.
Retired mezzo-soprano Paula Rasmussen recounted an incident she said occurred in his dressing room at the Los Angeles Opera in September 1991.
“He threw me against the wall, shoved my hand down his pants and shoved his tongue down my throat,” she said.
Another of the accusers, soprano and two-time Grammy winner Sylvia McNair, said Dutoit 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. When the elevator opened, she dashed out.
The Sydney, Boston and San Francisco symphonies in December announced they were cutting ties with Dutoit, citing the “serious nature of the allegations” detailed by the AP.
Orchestras in New York, Chicago and Cleveland said that Dutoit has withdrawn his services for upcoming concerts, and the Philadelphia Orchestra removed Dutoit’s title of conductor laureate.