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BSO cuts ties with famed conductor Charles Dutoit

Charles Dutoit (right) conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in October.Hilary Scott

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is severing ties with famed conductor Charles Dutoit after news broke on Thursday that four women had accused the Swiss conductor of sexually assaulting them — allegations that include forcible kissing, restraining the women physically, and, in one instance, forcing a woman’s hand down his pants.

“[T]he Boston Symphony Orchestra will end its relationship with him and he will no longer appear as a guest conductor with the orchestra,” the BSO said in a statement that called the allegations against Dutoit “extremely troubling.” “The Boston Symphony Orchestra is committed to a zero tolerance policy towards anyone who exhibits inappropriate behavior in the workplace, and behavior that runs counter to these core values will always be met with serious consequences.”


The allegations, contained in a report by the Associated Press, included accounts of incidents that the women — three opera singers and a classical musician — said took place in Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The 81-year-old Dutoit, who currently serves as artistic director and principal conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, is a frequent guest conductor at the BSO and one of its most popular. He led the orchestra on a tour of Japan and China in 2014, and he performed concerts in Boston as recently as October. His next date in Boston — now canceled — was scheduled for February, where he was to lead the orchestra in an all-French program featuring works by Debussy and Ravel.

The BSO’s swift action marks the second time this month the orchestra has severed ties with a renowned conductor in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct: In early December the symphony distanced itself from former BSO music director James Levine after the conductor was accused by four men of sexual improprieties decades ago. On that occasion, the BSO announced that it was “reviewing its policies regarding work place abuse and harassment issues to make certain they continue to meet and exceed the highest standards.” It also said that Levine, who served as BSO music director from 2004 to 2011, “will never be employed or contracted by the BSO at any time in the future.”


Dutoit’s relationship with the BSO stretches back decades. And he has told the Globe how much he enjoys performing with the BSO. “Besides being a magnificent orchestra, I have known them since my student days at Tanglewood, and have always cherished this aspect of the relationship with them,” he said in 2016, after the BSO named him its 2016 Koussevitzky Artist, an honorary title given in appreciation for his commitment to the orchestra.

In the AP report, the four women recounted incidents that they allege occurred around performances and rehearsals over a period spanning 1985 to 2010.

Retired mezzo-soprano Paula Rasmussen told the news service of an incident that she said took place in Dutoit’s dressing room at the LA Opera in September 1991. “He threw me against the wall, shoved my hand down his pants, and shoved his tongue down my throat,” said Rasmussen.

Grammy-winning soprano Sylvia McNair said the conductor once became sexually aggressive in a hotel elevator in 1985 following a rehearsal with the Minnesota Orchestra. “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,” McNair told the AP.


Two other women, who go unnamed in the AP report, said Dutoit acted inappropriately toward them in separate incidents in 2006.

One of the accusers alleged that Dutoit groped her at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, where she worked as a musician and Dutoit was conducting. “He was just pushing himself against me, trying to kiss me, grabbing hold of my body, pushing his body on me,” she told the AP.

The other, a soprano, told the AP that Dutoit became physical on four occasions in Philadelphia and Saratoga Springs, including grabbing her breasts and forcibly kissing her.

The women told the AP that they did not file formal complaints at the time because of Dutoit’s position in the musical world. They said they decided to come forward as women in diverse fields had started speaking out about sexual harassment, and after the Metropolitan Opera recently suspended Levine, its former music director.

The BSO did not respond to questions about whether the Boston orchestra had ever received a complaint against Dutoit. The AP said that Dutoit had not responded to attempts to reach him through the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and his office in Montreal.

Like Levine, Dutoit has had a long and distinguished career.

“There is nothing wrong with him as a musician,” one of the women told the AP of Dutoit. “But he has been allowed to operate as a predator off the stage.”


Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay

An earlier version lacked clarity regarding Dutoit’s longtime connection with the BSO. Dutoit had led the orchestra as a guest conductor since 1981, and he studied conducting at Tanglewood in 1959.