Woman accuses BSO guest conductor Dutoit of sexual assault at Tanglewood
A former intern says that acclaimed Boston Symphony Orchestra guest conductor Charles Dutoit sexually assaulted her at Tanglewood 20 years ago, the first accusation against Dutoit that points to alleged behavior while he was working with the BSO. The orchestra has since launched an investigation.
Fiona Allan, who now runs one of England’s most popular theaters, said she was working as an intern at the Tanglewood music festival during the summer of 1997 when she entered Dutoit’s dressing room alone to deliver some papers. Within a couple of minutes, she said, Dutoit began groping her.
“I’m 6 foot tall, I’m not small, I’m not easily maneuverable. But he had somehow maneuvered me up against a wall and had put his hand on my breast,” Allan told the Globe. “That in itself was shocking and surprising. But I think what shocked and surprised me equally to this 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.”
Immediately after her encounter with Dutoit, Allan alleged, the BSO’s orchestra manager called out to her to warn her — too late — about Dutoit. “Before you see maestro, I need to tell you something,” she recalled the manager saying. “Look, we advise, we’ve had some complaints, and I wouldn’t go in there alone.”
Allan believes that at the time, the manager thought he was doing her a favor.
“But the thing that always struck me afterwards was: They had a system in place,” she said. “And the system was called: Don’t go in there by yourself. Like, we’ve had complaints, therefore the way we get around that is that we send people in in pairs. Not: We don’t employ that person anymore.”
In a statement to the Globe on Monday, the BSO said it is investigating the matter.
“The Boston Symphony Orchestra takes the allegation made by Fiona Allan against Charles Dutoit extremely seriously and has hired a law firm to investigate her claim in connection with her work as an intern at Tanglewood in 1997, a period of time when the BSO was under different leadership,” the BSO said in a written statement. “The Boston Symphony’s senior leadership team learned of this allegation [recently] and had received no previous complaints against Charles Dutoit.”
The alleged incident occurred the summer before Mark Volpe, the BSO’s managing director, began in that role in September. Allan, now 50, has since had years to reflect on what she alleges happened to her. “I have never felt angrier or less protected by an organisation,” she recently posted in a comment on the classical music blog Slipped Disc. “They continued to employ him, whilst knowing he harassed women.”
Allan is one of several women to accuse the Swiss-born conductor of sexual improprieties. Her account bears remarkable similarities to those of four women who last month told the Associated Press the conductor had sexually assaulted them in various cities between 1985 and 2010, allegations that include forcible kissing, groping, and, in one instance, shoving a woman’s hand down his pants.
Attempts to reach Dutoit for comment on the new allegations were unsuccessful. The conductor has denied the earlier charges, stating through his office last month that the accusations “have absolutely no basis in truth.”
“The allegations made against me are as shocking to me as they are to my friends and colleagues,” Dutoit said in a written statement to the AP. “I do not recognize the man or the actions being described in the media.”
In addition to the BSO, a number of orchestras have hastened to distance themselves from the 81-year-old Dutoit since the allegations surfaced. Orchestras in Chicago, New York, and Cleveland announced last month that he had bowed out of future performances, while orchestras in San Francisco, Sydney, and Philadelphia said they were severing relationships with him.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, where Dutoit serves as artistic director and principal conductor, released a statement last month saying the symphony and Dutoit had “jointly agreed to release him from his forthcoming concert obligations with the orchestra for the immediate future.”
The BSO has pulled Dutoit from an upcoming performance in February, saying in a statement released last month that the orchestra “will end its relationship with him and he will no longer appear as a guest conductor with the orchestra.”
Allan, who was 30 at the time of the alleged incident, is an Australian native who was at Tanglewood as part of a fellowship to study advanced performance training. As part of her Tanglewood duties, she said, she would routinely bring musical scores and other documents to visiting conductors or soloists’ dressing rooms.
Allan said Dutoit had only recently arrived at Tanglewood for summer performances when he allegedly groped her. She said she “sort of ducked around him,” quickly fleeing his chamber.
Upon leaving Dutoit’s dressing room, Allan said, she immediately encountered then-BSO orchestra manager Ray Wellbaum in a corridor, and he warned her not to meet Dutoit alone.
“I said, ‘Well Ray, I think it’s too late, because I just did, and I think I know why you’re telling me that,’ ” she recalled.
Allan, who did not provide details of the alleged incident to Wellbaum, said he then told her: “Oh, well, please don’t go in there alone. If you need to go back in there, take someone with you.”
Allan, who now serves as artistic director and chief executive at the Birmingham Hippodrome and is also president of the UK Theatre Association, said she did not inform anyone else about the alleged incident at the time. In subsequent years, however, she said she told friends and associates, including Chris Stafford, who succeeded her as CEO of the Curve theater in Leicester, England. When contacted by the Globe, Stafford confirmed that Allan had told him about the alleged incident a few years ago.
“I didn’t tell [Wellbaum] specifically what had happened, because I think I was very shocked, I was just trying to get out of there at this point,” Allan explained in an interview. She said she didn’t want to be a troublemaker. “But also it was the fact that they already knew. It was like, OK, but 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?”
Allan said that while on the whole her Tanglewood internship was a “dream job,” the alleged incident made her lose respect “for an organization that was putting box office over people,” she said. “Dutoit was a big box-office draw, and that to them was more important than the ethics, the morality that was at stake.”
Wellbaum, who retired as full-time BSO orchestra manager at the end of 2016 and now holds the BSO title of adviser to the managing director, referred the Globe to the orchestra’s press office.
In its statement, the BSO did not respond directly to a question about whether BSO administrators were in the habit of warning women against visiting Dutoit alone.
“[Wellbaum’s] current status as a consultant for the BSO will be reviewed upon completion of the investigation,” the BSO said in its statement. “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 current policy in place includes very clear language on the protocol to follow should any complaint be brought to any member of the BSO staff or management team.”
Dutoit is the second high-profile conductor with whom the BSO has severed ties following allegations of sexual misconduct. The symphony distanced itself from former BSO music director James Levine last month after four men accused the conductor of sexual improprieties decades ago.
The BSO announced at the time 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.”