ARTSFILE journalist wrote about Charles Dutoit’s inappropriate actions toward her 20 years ago; nothing was done, she says

The #metoo movement is sweeping through the international arts world and now a legendary conductor has been accused of  sexual harassment.

In an Associated Press story out of San Francisco, three opera singers and a musician have accused Charles Dutoit, who led the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal from 1977 to 2010, of sexually assaulting them in several incidents that happened between 1985 and 2010.

The revelations about the 81-year-old artistic director and principal conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra may surprise some, but Natasha Gauthier, ARTSFILE’s music and dance critic, isn’t one.

She had her own run-in with Dutoit during an interview 20 years ago and she wrote about it for the French language magazine L’Actualité.

“I was assigned to write a feature on Dutoit and the orchestra,” she said. “They wanted a big celebratory piece, looking at his tenure at the OSM and the prestige he had brought to the orchestra. They were going on a tour of the U.S. and I was to go along for part of it.

Gauthier, was 24 and a young journalist at the time. She had an initial meeting with Dutoit after a rehearsal and before a performance at the Lanaudiere festival.

I was taken backstage after rehearsal to his dressing room. He opened the door and he was in his bathrobe,” Gauthier said. “He greeted me flirtatiously. He pulled me towards him and kissed me on the forehead.”

She says Dutoit may have seen her around but he didn’t know here.

The young journalist was on her guard because, she says, there were rumours about Dutoit’s behaviour toward women.

“I went in with my eyes wide open.”

She says she turned on her tape recorder and the interview began. Soon after Dutoit “snatched my notebook and then he goes ‘I’m asking the questions’, (such as) ‘Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend? What’s your ethnic background?'”

The conductor put his hand on her knee, she says, and then tried to hold her hand.

Gauthier says she was almost paralysed by the situation.

“I thought, ‘I’m a journalist, I’m here to get a story and I don’t want to mess this up. You sort of convince yourself it’s not happening.”

The interview continued and Dutoit didn’t go any further than that in terms of physical contact, she says.

“But it was more than that. It felt more sinister, like a show of dominance.”

She snatched away her hand and told the conductor she was there to work “How about you?” Soon after she left the dressing room.

“He’d just shown me what he’s like. I had it on tape.”

So she tried to dig some more. She asked musicians about Dutoit’s behaviour and nobody wanted to talk. Soon after representatives of the orchestra came up to me and told her Dutoit wanted to talk to her again. When they met again, he started berating her for asking personal questions and then kicked her off the tour and halted any more interviews.

“He was livid. I felt like I was going to throw up. I thought I had done something wrong.”

She called her editor who told her to write up what happened and promised to support her.

After publication, she says she was told there had been a threat of legal action but nothing materialized. Otherwise nothing much resulted from the story. No other media followed up and Dutoit continued in his job.

However, “nobody doubted me. … The MSO said nothing but, for months after, female musicians would come up to me and thank me for ‘Sharing him with the rest of the world.’ But nothing happened to him.”

She says she’s astonished now that  everyone is now so shocked with the current revelations.

And she says, “what happened to me is nothing like what these other women are describing.”

In the AP story, the retired mezzo-soprano, Paula Rasmussen, says Dutoit “threw me against the wall, shoved my hand down his pants and shoved his tongue down my throat.” She said the incident occurred in his dressing room at the Los Angeles Opera in September 1991. She says she refused to ever be alone with the Swiss-born conductor again, she said.

Two-time Grammy winning soprano, Sylvia McNair, told the AP that Dutoit “tried to have his way” with her at a hotel 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,” she said.

The other two accusers did not want to be identified. Citing the “extremely troubling” allegations contained in the AP story, the Boston Symphony Orchestra said later Thursday Dutoit would “no longer appear as a guest conductor.” The OSM is not commenting, according to reports.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.