Dutoit to conduct French orchestra after sexual abuse claims

PARIS — Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit, who has faced multiple accusations of sexual assault, will conduct a concert for the National Orchestra of France on Sunday, his highest profile performance since the allegations were first revealed by The Associated Press.

The orchestra said in a statement Wednesday to The Associated Press that Dutoit was chosen to conduct Berlioz’ “The Damnation of Faust” at the Paris Philharmonie because he was the only conductor with the necessary skills available at short notice after scheduled conductor Emmanuel Krivine pulled out last week for medical reasons. Dutoit is a Berlioz specialist.

The orchestra would not comment on the assault allegations, but said the decision to hire him was discussed with the musicians performing Sunday. The Philharmonie wouldn’t comment, saying it was the National Orchestra of France that decided to hire him.

One of his accusers, retired French soprano Anne-Sophie Schmidt, said she was shocked by the orchestra’s decision and lamented the “powerful and catastrophic message” it sends to victims of assault.

“This is shameful. I feel sick to my stomach,” said Schmidt, when contacted by the AP. “This means the people who were abused by this evil man don’t count for anything.”

Swiss-born Dutoit has denied the allegations against him, saying they are “as shocking to me as they are to my friends and colleagues.”

Dutoit did not immediately respond to a phone message and email seeking comment on Wednesday.

The AP reported in 2017 that three opera singers and a classical musician accused Dutoit of sexually assaulting them between 1985 and 2010. 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 January 2018, the AP reported six new accusations of sexual assault from female musicians in the United States, France and Canada, including a musician who said the maestro raped her in 1988.

Schmidt said that Dutoit pushed her against a wall, groped her and forcibly kissed her in 1995 while she was performing an opera with the Orchestre Nationale de France in Paris. Shortly after the opera’s run ended, she said Dutoit dropped her from upcoming performances he had scheduled with her.

Dutoit stepped down as artistic director and principal conductor at Britain’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra following the allegations, and several major U.S. orchestras severed ties with him as a result. Dutoit has since found a new job in Russia, where the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra said last year it had hired him as its new principal guest conductor. He is scheduled to start in May.

None of the accusers filed formal complaints at the time of their alleged assaults because, they said, they were young and feared their careers could be harmed by speaking out.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement that emerged in the United States in 2017, Dutoit was among multiple conductors accused of sexual misconduct and using their positions of power to abuse women.

Dutoit once conducted the National Orchestra of France, and his expected return to the stage Sunday has not made waves in France so far.

France has had a tortured response to the #MeToo movement. While powerful men in the U.S. and elsewhere saw their careers end because of accusations of sexual harassment or abuse, the reaction in France was more muted. While French feminists hoped for a long-awaited reckoning of long-ignored sexual misconduct, some prominent French voices argued that the wave of exposure went too far and was threatening women’s sexual freedoms.

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