The Return of Charles Dutoit?

By: Frank Cadenhead

The monumental work of Hector Berlioz, La Damnation de Faust, programmed Sunday at the Paris Philharmonie, has a famed conductor on the podium: Charles Dutoit. The music world has noticed.

It is a highlight of the Orchestre National de France’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’ death and was to have been conducted by music director Emmanuel Krivine. Illness forced him to cancel only in the last few days and the orchestra was left with a major problem. Four major soloists and both the youth and regular orchestra choirs were already assembled and few conductors have this work in their repertory and are available on such short notice. Dutoit, of course, is a well-known champion of Berlioz and recently has plenty of free time.

One of the principal examples of conductors who routinely harassed women, his world-wide career was abruptly terminated in recent months by new forces including the #metoo movement. Most assume that it has put a definitive end to the careers of famed conductors and other leaders who have, often for decades, used their position to behave badly. But has it? Daniele Gatti has recently given notice that he will legally contest his abrupt dismissal as music director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and the Rome Opera took him on board as music director in December. Dutoit has been named Principal Guest Conductor for the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Russia’s oldest philharmonic orchestra, starting in May 2019.

The Orchestre National de France has made it obvious, while unsaid, that Dutoit’s invitation was an emergence action and few suspect that this is part of a movement to rehabilitate him. The orchestra also noted that the musicians were consulted before the invitation was issued. Dutoit was Music Director of the Orchestre National de France from 1991-2001 with whom he made a number of recordings and toured extensively and Daniele Gatti was music director of the same orchestra from 2008 to 2016. The Orchestre National is part of the Radio France organization and it has an established and often-used complaint program for management issues. Neither conductor has a public record of issues with musicians or staff during their time in Paris.

Orchestras and opera companies are not organizations where management is on the 57th floor and the personnel department is on floor 22. The musicians, staff and managers see each other and mingle every day. The larger issue which has not seriously been explored is the question of how much any management knew of the behavior of Gatti, Dutoit and others, like James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera. Was there a laissez-faire, “boys will be boys” attitude which continually papered over “indiscretions” by top talent? Did management pay attention to the rumors? Were they sensitive to the changing attitude of women toward sexual harassment and abuse? Did they counsel their big name talent about their behavior and how it might impact the institution.

Are there sound programs now in place which will prevent such scandals in the future? Incidents continue to pop up in the press and embarrass major institutions and this does not suggest that the management of sexual harassment issues is universal.

Added note:  In the text above it says “musicians were consulted” about the appearance of Dutoit. The orchestra manager did contact the union representing the musicians of the orchestra and received assurance that there were no objections. Later, an independent poll found that, of the 85 who responded out of a total of 120 orchestra members, some 60% disagreed with the orchestra’s invitation of Dutoit.

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.