Friday, December 22, 2017

selective fastidiousness

My favorite example of this was demonstrated by the British Conservative politician the 5th Marquess of Salisbury, who in the Eden government in the 1950s was the firmest bulwark against permitting Princess Margaret to marry with Group-Captain Townsend. One wag - possibly it was Bernard Levin, I don't recall - commented, "Salisbury doesn't mind working for a divorced Prime Minister, but a Queen with a divorced brother-in-law is a step too far."

Now we find selective fastidiousness in the classical music world, and right at home, in the case of the San Francisco Symphony and its frequent guest conductor Charles Dutoit. And let me emphasize frequent. I don't know how often he's appeared at Davies, either with the home band or a visiting orchestra, but, though I attend less than a third of the programs there, two years ago I began a review with, "It's Charles Dutoit again. This is at least the sixth time I've heard him conduct in the last five years." I've heard him once more since then, and was expecting to do so again in April.

Well, a journalistic report has accused him of several incidents of sexual harassment. These range from 1985 to 2010, so they've been going on over quite a long time, and, though some of the victims were surprised, one singer reports that "a veteran soprano, now deceased, warn[ed] her to watch out for him."

Well, that was published yesterday. That very day, the San Francisco Symphony put out a press release announcing that it "has severed all ties" with him. He won't be appearing before SFS in April; he won't be appearing with his own orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, in January; if the wording of the press release is to be believed, he'll never be back again. Now that's prompt action. A "strong commitment to a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment in the workplace," it says.

What interests me is that everybody seems to have forgotten the most notorious incident in Dutoit's career. I know that the AP, which wrote the harassment report, has forgotten it, because all they say concerning this is to note that "in a long, distinguished career, he also has led highly regarded orchestras in Paris and Montreal."

So let me inform you, and them, that Charles Dutoit, newly-accused serial sexual harasser, is the same Charles Dutoit who resigned from the music directorship of the Montreal Symphony in 2002 after the musicians called him a "tyrant" who ruled by "verbal and psychological abuse," and that he treated them "with derision and condescension" and like "battered spouses." This was all very public at the time, thank you New York Times.

But it didn't seem to otherwise affect his career any. There's no indication he ever abused the SFS musicians like that, but there's no indication he ever mashed any of its women in his dressing room, either, so this isn't a case of the SFS being hit where it lives. So, SFS: Some forms of harassment we condemn immediately. Others don't seem to bother us so much.

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