Today April 18, 2002, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra accepted the resignation
of long-time Music Director Charles Dutoit which he tendered on April
10. The event leaves all Canadian and Quebec music lovers with mixed feelings.
In his 25 years as Canada’s most famous musical figure, Charles Dutoit
earned the fear and respect of audiences, musicians, politicians, and
journalists. Hundreds of thousands of people heard Dutoit conduct music
live, on radio and on television. Hundreds met him at receptions or glimpsed
him as he rushed between engagements. But despite his eminence and his
central place in the country's musical life, Dutoit was an enigma. Many
knew of him. No one knew him.
Everyone in the music business has had a close call with Charles Dutoit.
Mine came back in 1998 when the Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada’s national
paper of record, asked me to do a major profile of the maestro for its
contacted the MSO press office with an official interview request in September
1998. Weeks passed in silence. When I called back, the Press Office was
evasive: they were considering whether to pass the interview request on.
A month later the administration was still thinking about it. You could
feel the palpable fear and anxiety as Dutoit's underlings tried to handle
this alarming situation. A month after that, someone thought (they were
not sure) that the interview request had been passed to Dutoit. A month
after that, I was told Dutoit would not have time to talk to me. Ever.
So I sat down and wrote a short profile without the maestro’s help.
My article - “Inimitable, inscrutable Dutoit” - appeared in the Toronto
Globe and Mail on February 6, 1999. My Montreal journalist colleagues
eagerly informed me that Dutoit was furious. The next time I encountered
Dutoit was a few weeks later at one of the regular MSO press conferences.
He was scowling behind his dark glasses and was abrupt with everyone,
as usual. Claude Gingras of La Presse, dean of Quebec music critics, managed
to maneouvre Dutoit and me into a face-off. Out of the blue, Dutoit pulled
off his dark glasses and brandished them at me, snarling, "They’re for
Everyone was terrified but I though it was sort of funny. I had remarked
in my Globe article on his Greta Garbo-ish dark glasses. Thats the line
that seemed to bother him most. Poor Dutoit. His hostility and hauteur
concealed a man desperate for respect, love, and understanding. We were
ready to worship him and give him as much great publicity as he wanted.
But he slammed the door in our face. He never made a single human gesture
or had a personal word to spare for anyone I knew in the decades we both
lived in Montreal.
In 1999 I wrote "If there was a secret vote today, [the MSO musicians]
would probably elect him conductor for life." Three years later, the musicians
have voted Dutoit out.
The entire text of my Dutoit profile follows:
“Inimitable, inscrutable Dutoit
February 6, 1999
Toronto Globe and Mail
By Philip Anson
Conductors are today’s classical music stars, better paid and more powerful
than anyone else in the business. They hire and fire, making and breaking
reputations. Canada has no native jet set conductors, but we do have Charles
Dutoit – the aloof and intellectual 63-year old Swiss citizen known as
Charlie to his few musician friends and as Maestro Dutoit to the rest
of us on the rare occasions we get close enough to say hello.
Since taking over artistic direction of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra
(MSO) in 1977, Dutoit has built it into the finest symphony orchestra
in Canada and one of the best in the world. He has made dozens of recordings
with the MSO which have sold over 4 million units world wide. In Montreal,
Dutoit rules over a fiefdom with 123 employees, including 98 musicians,
running on an annual budget of $14 million. Notwithstanding the existence
of a general director, the buck stops with Dutoit and no significant decision
is made without his approval. The MSO has been his show for the last 22
years. He pulls in an annual salary rumoured to be $1 million per year,
which works out to about $10,000 per day for the 100 days per year he
spends in Montreal.
Yet after 22 years on the scene, Dutoit remains a mystery to Montrealers.
In a province where the personal peccadilloes of every public figure fill
the tabloids on a daily basis, Charles Dutoit has remained untouched by
scandal. When in town, he is surrounded by a permanent entourage of MSO
administrators and publicists who run interference and filter every inquiry.
Unlike media-friendly conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von
Karajan, Michael Tilson Thomas or Zubin Mehta, Dutoit has shunned publicity
and protects his private life from prying eyes. His schedule is so packed
with rehearsals, auditions, and administrative meetings that the waiting
list for an interview is months or years, and certain topics are off limits.
He terminated a 1997 interview with the Quebec glossy monthly L’Actualite,
in a huff when asked about his reputation as a skirt-chaser. At 63, the
thrice-married Maestro is still a dapper dresser with preternaturally
chestnut brown hair and appetite for the good things in life, the very
image of a continental vieux garcon, a sort of musical Pierre Eliot Trudeau.
Given his aura of power and mystery, when Charles Dutoit makes a public
appearance in Montreal, it is like a royal audience. He ignores everyone,
seems preoccupied, and his rare smiles are ironic. For several years he
has worn sunglasses during press conferences, adding to his Greta Garbo-like
air of inscrutability. But on the rare occasions he opens up, he is a
brilliant talker in several langauges, revealing a deep knowledge of philosophy,
history and politics.
Dutoit has a highly developed sense of his own status. If he demands the
best for his orchestras, it is partly because it reflects on his own reputation.
His $1 million MSO salary - standard for jet-set conductors, but the highest
in the Canadian classical music field - came under fire during the [recent
MSO musicans’] strike from no less a person than Federal Heritage Minister
Sheila Copps. But if the MSO tried to pay Dutoit less, he would probably
leave. Not because he is greedy, but because he knows what he is worth.
He has three major symphony orchestras in his pocket, and they pay him
as much or more than the MSO.
Over the last 22 years Dutoit’s brilliant musicianship has turned the
Montreal Symphony Orchestra into one of the world’s great orchestras.
His administrative savvy has saved the MSO on several occasions, notably
during the recent strike in October  when he was granted several
private tęte ŕ tętes with Premier Lucien Bouchard - celeb to celeb, as
it were - succeeding where the MSO’s general manager had failed. Dutoit’s
unexpected support of the strikers’ demands was a brilliant publicity
coup and earned him the grudging admiration of the 98 MSO musicians.
Grudging because the MSO players do not love Dutoit. Someone once said,
"Show me an orchestra that loves its conductor and I’ll show you a lousy
orchestra." Off the record, the MSO musicians are quick to complain of
Dutoit’s sniffy autocratic attitude, his occasional bad temper, his long
absences, the sense of rushing and confusion on his jet set stopovers
in Montreal. Yet these rebels give their all playing for Dutoit, and if
there was a secret vote today, they’d probably elect him conductor for
To understand Dutoit’s gift, you have only to watch him lead an orchestra.
Animated by the music, his conducting technique is perhaps the most graceful
among living conductors. His gestural vocabulary is elegant, expressive,
energetic yet tasteful, the perfect visual correlative of the music his
orchestra plays. His long thin arms swirl in seamless semaphore movements,
he sways like a willow tree, rising and falling like a cresting wave.
He beats time with his left foot, but the rest of his body language is
balletic, with the lithe grace of a man half his age. When he walks off
the stage he regains his Apollonian composure, but no one would deny they
were lucky to have seen him.