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The Dutoit Affair: Cause and Solution

By Wah Keung Chan / April 16, 2002
La Scena Musicale Online


Charles Dutoit

The Dutoit Affair

Piecing together the events of the Dutoit affair from the many published sources, it is now clear that a major cause is a provision in the 1998 collective agreement. Alan Conter of the Globe and Mail (April 13, 2002) found the root of the problem to be clause 12.05 c), which states that when the maestro initiates a dismissal procedure, the dismissal can only be set aside by at least 75% of the review committee, meaning that 25% of the committee is needed to fire a musician. The review committee is normally composed of the audition or tenure committee without the participation of the maestro. La Scena Musicale has learned that the terms of clause 12.05 c) has existed in various forms since the mid-1980s. Before this, the maestro needed at least 50% of the committee to side with him. At that time, the clause was to be changed to 75% of the committee to give musicians more security, but a typo or other error altered the requirement to 25%. Nobody caught it, and the time bomb has been handed down from contract to contract ever since. Laura Brownell, Director of the Symphonic Services Division of the Canadian office of the American Federation of Musicians, said, "the other major Canadian orchestras need at least a majority to dismiss, and the Toronto and Vancouver symphonies require 9 votes out of 13."

According to Marie-Josée Desrochers, the MSO's director of communications, Dutoit was simply following the rules of the collective agreement in requesting a meeting with the two musicians to discuss their work, as a first step that might lead to dismissal. La Scena Musicale has learned that this is the first time Dutoit has initiated such a procedure since the last musician was fired back around 1980. Never having had the need to refer to clause 12.05 c) until last month, the MSO musicians were shocked at its contents. It is understandable, then, that the musicians were upset to find Dutoit and the MSO seemingly taking advantage of this clause. As a result they asked their union to save the jobs of their two colleagues. Guild president Emile Subirana must have realized that, given the details of the collective agreement, if Dutoit were to dismiss the musicians, he could really do nothing more to save the jobs. Instead, he resorted to playing the harassment card and threatening a law suit. The strategy might have been sound if Subirana had started the negotiations privately.

It is now clear that the decision to go public with the threat of a lawsuit was a ploy to disgrace Dutoit, forcing him to resign while diverting attention from the Guild's mishandling of clause 12.05 c). Articles in the daily newspapers suggest that the majority of MSO musicians were surprised by Subirana's actions and that these actions do not represent their will. If this is the case, the musicians had better change the mandate given to the union.

Where do we go from here?

While it's difficult to undo much of the damage of recent events, the clock must be rolled back to a time when both Dutoit and the musicians were comfortable with each other. Management must take a more active role in improving dialogue so that all the different parts of the orchestra (conductor, musicians, administration and board) are working harmoniously together. The collective agreement must be negotiated to:

  • give back to the musicians the security of the dismissal procedures as found in other major Canadian orchestras;
  • ensure the touring clauses conform to industry standards as found in other world-class orchestras, which could mean that rehearsal of orchestral works may be permitted.

In the immediate, the following needs to take place:

  • the review procedures of the two musicians need to be rescinded by Dutoit and management until after the new collective agreement;
  • the MSO musicians must vote by a majority to ask Charles Dutoit to return as artistic director;
  • the musicians should withdraw their carte blanche mandate to the Guild to act on their behalf in this matter;
  • a committee of musicians and administration should meet Dutoit in person, as suggested by Arthur Kaptainis in the Montreal Gazette (April 13, 2002).

The crisis can be resolved if we take the lead from the events in Venezuela and allow cooler heads to prevail over personal egos. Let the desire to produce excellent music be the guiding light.

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