At the Lausanne Conservatory Charles Dutoit studied violin, conducting and theory of music, following this by a period at the Geneva Conservatory where he continued with conducting and took up the viola. After obtaining his diploma in conducting from Geneva in 1958, he studied with Alceo Galliera at Siena, and during 1959 with Charles Munch at Tanglewood. Between 1957 and 1959 he played the viola in several different orchestras in both Europe and South America, subsequently becoming the conductor of the Lausanne University Choir in 1959, and in 1963 of the Lausanne Bach Choir. He was appointed as the second conductor of the Berne Symphony Orchestra in 1964, succeeding Paul Kletzki as chief conductor in 1967, and remaining in this position until 1978. He also served as conductor of the Radio Zürich Orchestra between 1964 and 1966, and conducted ballet performances at the Vienna State Opera between 1965 and 1967. During the 1970s, in addition to his post at Berne, he conducted the Mexican National Symphony Orchestra (1973–1975) and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (1976–1979).
In February 1977 Dutoit made his first appearance with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, becoming the orchestra’s chief conductor during the same year. An early ambition, in which he succeeded fully, was to give to the orchestra what he described as ‘…those qualities typical of the French sensibility’. From the beginning of the 1980s he toured internationally with the orchestra, entering into an extensive recording contract with Decca Records. Dutoit made his debut at Covent Garden in 1983 with Gounod’s Faust, and at the Metropolitan Opera in 1987 with Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Since 1990, he has been the artistic director and principal conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer concert series at the Saratoga Festival of the Performing Arts in New York State, between 1990 and 1999 also directing the orchestra’s summer series at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia. He unexpectedly resigned from his position with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in 2002, following accusations of arbitrary behaviour made by members of the orchestra.
Between 1991 and 2001, Dutoit held the chief conductor’s post with France’s principal radio orchestra, the Orchestre National de Radio France. As with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, he developed with the Orchestre National an especial understanding for French music, declaring on the orchestra’s sixtieth anniversary in 1994 that it was ‘…unanimously respected throughout the world as the perfect ambassador of its own tradition’. His programming with the Orchestre National was at times adventurous: for example in 1996 he conducted it in the French première of Szymanowski’s opera King Roger. In addition to his already existing positions, Dutoit was appointed principal conductor in 1996, and in 1998 music director, of the NHK Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra of the major broadcasting organisation in Japan, based in Tokyo, all of whose subscription concerts are broadcast nationally on television and radio: his performances with the orchestra have received very high praise throughout South East Asia. Over and above his permanent appointments, Dutoit pursues a hectic international conducting schedule with many of the world’s leading orchestras, maintaining ‘…the simple fact is that working with different orchestras is always revelatory.’
Dutoit is an efficient conductor. In performance he can appear to be rather laid back with decidedly languid gestures, but the results are nonetheless stylish and often highly charged. His recorded repertoire is extensive, and is especially strong in French music which he has recorded with many different orchestras with marked success. With the Montreal Symphony Orchestra he has recorded central works by Berlioz (Les Troyens, Symphonie Fantastique, L’Enfance du Christ, Requiem); Debussy (La Mer, Nocturnes, Jeux, Images); Ravel (Daphnis et Chloé, L’Enfant et les sortilèges, Boléro, La Valse, the two piano concertos, with Thibaudet); and Poulenc (the concertos and orchestral works), all of which are unfailingly tasteful and elegant in execution.
For Erato Dutoit has made several significant recordings, including Fauré’s unjustifiably neglected opera Pénélope, Chabrier’s comic masterpiece Le Roi malgré lui, and Honegger’s oratorio Le Roi David. Also for Erato he has recorded the complete symphonies of Honegger and of Roussel. In twentieth-century music he has recorded the Russian-born Sofia Gubaidulina’s Violin Concerto ‘Offertorium’ with Gidon Kremer and the Boston Symphony Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon. An early recording which has stood the test of time is of four symphonic poems by Saint-Saëns, recorded with the Philharmonia Orchestra for Decca in 1980. Dutoit is also a highly effective accompanist, as the several concerto recordings with his ex-wife Martha Argerich as soloist (Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and Chopin’s Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2) well demonstrate.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).