According to the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, conductor Pieter Jan Leusink was guilty of sexual intimidation of two female musicians between 2012 and 2016. The women lived in Leusink’s house during concert series, where they had sex with Leusink and sometimes his partner.
Leusink is best known as the conductor of the trio of Matthäus Passions, which he performs annually with his Bach Choir & Orchestra of the Netherlands, which he has compiled on a freelance basis for each project. In 2018, a broadcast of Brandpunt+ caused quite a stir; In it, four women accused Leusink of mentally and physically transgressive behaviour. The broadcast was made on the basis of statements from twenty anonymous musicians. At the time, Leusink responded through his lawyer Peter Plasman: “He considers these to be gossip, backbiting and untruths, which can be traced back to differences of opinion of a business nature.” There was never a lawsuit.
The college now considers it proven that the two women, both at the beginning of their careers, were sexually intimidated by Leusink. According to the ruling, he promised the women important roles if they were personally coached by Leusink at his home. In addition, the women were allowed to live with him to ‘save costs and energy’, after which Leusink took the initiative to engage in sexual acts. He is also said to have meddled in the women’s personal affairs such as contraception. Rejecting his advances, he emphasized that breaking the bond of trust would have consequences for the careers of both women. The hiring of both women did indeed stop shortly after they broke off sexual contact with Leusink. According to the ruling, ‘the partner’ of Leusink also took part in the sexual acts between 2012 and 2013, who afterwards told the woman that Leusink’s behavior should not be considered strange, because this was ‘just his way of doing things’.
Leusink is not the first conductor to be accused of sexually transgressive behaviour. The world-famous American James Levine also fell from his pedestal at the Metropolitan Opera in 2017 after accusations of sexual abuse. In 2018, the Concertgebouw Orchestra fired chief conductor Daniele Gatti after alleged misconduct (although “the discontent between the two parties was resolved after extensive consultation,” according to a press release from the Concertgebouw Orchestra in 2019). Both have always denied the allegations.
A conductor is traditionally held in high regard and will always at least partially influence the appointment of musicians, especially if they have to be hired. In recent decades, however, the conductor’s role has increasingly shifted from an omniscient and omnipotent figure at the top of the hierarchy to “a chairman in the midst of a team full of ideas”, as conductor Nil Venditti put it in NRC last month. . But Leusink still seems to have a remarkable amount of influence, with power within the commercial ensemble and within the operating foundation.
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The case before the Board was not brought against Leusink, who was also not mentioned by name in the process, but against the Netherlands Classical Concerts Foundation, which operated the commercial Bach Choir & Orchestra of the Netherlands until 2019. Since 2019, the operation has been taken over by the newly established Stichting Beleef Klassiek, which now has the same chairman as the old foundation. Officially, Leusink is hired by the foundation as the artistic director of the music ensemble. In this case, the Board accuses the foundation of not having sufficiently protected the musicians. However, the Commission has no doubts about the dominant position of ‘the conductor’. As artistic director of the ensemble, he determined who played. It also appears that Leusink had power within the foundation at the time: the vast majority of the organization in 2014 consisted of family members.
It is striking in the ruling that in one of the two cases the current foundation Experience Classics did not make a statement, as a result of which the Board accepted the accusations as facts. In the other case, the foundation said it had no indications that it involved anything other than an equal intimate relationship between two adult people. The Board ruled that the foundation should not have accepted this and should have protected the woman better. According to the Board, the current foundation can also be held responsible for Leusink’s conduct under the management of the previous foundation, Classical Concerts Netherlands.
The decision of the CRM has no direct consequences for Leusink or the foundation. The CRM, which is charged with protecting human rights in the Netherlands, can determine in individual cases whether or not there is discrimination, but it cannot attach any further consequences. In this case, according to the Board, the sexual intimidation was ‘prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sex’ by the musicians’ employer, the foundation that organizes the concerts of conductor Leusink. The ruling could be a stepping stone for a civil lawsuit against Leusink, for example to claim compensation. For this, the women themselves have to go to the civil court.
Leusink and his ensemble performed nine times in the Concertgebouw this year. He is also on the agenda for next season.