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Conductor Robert King Convicted of Abusing Teenage Boys

By Matthew Westphal
04 Jun 2007

Robert King
photo by Stephen Page

(updated June 7, 2007)

Robert King, founder and director of the ensemble The King's Consort and a major figure in the period-instrument movement, has been convicted by a London jury of 14 incidents of indecent assault over an 11-year period and sentenced to almost four years in prison.

In a trial that began on May 8 in Isleworth Crown Court in London, the 46-year-old conductor was accused of 15 counts of indecent assault on five teenage boys, ranging in age from 12 to 16 at the time, over a period between 1982 (when King was 21 and had just graduated from Cambridge University) and 1995. The last of the counts was dismissed by the trial judge.

The alleged victims were all at one time students of King's at a secondary school or young musicians referred to the conductor by other teachers. The accusers claim that King touched or groped their genitals, usually in the context of some kind of wrestling or horseplay or when he was toweling them dry after a bath.

Most of the accusations allege that King got the young men drunk, with one claiming that the conductor had given him 15 bottles of beer in one hour. (To this, according to BBC News, King told the court, "I don't think I have ever seen anyone drink 15 bottles of beer in an hour.") Another said that King had given him gin, according to a report in London's Evening Standard shortly after the trial began last month.

The five accusers evidently remained silent about the abuse until sometime last year. Two of them knew "each other slightly" but there were no other connections among the five, prosecutor Sarah Whitehouse told the court early in the trial, according to the BBC. The recollections of the men were "hazy" after the passage of years but all contained "very similar features," she said.

King has denied all the charges. He was quoted by BBC News last month as telling the court that the accusations made him "nearly fall off my chair ... I thought somebody ... had gone off his rocker." He dismissed all the accusations as lies.

The jury deliberated for 21 hours over five days, according to BBC News, before finding King guilty of all 14 counts it considered.

When the verdict was announced in court today, the conductor "gasped, swayed and paled visibly," according to London's Daily Telegraph.

Judge Hezlett Colgan sentenced King to three years and nine months in prison, beginning immediately, and the conductor will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. The judge did not bar King from working with children in the future, however, citing the "radical change" in King's life (marriage and fatherhood) since the time of the offenses.

Robert King founded The King's Consort in England in 1980 as part of the wave of period-instrument ensembles that revolutionized the performance of Baroque music during the final decades of the 20th century. King and his group became something of a house band with the label Hyperion Records, for which they have made 95 recordings that have sold over one million copies in total. The King's Consort's catalogue constitutes a major contribution to the general discography of Baroque music: it includes the first-ever recordings of Purcell's complete odes and welcome songs, complete sacred music and complete secular solo songs; the first period-instrument version of Vivaldi's complete sacred music, and ten of Handel's oratorios and other English-language stage works, at least five of which were the first recordings on period instruments.

Those recordings will not be pulled from the market. Hyperion's U.S. distributor, Harmonia Mundi USA, forwarded to PlaybillArts a brief statement from the label: "The recordings of The King's Consort will remain available, since they have involved the efforts of literally hundreds of first-rate musicians and it does not seem fair or appropriate to restrict their work from sale. Mr. King does not receive income from continuing sales of Hyperion CDs." The group's most recent recording, of Handel's Nine German Arias with soprano Carolyn Sampson, has just been issued in Europe and will be released in the U.S. in July.

The King's Consort itself will evidently continue its work as planned, at least for the immediate future. The ensemble engaged its first Associate Director, harpsichordist Matthew Halls, last summer, and he will direct the group's next concerts: this Sunday (June 10) at the St. Pölten Baroque Music Festival in Austria, June 22 and 24 at the ION-Musica Sacra festival in Nuremberg, and July 5 to open the York Early Music Festival.

Harrison Parrott, King's management agency, has quietly removed his artist page from its website.




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