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Trinity Church’s Conductor Put on Leave Amid Investigation

Trinity Wall Street, one of New York’s wealthiest and most powerful churches, said on Saturday that it was placing its high-profile director of music on leave as it investigates an allegation of sexual misconduct against him.

The director, Julian Wachner, a highly-regarded conductor, composer and keyboardist who has been a fixture at the church for more than a decade, has been accused by a former Juilliard employee, Mary Poole, of sexual assault. Ms. Poole said in an interview with The New York Times that during a music festival in 2014, Mr. Wachner pushed her against a wall, groped her and kissed her, and that he ignored her demands that he stop. Mr. Wachner denies the accusations.

In a statement to The Times on Saturday, Trinity did not mention Ms. Poole by name but said the church first learned of “allegations of sexual misconduct” against Mr. Wachner last month from social media. Ms. Poole recently posted a detailed account of her encounter with Mr. Wachner on her social media accounts, saying, “I was totally violated.”

Trinity said it had hired outside counsel to investigate. “Julian was placed on administrative leave on March 1 and will remain on leave during the investigation,” the church said in its statement. “Trinity takes these allegations very seriously.”

Mr. Wachner, through an attorney, denied the accusations.

“We respect Trinity’s decision to conduct a thorough investigation,” said the attorney, Andrew T. Miltenberg. “Ms. Poole’s outrageous allegations are categorically false and my client looks forward to the matter being resolved. Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation we cannot comment further at this time.”

Ms. Poole helped organize a 2014 Juilliard festival in Aiken, S.C., that featured Mr. Wachner and the acclaimed Trinity choir. In the interview, Ms. Poole said that one evening, at a house where Juilliard staff members were staying, Mr. Wachner asked her to get him a drink. While she was preparing the drink in the kitchen, she said, he pushed her against a wall and began to grope and kiss her for almost two minutes, even as she told him repeatedly to stop.

Two people interviewed by The Times — a friend of Ms. Poole’s and a former colleague — recalled hearing Ms. Poole describe the details of the encounter with Mr. Wachner at the time. Ms. Poole said she did not report the incident to the police, since she was in another state and pressed for time in the middle of a tour.

In the interview, Ms. Poole, who was 24 at the time, said that she felt powerless in dealing with Mr. Wachner, an influential figure in the classical music industry. “I felt like I could not defend myself,” she said, adding that at the time she worried she might suffer professional consequences if she spoke up. She said that she still has panic attacks that she attributes to the encounter.

Ms. Poole reported the incident to Juilliard, which vowed not to hire Mr. Wachner again.

In a statement on Saturday, Juilliard said it was aware of “unacceptable conduct” by Wachner in 2014.

“Sexual misconduct or discrimination are not tolerated at Juilliard, and we take all allegations very seriously,” the school said in a statement. “At the time we offered our full support to Ms. Poole and informed Mr. Wachner that he would not be invited back to Juilliard in the future. Since that time we have had no relationship with Mr. Wachner.”

Trinity, one of the city’s wealthiest churches, has a portfolio of office buildings, stock investments and residential development worth $6 billion — and a critically-acclaimed music program.

As director of music and the arts, Wachner oversees the church’s choir, its Baroque orchestra and its contemporary ensemble, which together present hundreds of events each year. He is perhaps best known for his annual performances of Handel’s “Messiah” — in 2018, The Times credited him with leading “the best ‘Messiah’ in New York.” He has been nominated for Grammy Awards and has collaborated with leading organizations, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Los Angeles Opera.

In recent months, Wachner has emerged as one of three finalists to serve as the next artistic director of the renowned Oregon Bach Festival. The festival did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

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