One early music master calls out another

One early music master calls out another


norman lebrecht

April 04, 2014

Peter Phillips, director of the Tallis Scholars, has a blast at his colleague John Eliot Gardiner in The Spectator today, apparently in the interest of soliciting public views on the cult of the awe-inspiring maestro. Phillips refers to…

the story that John Eliot Gardiner recently lost his temper with a brass player in the London Symphony Orchestra. His ‘notorious rudeness to performers and colleagues’ has been referred to in these pages by Stephen Walsh. What do we think of that? Do we love his music-making so much that we forgive him the odd peccadillo? Perhaps we think his music-making must be all the better for it. What is certain is that Gardiner is no Wagner: his achievements are likely to be forgotten soon after his death, as is the case with just about every conductor there ever was. If this is true, do we still indulge him?


_Peter Phillips credit Albert Roosenburg   vs  John-Eliot-Gardner-Bach-Marathon-620x319

Phillips (c) Albert Roosenburg            JEG (Royal Albert Hall)


  • francis says:

    Nothing to add but I’d like to subsribe to the comments on this story.


  • Will says:

    Mr (Dr?) Phillips might have mentioned in fairness that SIR John Eliot subsequently sent a written apology to the trumpet player in question.

    • Anon says:

      Apology or no apology, John Eliot’s behaviour can be nothing short of outrageous. It’s not like losing his temper or being excessively rude is anything new with him, which makes the apology almost irrelevant. His ability to make performers and administrative staff feel worthless is quite extraordinary. He is the master manipulator.

      That said, I don’t believe he’ll be forgotten for a very long time. The man is an exceptional talent as a scholar and performer and his recordings will be a lasting legacy.

      • Will Duffay says:

        I suspect that the legacy of many of the early music pioneers will be to have shown how modern orchestras can play standard repertoire with a new freshness. The legacy of JEG and Norrington will be the superior recordings of, for example, Beethoven, by Chailly and others.

        There’s still work for modern orchestras to take up in Bach and Handel, Haydn and Mozart, not least restoring some of the excessively fast tempi of people like Minkowski and Bruggen to something more musical and rhythmically interesting, while keeping the clarity and freshness which the early music conductors brought. Standard symphony orchestras are now no longer afraid of Haydn, and it’ll be time for them to return to the Brandenburgs.

        • Anon10 says:

          ” … not least restoring some of the excessively fast tempi of people like …” Gardiner himself! I sat in a performance of Bach’s cantata “Ich hate veil Bekümmernis” in Leipzig during a recent BachFest. JEG took the opening chorus so fast, German heads all around were wagging in utter disdain. He is one of the speed demons! My impression was the exact opposite of Will Duffay’s!

          And please, no more Brandenburgs! My local “classical” FM station plays them incessantly – daily – and although we salute the genius who created them, I’d much rather hear a cantata!

          PS. Following the above Leipziger event, my friends and repaired to an Italian cuisine restaurant in pouring rain. We had ordered, and 45 minutes later, only one of our party had received his soup. (We were, at that point, the only customers in the place.) In swaggers JEG with an entourage of perhaps a dozen others. We waited for our food, which didn’t come. Finally one of our group went to the kitchen and asked when we could expect our food to arrive. The owner angrily came over to our table and ordered us out of the restaurant! JEG could easily observe this drama, but unlike the gentleman he pretends to be, chose to ignore the situation. He could have come to our rescue, but although we had now been at table, hungry and unattended for over an hour, he hid behind his menu. I know, the expulsion was on the owner, but JEG could have solved the problem that his late arrival caused. Disclaimer: the above incident has nothing to do with my general disdain for the man as conductor and spoiled child.

          • Will Duffay says:

            You misread me. I didn’t specifically mention him, but I include him in a list of speed demons. My point was that standard principal conductors of symphony orchestras can take up Haydn, Mozart, Bach (etc etc) not least to correct the tempi of JEG & co.

        • M.A. Steinberger says:

          I’m not sure I have the exact quote regarding too-fast tempos, but G.B. Shaw said “…and they did the Marriage of Figaro overture in under 3 minutes. That may be very well to time an egg by, but I prefer a 4 minute egg.” That is my personal favorite criticism of excessive speed, for speed’s sake.

    • Will Duffay says:


    • Anon says:

      …and that the orchestra were able to jovially welcome him back to the podium the next time he was in “for round two”. Peter Phillips seems intent on raking up a story which has resolved itself merely to have a pop at someone else.

      (As an aside, a wing collar with a DJ? And what looks suspiciously like a ready-tied bow-tie? Dear me.)

    • Neil says:

      Thump someone in a normal job you’d get fired or at least a final written warning. But not the LSO.

    • sdReader says:

      Ah, so Sir John Eliot Gardiner was the mystery man who slugged the brass player! I may never hear my old Erato Dixit Dominus in quite the same way now.

  • Anon 2 says:

    From personal, unhappy experience I can tell you Sir John can be rude to, and dismissive of, ordinary types who have paid to come to hear his work. He lost me as a member of his audience a few years ago and I haven’t attended any of his LSO concerts since.

  • Bill says:

    A giant yawn splits the Cosmos.

    Both maestros are non-events in the grand scheme of things. They both have a gift for fundraising, working with colleagues of very high standard and well burnished self-belief which do not equate to the musical talents of greater artists of today, let alone of the past.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    How true Norman- can’t remember who said it- something to the effect of when conductors pass expire all that remains are anecdotes.

    Very brave of Peter Phillips to name and shame a fellow baton waver.

    Apparently JEG is one of the most unpleasant in the music business- full of arrogance. Who knows where this derives from?- perhaps hanging out with his father who was a prominent fascist and friend of Oswald Mosely.

    On the other side of the coin- JEG is an exceptional conductor. A real inspiration and scintillating across a huge repertoire ranging from Bach to the Merry Widow. I would pay good money to see him, even though he’s rich enough already.

    We’re told the days of the dictatorial maestro are over. This is partly a deceit. There are plenty of conductors out there prone to nasty temper tantrums and worse than JEG. Conductors careers and their fragile reputations are supported by agents and managers often in conflict to the passive resistance of the players under them. But things have changed and player power is on the up- look what happened to Dutoit (another outstanding conductor) in Montreal not too long ago.

  • Hasbeen says:

    The incident, regrettable from all sides, seems to have been apologised for and put behind by all involved. John Eliot Gardiner’s contributions have had a significant effect on how we hear music today. It is true that names are forgotten over time but his contribution to the the evolution of interpretation and how we hear music will remain a part of John Eliot Gardiner’s very significant legacy.

  • tenortubby says:

    Peter is being a little unkind to himself and other people in his position – certainly both he and JEG will be remembered as pioneers in their field (but only one of them thinks he’s a proper maestro) – but his point that the original creators of the music are the ones whose names will live on for ever is valid. People will still be performing and revering Bach and Tallis in 500 years time. Those of us doing it now might well be remembered in articles and historical footnotes, and hopefully listened to occasionally, but not much more than that. If the stories are true, JEG’s treatment of the brass player would have seen him in court on assault charges in the real world, and I’ve seen him be unbelievably vile to people on many occasions, which is not the way to make music. Peter treats his singers decently. JEG wouldn’t recognise decency if it hit him in the face and then sent an insincere written apology.

    • MK says:

      To be fair, Chris, you have benefited from the largesse of one of these men and not so much the other, and you’re well aware on which side your bread is buttered. There are one or two (extremely) long-standing servants of Mr Phillips’ mission who might question whether their enforced “retirements” were the act of a “decent” man. Perhaps more on the passive side of aggressive, but extraordinarily damaging nonetheless.

      • tenortubby says:

        MK – I’d happily debate this in private but not in a public forum such as this, as it would inevitably end up getting personal. And there are always at least two sides to every story. But I would question your use of the word ‘largesse’ – I am lucky enough to work for and get paid by several conductors and have absolutely no need to been seen sticking up for any of them in public. If a conductor likes what you do they can employ you to do it up until the point that you no longer do it well enough for their tastes. It’s a free market.

        By the way, having deliberately not used my name I’d much rather that you had avoided doing so, and as I have no idea who you are I wonder if you might do me the courtesy of mentioning yours.

  • Halldor says:

    Beautifully put by Peter Phillips. There are infinitely greater artists currently working than JEG, who are also decent human beings. No reason why these bullies should ever work again. Baffled how anyone who anyone can enjoy a recording by an artist who is known to have made his fellow musicians suffer while making it.

  • nyer says:

    I’m sorry, but I fail to see what business JEG’s “peccadillos” are to Peter P. He seems to be stooping badly to rather uncollegial gossip.