Sir John Eliot Gardiner cancels the rest of 2023

Sir John Eliot Gardiner cancels the rest of 2023


norman lebrecht

August 31, 2023

Agents for the British conductor have cleared his diary for the rest of the year, for reasons reported here last week:

Sir John Eliot Gardiner has taken the decision to withdraw from all engagements until next year.  He will be taking time out of his professional activities for a period of reflection and, in consultation with his medical advisors, will be focussing on his mental health while engaging in a course of counselling. 

He deeply regrets his behaviour and recognises that it has had a significant impact on colleagues for whom he has the most profound admiration and respect.

Throughout his unique 60-year career, John Eliot has striven to encourage and support generations of talented artists, and he passionately believes that all performers should feel comfortable and secure in their working environment.

Over the next few months he will be undergoing an extensive, tailored course of treatment and he asks for space and privacy while the programme is ongoing.

John Eliot said: “I am taking a step back in order to get the specialist help I recognise that I have needed for some time. I want to apologise to colleagues who have felt badly treated and anyone who may feel let down by my decision to take time out to address my issues. I am heartbroken to have caused so much distress and I am determined to learn from my mistakes”.

That’s all, folks.




  • drummerman says:

    Under the circumstances, this is the decent thing to do. Let’s hope he gets the help he needs and is back making music.

  • Conor says:

    I had the misfortune to have worked with John Eliot Gardiner in the 90’s and personally witnessed his wicked outbursts, insulting sadistic comments and heartless treatment of other musicians, so nothing different to what is now being reported to have transpired.
    I think that back then a person in authority could get away with such vile and disgusting behaviour whereas today it simply won’t be tolerated. That Mr. Gardiner now says that he will seek help for his “problem” seems a bit absurd, as this is nothing new coming from him and anyone reading this who worked with him 25 years ago or more recently will know that is the case.
    It is good that he has withdrawn for the rest of the year and it would be better that he only returns after long psychiatric treatment. It is doubtful that his case can be resolved in just a few months, as one can not change such a flawed character as his so easily, it having been part of his persona for decades, apparently without any change.
    Any orchestra, promoter or manager who books Mr. Gardiner should assume legal responsibility for his actions and any violence against any musician, stagehand or management, be it physical or verbal, should be immediately addressed by filing legal charges against him.

    • Save the MET says:

      Toscanini was known for his violent outbursts and belittling of musicians. Beecham would make regular remarks, though with a bit of whit…..there is the old story about the female cellist in the orchestra which Beecham told her that she was playing one of the greatests gifts of music that God bestowed to music and all she could do was scratch it between her legs. Then there was the Polish American conudutor Artur Rodzinski and French conductor Charles Lamoreaux who both carried pistols for protection against violent members of their orchestra they had berrated. Rodzinski even got in a fist fight with composer David Diamond over some comments he had made about his own work at a rehearsal. Kurt Masur and Dimitri Mitropoulos were also perfectionists and habitual orchestral musician belittlers and was the main reason his contract at the New York Philharmonic was not renewed. This is just a few…..there was even a book called, “The Maestro and the Jackboot which discusses such docnductors mid 20th Century. There is a tradition so conveniently forgotten in 2023 and Gardiner is old school.

      • Giustizia says:

        Margaret Harshaw told me that Beecham, then at the Met, could make you feel like a goat when you made a mistake.

      • Woman conductor says:

        Interestingly, bad behavior by those conductors spurred the creation of strong musician’s unions. During the time when this behavior was being curbed and screens went up to head off bias, orchestral standards skyrocketed.

    • Zach says:

      If you want to affect real change, sue your orchestra and the artistic director for creating a hostile working environment . It’s the gatekeepers who are responsible for constantly rehabilitating these serial abusers. The latter likely won’t and can’t change, but the people that hire them can be fired or pressured into making better decisions. This is where I would hope that the musicians unions can actively apply they leverage. After all, individual suits are less powerful than class action suits.

  • Gustavo says:

    A polite way of informing the public that he’s gone off in a huff.

    All this talk about mental health these days gets on my wick.

    It’s strange, however, that after a 60-year professional career he can’t keep his composure and apparently hasn’t learned anything for himself through music.

    Perhaps too much Berlioz drives you mad?

    • Jenny Berenson says:

      I got literally nothing about going “off in a huff” from this.

      Say what you will about Gardiner and his actions but he is one of the most contemplative people I’ve ever met and I do believe what he says here. I just hope that if/when he does come back he can focus on the music and leave the anger in the past.

      • Gustavo says:

        Hitting a singer and then cancelling all appearances with the excuse of long-standing mental-health issues?

        I ask you.

        If he had more backbone he would stand up in front of his colleagues (physically) to explain that he, the maestro, is a complex personality and that people who work for him just have to accept (learn to live with) these kind of outbursts (except for the punching and slapping bit – in such cases call the police!).

        At least verbal violence is what musicians have been putting up with since there has been a cult surrounding composers and their conductors.

      • Mazer says:

        This man assaulted someone.. And has a record as an abuser . He doesn’t get to come back. I hope he gets canceled to hell and back. What the hell is wrong with people that they make excuses for these jack wagons. Old school doesn’t mean you get to lunch people ffs.

        He can contemplate unemployment as far as I’m concerned

  • Maestro Rocky Marciano. says:

    I hope his victim has hired a good lawyer. Old John E. G has to shell out a few farthings as compensation for his violent behavior.

  • Rabengeraun says:

    Why doesn’t he just retire, instead of growing old disgracefully – I can’t imagine he’s desperate for the money.

  • insidetheHB says:

    There is no universe in which this can be dismissed as an isolated incident as a result of medication – his reputation as a human is literally terrible and has been well known as such for years. It’s not just violence, women is the industry have been warned never to get into a lift alone with him for years.

  • MWnyc says:

    “he passionately believes that all performers should feel comfortable and secure in their working environment.”

    No. No, he does not. And pretty much everyone who cares knows it, including the agents who wrote that.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    The statement comes across as textbook crisis management PR.

    Were I advising him, I’d have suggested first person singular, rather than third person, pronouns.

    I can understand his despair at the possibility of his career ending in such utter disgrace.

    The impression I get from this website is that he may have sufficient support to enable a moderately graceful return. He’s obviously not short of haters, though.

  • Bruckner8 says:

    Off Topic. Anybody noticed an increase in mobile phones ‘going off’ in quiet moments at the Proms? I’ve heard two so far, one at the end of the encore in the John Wilson Prom, seen here on the BBC iPlayer at 1:56:19

    And another at the end of the 1st movement of Mahler 9 in the Simon Rattle Prom at 1:03:47

    John Wilson hears the ring tone and mocks answering with his right hand, but Simon Rattle doesn’t acknowledge it.

  • TruthTeller says:

    Oh well, all is forgiven! The masses will return to the firing line.

  • SonicSinfonia says:

    So he’s effectively taking a couple of months off to get his head straight. The kind of therapy required to change 80 years of behaviour he has displayed for decades will take rather longer than that.

  • Zarathusa says:

    He’s temporarily gone…but like a “bad penny”, unfortunately, he’ll keep on coming back!!! 80 should be mandatory retirement age for a musical conductor! You don’t see any railroad conductors working at that age either!!!

  • Bryan Gilliam says:

    He’s a horrible man. I first met him after a rehearsal in Dresden. What a jerk. No treatment will help.

  • Rio Fer says:

    These people never change!! For instance does any one really believe that Placido Domingo learned his lesson and just out of the blue quit harassing female colleague singers ? He just can’t do it in the USA anymore that I can grant anyone….

  • Harpist says:

    Well, at least he recognized that there is a problem and is working to change and address it. Kudos to that.

  • Save the MET says:

    Gardiner has done so much right over his long career that this I hope is a momentary blip. He expects much and he delivers and orchestras have been inviting him back for years. Fortunately this was not a sexual harrassment issue and therefore there is a road back.

  • Gabriel Parra Blessing says:

    This brings up so many complicated questions and many conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, I’ve always been convinced that great conducting is never the result of a democratic environment. He (and increasingly she) must be prepared to impose a singular vision of the work on the orchestra and treat it as an instrument to carry out his will. I don’t buy into the nonsense of orchestral performance being a “collaborative” endeavor. That is, of course the players must “buy in,” but it is the conductor who, well, conducts. On the other hand, a conductor with *real* authority, the kind of authority that naturally emerges from having a compelling artistic vision, has no need to resort to becoming a tyrant or an autocrat. It brings to mind someone like Furtwängler, my favorite conductor, who by all accounts was someone the players under him would follow to the ends of the Earth without ever feeling compelled to do so out of fear. He was adored by them because of the transcendent results he so often achieved, and never had to resort to the type of behavior that made a Toscanini a terrifying personality in order to get his orchestras to play like men possessed for him. Other tyrannical conductors come to mind like Szell and Reiner. You can hear it in the recordings they left behind: so often ferociously precise, but never able to transcend the limits of mere technical perfection to achieve the visionary quality that characterizes so many of Furtwängler’s best recordings. You don’t have to believe me, of course. Just read the many testimonials of those who played under Furtwängler. Never have I read anything but glowing descriptions about what it was like to play for him. Do conductors who exude that kind of overwhelming artistic authority, and who have no need to throw a tantrum to exert their will, even exist anymore?

    • George says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment! Its been uplifting to read about Furtwängler and furs the art if mudic he had created!

  • Herbie G says:

    “Sir John Eliot Gardiner cancels the rest of 2023″? I didn’t know that he was so powerful. Even the British government cancelled only eleven days when we adopted the Gregorian calendar, and that caused riots. I don”t think that this has been the case (at least so far) over Gardiner’s withdrawal.

    Nobody is indispensible. Reports of the death of classical music have been greatly exaggerated – for each musician who retires, there are plenty of potential successors waiting in the wings; some of today’s apprentices will become tomorrow’s maestri. It would be interesting to hear from SD’s contributors who, among the younger generation, might be the giants of the future.

    Fortunately JEG will leave behind him a huge recorded legacy; I have never warmed to his performances but many have. Time will tell whether he will achieve the same acclaim as the likes of Boult, Beecham and Barbirolli, who, it seems, managed to secure outstanding performances through their being respected and loved by players rather than through ranting, intimidation and egoism. After all, if you take the ‘i’ out of Gardiner, you get ‘Gardner’…

  • Ted says:

    And you can see by the harshness of some of these replies that the only thing preventing a bunch of musicians from behaving the same way is a podium.

    • Geiger Counter says:

      Trying to find an equivalence between calling out abusing behaviour and the abusive behaviour itself is clutching at victim-blaming straws. Don’t be ridiculous.

  • Mystic Chord says:

    JEG will at least be able to address his issues promptly with private treatment – spare a thought for the huge numbers of people who have mental health issues and spend months, sometimes years, waiting for NHS treatment, the suitability of which can be extremely variable.