Why the constant Gardiner will be back

Why the constant Gardiner will be back


norman lebrecht

August 31, 2023

The least surprising feature of the withdrawal of Sir John Eliot Gardiner from all engagements for the rest of 2023 is the lack of reaction one way or the other, from those who have worked with the condcutor for up to half a century.

JEG, 80, has always been a controversial figure. Stories about him abound wherever singers and musicians congregate. They were still being whispered in social media corners this past week, but never in public media.

Why is that?  A number of reasons.

1 Many well-known performers owe him their start in life. Whatever he may have said or done to them since, the sense of gratitude persists.

2 Many musicians nurture hopes that he will engage them in future. As a self-starter, he casts by his own rules, not the formbook maintained by the music industry.

3 Quite a few musicioans are fond of one or other of his ex-wives and children and wish to spare them distress.

4 JEG is reputed to have friends in high places.

5 Most important of all, no conductor has created more work for more musicians at his own personal risk over a longer period in music history. JEG may have stepped back for the rest of 2023, but the music biz expect he will be back before very long, and there will be no want of bookings.



  • Gustavo says:

    Applied to today’s climate, this means that JEG has shamelessly exploited his position of power and has defended it at all costs.

    Kind of like a Trump of the fine arts.

    Recent outbreaks of physical violence confirm his superiority and thirst for power.

    • Tamino says:

      The Trump comparison is totally off. Trump is someone who is a ruthless narcissist, only adored by masses of bottom-of-society retards, and some corporate fascist, who hope to get their agenda in through him.
      JEG is respected by much of the initiated professional music world and audiences alike, while exposing some major character flaws.

    • orchestra musician says:

      Cadet Bone Spurs has no skills, in any field,and a very,very simple mind,to pit it mildly…End of discussion.

    • Skeeter says:

      More like Biden than Trump. Trump, with all of his reprehensible baggage, accomplished some lasting good: economic, geopolitical, judicial. Biden has accomplished only lasting failures: economic, geopolitical, judicial.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        When an immovable object (the American hard Left) meets an irresistible force (opposition, the right, conservatives) …….well, there was and is always going to be trouble. Trump is the Frankenstein monster of the American Left.

      • orchestra musician says:

        Are you kidding???Just name a few of his “accomplishments”….With evidence,please!LOL!

    • MMcGrath says:

      Get a grip, Gustavo. Comparing Trump and Gardiner? You clearly have no idea who and what Trump is. Which trivializes the threat to the world this phenomenon represents.

      And unless you’re his son or son-in-law, you have no idea who the conductor is.

      But you do have a grand sense of imagination.

  • IC225 says:

    “no conductor has created more work for more musicians at his own personal risk over a longer period in music history” Beecham?
    And Christopher Hogwood did at least as much as Gardiner before his untimely death, and without the wealth or social advantages of coming from the landed gentry. Also a damn’ sight less nasty about it.

    • MWnyc says:

      Did Hogwood fund his own projects the way Beecham did?

      The main reason more musicians aren’t telling Gardiner horror stories publicly is, of course, that he has the ability, more or less on his own, to give or withhold paid work, and they need paid work.

      • IC225 says:

        Hogwood undewrote his ensemble (and frequently met payroll) from his own guest-conducting fees. He wasn’t privately wealthy: he built a reputation, worked hard to earn money and poured huge amounts of it back into underwriting the group’s non-recordimg activity and supporting his players. At his early death he left much of his estate to the AAM.

      • Save the MET says:

        Hogwood is a different sort of character. Beecham was the real deal, Hogwood a charlatan. He fancied himself a scholar and his academic work was dubious and real musicologisats could kick holes the size of tunnels through his “work” there. Also, Hogwood as a conductor tended to stay the the area of unusual Baroque where he could be less criticized than if he were a mainstream conductor. I would not use him in any way in comparison to Gardiner and Beecham who were genuine musicians.

    • SonicSinfonia says:

      I wonder how much of creating work for musicians at his own risk was because his reputation in the industry required he create his own work? Lucky he has sufficient wealth and privilege to be able to fund it. Other equally, or more, talented musicians would never be able to do so.

    • Gerry McDonald says:

      Anyone who thinks established conductors take a financial risk on a concert does not understand the concept of a Limited Company.

    • IP says:

      Yes, both recorded the Messiah. Except that Gardiner’s is listenable, and Hogwood’s is not. Boring as hell.

  • Missed one! says:

    6 He’s a brilliant musician who frequently receives 5* reviews and widespread acclaim.

  • Patrick Shaw says:

    There’s no doubting he is a GREAT conductor but now is undoubtedly the time to slow down on his work.

    • Derek Trotter says:

      The best thing he ever did was his book on Bach which is superb. Truthfully, some of the recordingsm especially those “live” are really sounding their age now, and more modern “period” bands if hat makes sense sound so much better (and happier?)

  • anon says:

    This article, seemingly: He assaulted a singer in front of witnesses just last week and “stories abound about him,” but he’s got some talent so he’ll be back and we’re wholly uncritical of that likelihood…

    Why on earth is the risk of assault a reasonable trade off for continuing to employ this man when there are so many other worthy musicians just as capable who somehow manage to avoid assaulting those around them?

    • SVM says:

      I think the point being made is that JEG is more an *employer* (well, strictly speaking, an engager…) than an employee. So, it is not a matter of “continuing to employ this man”, but rather a matter of “continuing to engage ensembles run/directed/owned by this man”. In general, concert promoters, in deciding which persons or ensembles to engage, make decisions on the basis of selling seats and perceived artistic quality, and take account of the personal foibles of individuals only insofar as these impinge seriously upon the aforementioned considerations. Even if the funding and governance structure of JEG’s ensembles did not preclude the removal of JEG without his consent, there would be nothing preventing him from starting a new ensemble, as long as he has the means to pay the players.

  • Observer says:

    Missing from your list of reasons is the number one: he is an exceptional artist, a maverick with a perpetual appetite for diving deep into musical fabric while leaving no stones unturned. Rare figures like that act as a magnet for musicians, and many are willing to put up with the heat in the kitchen and his autocratic approach in order to accompany him on these journeys – up to a certain point.

    That point might very well have been reached for good. None of the above justifies abuse (physical or psychological), and everybody in the business knows he is by no means a first offender. Can he change at 80? Doubts are justified. What is sure is that the world around him has changed and keeps changing, and those who can’t adapt disappear. Even the best ones.

  • Ex MCO Chorene says:

    I believe Marriner’s Academy of St Martins’ made some 400 recordings before starting on operas. Gardiner’s 3rd wife (he regularly tries to claim there have only been 2), who was recently and v expensively divorced, arranged anger management therapy for him. It appears it didn’t work then – why would it now? His latest squeeze is less than half his age. He initially claimed that a change in meds could have been a cause. Overdoing the Viagra?

  • SonicSinfonia says:

    Having withdrawn from the remaining Troyens tour performances and allowing for the Christmas break, that’s perhaps a couple of months work. Hardly much time to reflect, receive treatment and ment 80 years of ways.

    Levine also created work opportunities for many performers and was also untouchable for decades, until one day he wasn’t.

    • MWnyc says:

      Levine started to become touchable when his neurological condition(s) worsened so much that he wasn’t able to conduct properly anymore but would not give up trying.

      (People keep forgetting that he lost/gave up his conducting job at the Met for health reasons; by the time he was fired for sexual misconduct, he was only still running the young artists’ program.)

  • Shane W says:

    6. Grumpy, old, white men are really underrepresented in society in general, let alone in classical music.

  • Has=been says:

    Perhaps some of us who have worked with him prefer to show our support privately rather than join the mccarthyite shaden freud exhibited by some in the comments here.

  • Bezalel says:

    Anger management course?

  • orchestra musician says:

    Fully agreed.Fair assessment.

  • Glynne Williams says:

    Well he’ll be sorely missed. I know musicians who won’t play with him because of his volatility, and that’s completely umderstandable, but let’s hope he gets his mental problems sorted out and he can finish his career in a far more positive way to reflect all the great things he and his ensembles have achieved.

  • Emil says:

    6- There is a complete absence of cultural journalism and investigative journalism that has the interest, responsibilities, and connections for this kind of investigations. There are classical music critics and columnists – who are not investigative journalists. Classical music magazines do not have that kind of investigative orientation. And generalist investigative journalists have other fish to fry and won’t have that kind of readership, or the contacts and understanding of the classical music and opera worlds.
    The one moment where Gardiner could have been large enough to interest mainstream journalists would have been the Coronation, and then the British press was unanimously engaged in puffing up the monarchy – they weren’t going to tear down one of the Coronation conductors.
    Come think of it, what’s the last investigative story in classical music? I count two:
    1- Chloé Briot accusing a fellow singer of sexual assault. She had to publicly testify, and there was a court proceeding (at a publicly-funded theatre). And France has a much more dynamic cultural journalism scene.
    2- The AP report sexual misconduct allegations against Placido Domingo. And that was against one of the few classical stars to have mainstream recognition. And the classical world closed ranks around Domingo and the journalist suffered lengthy abuse. Doesn’t really encourage sustained interest, does it?

  • Been there says:

    All your points are rather correct. I had a hideous experience with him a few years ago and vowed to forever boycott his Bach recordings. I lasted 3 months. They are just too good. I hope he is sincere- he absolutely has anger management issues- and if he really does get some help and control, I can be forgiving.

  • Henry Cohen says:

    John Eliot Gardiner and the stubborn archetype of the bully maestro – The Washington Post

  • Mecky Messer says:

    This is, without a doubt, on the top 3 most tone deaf, self centered, myopic blog entry in the already insanely biased track record of this website.

    The only thing JEG has been the greatest in history is in the hyperbole and overestimation of his null influence in both culture, society or even music.

    The old fart is not even 10% of a leonhardt.

    Do a national survey, and literally 0.001% of the population knows this person is even alive.

  • Herbie G says:

    The main question is, to me, whether he has made any effort to approach the victim, apologise personally and offer him compensation for the assault. Stentorian self-serving apologies are merely damage-limiting gambits to salve JEG’s own reputation.

    • Jules says:

      According to JEG, he apologized personally to the victim. Any compensation other than that is unknown.

    • Rudy says:

      The singer should sue Gardiner for a large amount of money, and give some percentage of it to the Musicians Benevolent Find.
      Then, we can forgive the old man.

  • microview says:

    I well remember a DG/Archiv invite to launch his first Beethoven cycle, where all he did was slag off the Karajan recordings. Future partner Isabella, meanwhile pushed the proper press officer well. into the background, poor girl.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    #5 makes the most sense.

  • Thank you, Sir John! says:

    John Eliot Gardiner’s recording of Gluck’s opera, Orfeo ed Euridice with Derek Lee Ragin, countertenor, as Orfeo, is a classic. He moves the music at a brisk pace, not the slow, lugubrious, boring pace so often heard elsewhere. I shall always be grateful to him for that performance. Thank you, Sir John!