Jun 27, 2023
John Eliot Gardiner pulls out of BBC Proms after punching bass soloist
Conductor assaulted English singer backstage in France after reportedly telling him he had left podium on wrong side An internationally renowned conductor has pulled out of the BBC Proms after
Conductor assaulted English singer backstage in France after reportedly telling him he had left podium on wrong side
An internationally renowned conductor has pulled out of the BBC Proms after punching and slapping a soloist for allegedly entering the stage incorrectly at the Berlioz festival in France.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, 80, assaulted William Thomas, 29, an English bass who represented England in the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, after an opera performance on Tuesday, according to reports.
A BBC spokesperson said: “Sir John Eliot Gardiner has decided to withdraw from the performance of The Trojans at this year’s BBC Proms. We are grateful that Dinis Sousa will step in to conduct the performance on 3 September.”
In a statement, Gardiner apologised unreservedly for his behaviour saying: “I make no excuses for my behaviour and have apologised personally to Will Thomas, for whom I have the greatest respect. I do so again, and to the other artists, for the distress that this has caused.
“I have returned to the UK and have decided to withdraw from conducting all the remaining performances of Les Troyens. I wish Dinis Sousa and all the musicians great success for the remaining concerts on the tour. I know that physical violence is never acceptable and that musicians should always feel safe. I ask for your patience and understanding as I take time to reflect on my actions.”
Before Gardiner quit, the BBC said: “We take allegations about inappropriate behaviour seriously and are currently establishing the facts about the incident.”
Sources told the Slipped Disc classical music website the assault took place backstage on Tuesday, in the wings and out of sight of the audience, with claims Gardiner rebuked Thomas before the cast for leaving the podium on the wrong side, and slapped and punched him in the face.
Gardiner was conducting a performance of The Trojans, an opera by Hector Berlioz, with his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in La Côte-Saint-André, south-east France, the composer’s birthplace and home to the annual festival.
A representative for Gardiner said the conductor was suffering from extreme heat in France and suspects a recent change in his medication may have provoked behaviour he now regrets, Slipped Disc reported. The Guardian has also contacted Gardiner’s representatives for comment.
Thomas’s agent has been approached for comment, but told Slipped Disc: “We can confirm that an incident took place after Tuesday’s performance of Berlioz’s Les Troyens with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and Monteverdi Choir at La Côte-Saint-André.
“Bass William Thomas is looking forward to continuing the tour with performances in Salzburg, Versailles, Berlin and at the BBC Proms, and will not be making a statement at this time.
“All musicians deserve the right to practise their art in an environment free from abuse or physical harm.”
The cast was reportedly told on Wednesday that Gardiner was leaving for London immediately to see his doctor, while his assistant, Dinis Sousa, took over. Gardiner was expected to continue the tour to Salzburg, Versailles and Berlin, the website said.
The conductor allegedly confronted Thomas after the show as the cast was celebrating in the wings. Gardiner is alleged to have approached the group while carrying a half pint of beer and said: “I feel like throwing this over your head,” the source said.
When Thomas warned him not to do so, witnesses said Gardiner slapped the singer in the face and then punched him in the mouth. There was a “brief shouting battle” before Thomas left with colleagues, the Times reported.
The management of the Monteverdi Choir, which Gardiner created in 1964 as a Cambridge undergraduate, subsequently met the performers to check on their welfare.
A Monteverdi Choir & Orchestras spokesperson said: “John Eliot Gardiner has decided not to return to conduct the remaining performances of the Monteverdi Choir & Orchestras’ tour of Berlioz’s Les Troyens. The upcoming concerts at Salzburg, Versailles, Berlin and the BBC Proms will be conducted by Dinis Sousa, MCO’s associate conductor, who has worked closely with John Eliot and the musicians throughout the rehearsal process.
“We continue to look into the events that occurred on Tuesday evening. Our values of respect and inclusivity are fundamental to us as a company and we take seriously the welfare of all our performers and employees.’’
Gardiner was chosen by King Charles, who is a friend, to lead the first 20 minutes of music at the coronation in May. He has long had a reputation for being tempestuous and rude to performers, according to a 2015 Spectator article by the commentator Damian Thompson, who wrote that for all the conductor’s undoubted talent, “one art eludes him: good manners”.
“Not consistently,” Thompson wrote. “‘Jiggy’, as he doesn’t like to be known, is scrupulously respectful to his friend the Prince of Wales [now king]. But musicians tell a different story, of tantrums and haughty self-regard. Anecdotes about him circulated privately until Stephen Walsh, praising Gardiner’s book in the Spectator, referred to his ‘notorious rudeness to performers and colleagues’. Peter Phillips, director of the Tallis Scholars, quoted this in his column, adding that Jiggy ‘recently lost his temper with a brass player in the London Symphony Orchestra’ (which was putting it mildly, apparently).”