Jun 28, 2023
Proms conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner ‘punched singer who exited podium on the wrong side’
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who performed at the King’s Coronation, reportedly rebuked chorister backstage before hitting him Sir John Eliot Gardiner punched a member of his own choir in a backstage row,
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who performed at the King’s Coronation, reportedly rebuked chorister backstage before hitting him
Sir John Eliot Gardiner punched a member of his own choir in a backstage row, the Telegraph understands.
The world-renowned British conductor, 80, berated a bass singer called William Thomas, 29, in an apparent outburst over the way the young chorister had exited the stage.
Sir John Eliot branded the singer a “dozy bugger” before slapping him and punching him in the face, according to sources.
The incident took place backstage in the wings following a performance of the opera Les Troyens, the Trojans, at the Berlioz Festival in southeast France.
It is understood that Mr Thomas turned to step off the stage the wrong way and was confronted by Sir John Eliot, who questioned his lack of concentration, and proceeded to insult him and hit him.
The incident has caused concerns for the health of Sir John Eliot, who has abandoned further planned performance in France and was flown back to the UK to see his doctor.
Mr Thomas was performing with the Monteverdi Choir founded in 1964 by Sir John Eliot himself, and it is understood that the ensemble has privately condemned the actions of the conductor and offered their support to their colleague after he was punched.
Sir John Eliot, Mr Thomas, and the Monteverdi Choir were due to perform Les Troyens as part of the BBC Proms programme in September.
Earlier this year, Sir John featured at the King’s Coronation after he was asked to perform for the first 20 minutes as guests arrived at Westminster Abbey.
Sir John is believed to have struck up a friendship with Charles after meeting him at an event in Sandringham with the pair bonding over classical music and sustainable agriculture.
BBC executives are investigating the incident in France to judge how appropriate it would be for the conductor, one of the world’s most highly-regarded, to go ahead with the planned Prom following the backstage incident.
A spokesman for the BBC said: “We take allegations about inappropriate behaviour seriously and are currently establishing the facts about the incident.”
Sources have suggested that tempers may have become frayed by the intense 98F (37C) heat at the Berlioz Festival in the composer’s birthplace of La Côte-Saint-André, which was compounded by ensemble performing in the theatre, Le Théâtre-Lyrique, under full lights, and tackling a difficult piece that runs over five hours.
It has been suggested that such conditions, which would have been taxing for a younger composer, may have played a part in the incident involving the 80-year-old Sir John Eliot. Sir John’s representatives have been contacted for comment.
Representatives of Mr Thomas, a Guildhall graduate, have not responded to requests for comment on the incident.
Sir John Eliot was born in Dorset in 1943, and went on to study at King’s College Cambridge, where he launched his career with a performance of Vespro della Beata Vergine by Monteverdi in the college chapel in 1964.
He took the name of the composer and used it for the choral ensemble which he has led ever since.
He has become renowned internationally for his interpretation of Baroque works, particularly Bach, but also for his work on symphonies by Beethoven and his love of French composer Hector Berlioz.
Sir John Eliot was due to deliver further Berlioz performances in France, and while he will not be conducting, the choir is keen to press ahead with the project.
The Berlioz Festival has not commented on the incident, but it is understood the Moneverdi Orchestra and Choir will perform, with associate conductor Dinis Sousa likely stepping in to conduct.
The behaviour of conductors has become a topical subject in recent months, with the Oscar-nominated 2023 film Tar, which follows the eponymous lead, played by Cate Blanchett, as she slips from an untouchable conducting genius to become a disgraced pariah.