Maestro accused of striking singer at performance apologizes

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Maestro accused of striking singer at performance apologizes
A photo provided by Bruno Moussier shows John Eliot Gardiner conducting “Les Troyens” at the Festival Berlioz in La Côte-Saint-André, France, on Aug. 22, 2023. The renowned conductor John Eliot Gardiner, who drew widespread criticism this week after he was accused of hitting a singer after a performance in France, apologized on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, saying that he had lost his temper and that “physical violence is never acceptable.” (Bruno Moussier via The New York Times)

by Javier C. Hernández

NEW YORK, NY.- Renowned conductor John Eliot Gardiner, who drew widespread criticism this week after he was accused of hitting a singer after a performance in France, apologized Thursday, saying that he had lost his temper and that “physical violence is never acceptable.”

In a statement, Gardiner, 80, said that he had apologized to the singer, William Thomas, 28, and that he would withdraw from the remaining concerts on a European tour with two of his venerated ensembles, the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. The incident occurred Tuesday night after a concert performance of the first two acts of Berlioz’s opera “Les Troyens” at the Festival Berlioz in La Côte-Saint-André in southeastern France.

“I deeply regret the incident which occurred at the Festival Berlioz at La Côte-Saint-André on Tuesday evening and apologize unreservedly for losing my temper immediately after the performance,” Gardiner said in the statement. “I make no excuses for my behavior and have apologized 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 know that physical violence is never acceptable and that musicians should always feel safe,” he added. “I ask for your patience and understanding as I take time to reflect on my actions.”

Gardiner provoked an outcry when, on Tuesday evening, he struck Thomas backstage because he had headed the wrong way off the podium at the concert, according to a person who was granted anonymity to describe the incident because the person was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

After the incident, Gardiner abruptly withdrew from the festival and returned to London to see his doctor, missing a performance Wednesday night.

Thomas, a rising bass from England who was performing the role of Priam, was not seriously injured and performed Wednesday.

On Thursday, Askonas Holt, the agency representing Thomas, confirmed in a statement that an incident had taken place and said that Thomas would continue to take part in the tour, which will next head to the Salzburg Festival in Austria, the Opéra Royal in Versailles, France, the Berliner Festspiele in Germany and the Proms, the BBC’s classical music festival, in England. The agency said Thomas would not comment on the incident.

“All musicians deserve the right to practice their art in an environment free from abuse or physical harm,” the statement said.

The Monteverdi Choir & Orchestras, a nonprofit that oversees Gardiner’s ensembles, said in a statement Thursday that Dinis Sousa, an associate conductor with the organization, would replace Gardiner for the rest of the tour. Sousa had stepped in for Gardiner on Wednesday in France.

“We continue to look into the events that occurred on Tuesday evening,” the group said. “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 — a crucial figure in the period-instrument movement and the founder of some of its most treasured ensembles, the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique — conducted at the coronation of King Charles III of Britain in May. He has made numerous recordings, many of which are considered classics, and wrote “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven” in 2013 about the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

In a 2010 interview with The Financial Times, Gardiner was asked about his famously demanding style.

“Can I protest my innocence?” he said. “I can be impatient, I get stroppy, I haven’t always been compassionate. I made plenty of mistakes in my early years. But I don’t think I behaved anything like as heinously as you have heard. The way an orchestra is set up is undemocratic. Someone needs to be in charge.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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