Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bach with a Bite; His Choir Almost Went Bust and He Came to Grief with Record Company over Bach, but Conductor John Eliot Gardiner Is Not Giving Up on His Favouritecomposer

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bach with a Bite; His Choir Almost Went Bust and He Came to Grief with Record Company over Bach, but Conductor John Eliot Gardiner Is Not Giving Up on His Favouritecomposer

Article excerpt

Byline: FIONA MADDOCKS

SUCCESS attracts envy like weevils to grain. Not surprisingly, John Eliot Gardiner divides opinion: while fans and musicians who have worked with him rave, detractors pull a sour face. The trouble, according to those who regard it that way, is that in a career spanning four decades - he will be 60 this month - the controversial conductor has enjoyed almost consistent acclaim.

He heads the list of most recorded, and most awarded, musicians in history.

He has wealth, a knighthood, a captivating wife, charisma. At home in several languages and an accomplished historian, he is also infuriatingly brainy. Put another way, he is ambitious, self-centred, workaholic, privileged, caustic. Human nature is not always generous to those who win.

"Whatever has been said, or the worst of it, is largely mythical," he says. "Mud gets thrown. Some of it sticks, just as parents get the idea that their child is a petulant, spoiled little brat and take a long time to see differently. I have mellowed - I probably was arrogant as a young man. If you look at the musicians I work with now, they certainly don't give the impression of cowed pawns around a chessboard."

Tall, strong-jawed, fluent in conversation, he has that natural authority essential to a conductor. Music, he observes, can never be a totally democratic business. (And how, mutter those stung by his baton.) His upbringing - quintessentially English ruling-class, bohemian, eccentric - must have helped. His grandfather, the Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner, was present at the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb. His family planted forests and pioneered organic farming in Dorset. Impromptu madrigal-singing and morris-dancing were normal occurrences in his childhood.

In his teens he conducted operas, directed by his mother, in the garden at home. All was possible. "It didn't seem odd. My mother was amazingly creative. My father had a bit of the DH Lawrence about him."

What, wrestling naked in the library?

"Well, yes, more or less. He did exercise naked on the lawn - eurythmics, sun salutations, that kind of thing.

The farm staff used to peer through the hedge and have a good giggle."

The farm remains half his life. He would rather talk livestock than music.

This is little understood by those who wonder why he has never run a major music institution except those he has created himself. His timetable is shaped by key events in the farming year. Recently, the fee for a Berlioz opera in Zurich paid for a new suckler cow barn.

He has 550 acres of farmland, a similar area of woodland, a thousand sheep and 120 cattle to worry about.

Grey squirrels have attacked the beechwood.

Lambing is upon him. A stint at the Lyons Opera kept him apart from the farm and a young family (he has three daughters) in the 1980s, taking its toll on his domestic life. The memory haunts him. In Germany the NDR orchestra was unresponsive to his radical ideas so he came home fast.

Since he set up the Monteverdi Choir as a student at Cambridge in the 1960s, Gardiner has done things, bloody-mindedly if need be, his way.

When, aged 20, he decided to put on a performance of the then rarely performed Vespers by Monteverdi, he simply formed a choir and orchestra, rehearsed the soloists, put up the chairs and personally persuaded the London critics to review it.

The event was pivotal, not only for Gardiner's career but for the burgeoning early-music movement. His insistence on well-informed scholarship - never at the expense of musical good sense - marked him out as zealot among the creedless. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.