The BBC Proms welcomes Sir John Eliot Gardiner on Sunday. Or do they? Former Proms director and BBC Controller of Music, the late John Drummond, takes up the story:
" John Eliot Gardiner (left) had a strong personal following. For me, both Roger Norrington and Nikolaus Harnoncourt were much more impressive conductors, but Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir Prom would usually sell out and give us our annual chance to have a falling out with Gardiner himself, whose lofty attitude to colleagues and the BBC did not endear. One year he proposed Gluck’s Orfeo. I took it largely to obtain the Proms debut of the American soprano Sylvia McNair, whom I had much admired since hearing her at St Louis. She made a dramatic entrance at the top of the side stairs, dressed in a brilliant lemon-yellow dress. Slowly descending the staircase, she reached the stage for her entrance aria. At this moment, Gardiner stopped the orchestra and retuned. I was furious: it was so grotesquely offensive and unmusical. When I went round to commiserate with Sylvia, she told me he had done it at every one of the preceding performances.
One year Gardiner persuaded me to accept a performance of the Bach B minor Mass without soloists, using members of his own excellent Monteverdi Choir for the solos. Much as I admired the choir, I was not entirely sure that individual members could carry such major parts in such a big building. However, I need not have worried. Without reference to the Proms office or any regard for the financial implications, Gardiner changed his mind and booked a roster of five distinguished soloists which cost me thousands. He was quite unapologetic, and I was considered impertinent to have questioned his judgement. His judgement was probably correct; his manner of achieving it was unacceptable.
Gardiner’s extraordinary arrogance was admirably demonstrated at a Gramophone magazine awards ceremony when, claiming he had to get back to Paris for rehearsals, he insisted that his award should be presented separately and before the celebratory lunch. He was nevertheless still in his place at table when the ceremony ended some three hours later."
As told by John Drummond's in his autobiography Tainted By Experience (Faber ISBN 0571200540).
Now playing – Haydn’s The Creation, with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque soloists. He may be ‘extraordinarily arrogant’ but Gardiner can make some extraordinarily moving music. This recording won Gramophone and CD Compact (Barcelona) awards when it was released in 1997. It was recorded in All Saints Church, Tooting by producer Karl-August Naegler and Tonmeister Rainer Maillard. The performance is superb, and the sound is also superb. It has recently been re-released in Archiv’s new Grand Prix mid-price series and is highly recommended. John Eliot Gardiner went on to have a spectacular bust-up with Deutsche Grammophon, a split which resulted in the creation of his own label Soli Deo Gloria. It seems tantrums are written into the score in the early music world. As John Drummond recalls Sylvia McNair may have found Gardiner’s treatment of her in Orfeo “grotesquely offensive and unmusical”. But she went on to sing the role of Gabriel in his recording of The Creation.
Now read John Drummond on another high profile maestro.
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