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Conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner allegedly hits singer

British composer Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts the orchestra during a rehearsal session at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London.
British composer Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts the orchestra during a rehearsal session at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. Copyright JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP or licensors
Copyright JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP or licensors
By Jonny Walfisz
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World-famous conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner has been accused of slapping and punching a member of his choir after they exited the podium incorrectly.

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The 80-year-old British conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner allegedly hit William Thomas, a 29-year-old bass singer, after he left the podium to the supposedly incorrect left side.

Gardiner was conducting a performance of ‘Les Troyens’ at the Berlioz Festival in La Côte-Saint-André when the incident occurred. A source told The Times that no specific arrangements were made for entrances or exits.

Reportedly frustrated with Thomas’s exit, Gardiner approached him after the end of the first half. As Thomas and other castmates celebrated, Gardiner allegedly walked over with a pint of beer and said: “I feel like throwing this over your head.” 

Reportedly there was a “brief shouting battle” before Gardiner slapped and punched the singer in the face.

FRANCOIS GUILLOT/FRANCOIS GUILLOT
British conductor John Eliot Gardiner leads French pupilsFRANCOIS GUILLOT/FRANCOIS GUILLOT

The BBC is investigating the incident as Gardiner is scheduled to perform at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall this September. “We take allegations about inappropriate behaviour seriously, and are currently establishing the facts about the incident,” the BBC has said.

Gardiner is known for his dramatic temper. Representatives of the conductor have told SlippedDisc that he was suffering from “extreme heat” as France weathers a heatwave. He also “suspects a recent change in his medication may have provoked a behaviour that he now regrets,” the representatives say.

JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP or licensors
British composer Sir John Eliot GardinerJUSTIN TALLIS/AFP or licensors

Following the performance, Gardiner has left France for London to see his doctor. His role for the rest of the Berlioz festival will be replaced by his assistant Dinis Sousa.

Gardiner is one of the most respected living conductors. He formed the Monteverdi Choir in 1964, and was chosen to lead the first 20 minutes of music at King Charles III’s coronation this year. Yet, the scene this week feels more like an incident out of last year’s brilliant Tár where Cate Blanchett played a dictatorial conductor fraying at the edges.

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