John eliot gardiner

The best recordings of my favourite Passion

In the autumn of 1632, a man called Kaspar Schisler returned home to the small Bavarian town of Oberammergau. He didn’t walk through the gates in daylight, but waited until night, sneaking in past the tower guards. A few days later he was dead from the plague that was swelling and blistering its way across Europe — a plague which, until that point, strict quarantine had kept out. Within a year it had killed a quarter of the town. The remaining residents gathered together and made a vow: if they were spared, they would stage a play of the life and death of Jesus, and would continue to do so

The rude, ripe tastelessness of John Eliot Gardiner’s Berlioz is the perfect antidote to Haitink’s Instagram Bruckner

Conducting is one of those professions — being monarch is perhaps another — where the less you do, the more everyone loves you. Orchestral players, for example, tend not to complain about being let off early from rehearsals. I prefer my maestros to have their head under the bonnet: loosening, tightening, fixing, replacing. Much of the classical music world, however, fetishises the idea of ‘letting the music speak for itself’. As if ‘the music’ were an objective thing. As if the score were a rendering that could be printed out in 3D, rather than a map to be deciphered and interpreted. This goes some way, I think, to explain the

Missing the beat

It was as though Damien Hirst had confessed a secret passion for Victorian watercolours, or Lars von Trier had admitted his life’s ambition to direct a rom-com. When it was announced that John Eliot Gardiner — pioneer of the early music movement — would conduct West Side Story at the Edinburgh Festival the reactions were extreme. What next? Harnoncourt conducts Hair? Les Arts Florissants sing Phantom? But is the leap from Bach to Bernstein really that big? Both live or die with rhythm, with the dances that pulse and lilt and churn through them. Minuet or mambo — really, what’s in a beat? And then there’s texture. The frayed edges

Male order | 4 July 2019

Another turn around the block for David McVicar’s handsome 1830s Figaro at the Royal Opera — the sixth since the production’s 2006 premiere — scarcely raises an eyebrow, let alone a pulse. But a quick glance down the cast list of the current revival reveals some curiosities. First to catch the eye is Kangmin Justin Kim — the first countertenor in the company’s 250-year history to play sexually rampant page Cherubino, traditionally a trouser role for a woman. Read on and you’ll see starry German baritone Christian Gerhaher making an unexpected mid-career role debut as Figaro, as well as a main-stage house debut for his Susanna — young American soprano

Vocal heroes | 9 May 2019

We’ve all read the article. It does the rounds with the dispiriting regularity of an unwanted dish on a sushi train. Classical concerts are dying and if they are to survive they need to evolve, to innovate, to banish (variously) seating, silence, dress codes (for musicians), dress codes (for audience), programme notes, formal venues… But among so much institutional hand-wringing and professional self-loathing I’d like to take a moment to celebrate one classical tribe getting innovation exactly right: period music groups. Theirs is a repertoire with a natural advantage; it belongs to an age in which music was still soundtrack rather than event — an inevitable accompaniment to drinking or

Johann Sebastian Bach

I don’t get Johann Sebastian Bach. I mean, I get that he was good — no Mozart, sure, but definitely up there in anyone’s top five 18th-century composers. But that’s not enough. Bach must be revered as the One: the supreme and universal musical genius. When John Eliot Gardiner celebrated the millennium by performing Bach’s complete cantatas, it wasn’t a cycle or a series but a ‘pilgrimage’, if you please. (He’s back with more cantatas this weekend at the Barbican.) Playing Bach, we’re told, requires profound selflessness — though if you’ve ever witnessed a solo violinist hijacking an orchestral concert to saw through all 15 tortured minutes of the D

Time to end authenticity

They say the first step towards recovery is admitting that you have a problem. So I’m staging an intervention and asking the BBC Proms to admit what they’ve known for some time: they have a big problem when it comes to early music. How to perform it, where to perform it, even who should perform it — these are all questions that, year after year, remain unsatisfactorily, inconsistently or superficially answered, and there’s little in this year’s programming to suggest that 2017 will be any different. Up until now the festival’s conversation about early music has been dominated by the red-herring question of venue. When the readers of Time Out

Take a bow

Monteverdi 450 — the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists’ tour of his three operas to 33 cities across two continents — began with his penultimate work Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, at Bristol’s Colston Hall. It was a marvellous occasion, uplifting and entertaining. I hadn’t been to the Colston Hall before, and was most impressed by its acoustics. Apparently it is due to have a £48 million makeover next year (call that £75 million) but it seemed new and with agreeably hard seats which counteracted any tendency the hall’s tropical heat might have to induce drowsiness. The opera was performed in a semi-concert version, which I am more and

God’s messenger

When the Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki leads his forces in a performance of a Bach cantata, does he worry that the non-Christians in his audience will face the fires of Hell? That seems a bizarre question to ask any conductor of Bach’s music, especially one from Japan, where only one per cent of the population is Christian. But when I met Suzuki in Copenhagen last Friday I asked it, because the 61-year-old founder of the Bach Collegium Japan (BCJ) is part of that one per cent. He’s an Evangelical Protestant, like Johann Sebastian Bach himself. Indeed, he adheres to an even fiercer interpretation of the Bible than the cantor of

All roads lead to Callas

Bellini belongs to that category of not-quite-great operatic composers whose works are also very difficult to perform adequately, and don’t seem to be all that popular when they are. But Welsh National Opera’s theme for the season of Madness means that as one of the leading exponents of operatic insanity Bellini is bound to turn up, and WNO does him proud vocally, if not in production, by mounting I puritani, his last and for some aficionados his finest opera. Norma seems to me to be clearly superior, certainly as drama. I puritani has a wretched libretto, not only linguistically feeble but also with a hopeless plot. It certainly does contain

Orchestral infallibility

Watching the Berlin Philharmonic going into conclave to choose a successor to Simon Rattle — after countless hours of secret discussion they have chosen Kirill Petrenko — reminds one of little less than the election of a pope. In both cases the expectation is the same: the organisations are so iconic that they must continue into the future without a hitch and without question. Whatever sort of job they are doing, or have done, they have become too much a part of normal life to be abolished. Why is it that symphony orchestras of any standing are expected to survive indefinitely, where smaller musical organisations, though they may be just

Christopher Hogwood: the absolutist of early music

The death of Christopher Hogwood has deprived the world of the most successful exponent of early music there has ever been, or is ever likely to be. It has also reduced by one the quartet of conductors who have been called ‘the Class of ’73’, a term coined by Nick Wilson in a recent study of the early-music revolution of the 1970s and 80s. It refers to four groups that were founded in that year that are held to have changed the face of modern concert-giving: Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music; Trevor Pinnock and his English Concert; Andrew Parrott’s Taverner Choir; and my own Tallis Scholars. Of these

The mean, bullying maestro is extinct – or should be

W.H.Auden once wrote: ‘Real artists are not nice people. All their best feelings go into their work and life has the residue’ — which puts those who aspire to be artists in a bit of a quandary. Is it a measure of one’s success as a ‘real artist’ that one is not a nice person? Is it in fact possible to be a real artist and a nice person? And, if it is not, is it better to be a real artist or a nice person? Auden, who was speaking from first-hand experience, implies that it must be one or the other. By the time he wrote this, Auden was

Four recordings of Beethoven’s Ninth on a £10 app

Last weekend my iPad sucked me deeper into Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony than I thought possible. Deutsche Grammophon and Touch Press have released an app devoted to the work that rendered me slack-jawed with wonder, like a Victorian on his first visit to a cinema. The app gives you four complete performances of the Ninth: by Ferenc Fricsay with the Berlin Philharmonic (1958); Herbert von Karajan with the same orchestra (1962); Leonard Bernstein with the Vienna Philharmonic (1978); and Sir John Eliot Gardiner with his preposterously named Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (1992). Icons for the performances are next to each other, and the gentlest touch will transport you to and fro.