The week after this article was published, a spokesperson for John Eliot Gardiner announced that he had taken the decision to withdraw from all engagements until next year. Gardiner will be “focussing on his mental health while engaging in a course of counselling,” they said.
“I am taking a step back in order to get the specialist help I recognise that I have needed for some time,” Gardiner said, adding “I want to apologise to colleagues who have felt badly treated and anyone who may feel let down by my decision to take time out to address my issues.”

On August 22, conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner allegedly punched bass William Thomas following the conclusion of the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique’s performance of Berlioz’s “Les Troyens” at the Berlioz Festival. 

Neither Thomas nor his representatives responded to requests for comment from VAN, though his agency, Askonas Holt, issued a statement on X (the social media site formerly known as Twitter), confirming “an incident” took place after Tuesday’s performance, adding that “all musicians deserve the right to practise their art in an environment free from abuse or physical harm.”

An initial statement from Gardiner’s team first published on Slipped Disc blamed his behavior, which Gardiner said he “regretted,” on the high temperatures in France, and on a recent change in medication. He quit the second performance of “Les Troyens” in France, and was replaced by assistant Dinis Sousa.

In a personal statement issued on the website of his agency Intermusica on Thursday afternoon, Gardiner apologized “unreservedly” for “losing his temper” immediately after Tuesday’s performance. He also withdrew from the future performances of “Les Troyens” (which included concerts at the BBC Proms, the Salzburger Festspiele, and the Berlin Festspiele), adding that “physical violence is never acceptable and that musicians should always feel safe. I ask for your patience and understanding as I take time to reflect on my actions.”

In details reported by the Times and confirmed by VAN, the first performance of the run had not gone well, and Thomas, 29, exited the stage in the wrong direction. Following the concert, Gardiner threatened to pour beer over Thomas’s head. Thomas warned against that, at which point Gardiner punched him in the mouth.

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The case once again raises questions about Gardiner’s conduct. In response to questions about his behavior from the Financial Times’s Andrew Clark in 2010, Gardiner replied “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.”

The incident follows other allegations of aggressive behavior. In 2014, Private Eye’s pseudonymous classical music correspondent, Lunchtime O’Boulez, alleged that Gardiner punched a trumpet player from the London Symphony Orchestra during a recording session, an incident later described by the Spectator as “a loss of temper. (At the time, the London Symphony Orchestra said that there had been “an incident,” but that it considered the matter “closed.”)


Gardiner continues to be one of the world’s most celebrated conductors. In April, he was made Principal Guest Conductor Emeritus of the Philharmonia in London, a role created especially for him. A month later, Gardiner conducted the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra at the Coronation of King Charles III.

“Speak to veterans and almost without fail they have a Sir John Eliot Gardiner horror story,” the Spectator’s Richard Bratby wrote in January. Might now be the moment that those stories come to light? ¶

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Hugh Morris is a freelance writer and editor based in London.