Famed Conductor Accused of Striking Singer at Performance

The appearance by the conductor John Eliot Gardiner leading the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in southeastern France this week was supposed to be a celebration: the start of a tour across Europe by one of classical music’s most revered maestros and his esteemed ensembles.

Instead, Gardiner, 80, provoked an outcry when, on Tuesday evening, he was accused of hitting a singer in the face backstage after a concert performance of the first two acts of Berlioz’s opera “Les Troyens” at the Festival Berlioz in La Côte-Saint-André.

Gardiner struck the singer, William Thomas, a bass, because he had headed the wrong way off the podium at the concert, according to a person who was granted anonymity to describe the incident because the person was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Thomas, a rising bass from England who was performing the role of Priam, did not appear to be seriously injured and was set to perform again on Wednesday evening. His representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

Gardiner withdrew from the festival on Wednesday to return to London to see his doctor, said Nicholas Boyd-Vaughan, a spokesman for Intermusica, the agency that represents him. Gardiner was unavailable for comment, Boyd-Vaughan said.

Gardiner — a father of the period-instrument movement and the founder of some of its most treasured ensembles, the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique — conducted at the coronation of King Charles III of Britain in May. In addition to making numerous recordings, many of which are considered classics, his 2013 book about Johann Sebastian Bach, “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,” was well received by critics.

The incident at “Les Troyens,” which was first reported by the classical music website Slippedisc, prompted criticism in the classical music industry, with some saying that Gardiner should face consequences. Gardiner and the ensembles still have four more planned stops on the tour, including at the Salzburg Festival in Austria, the Opéra Royal in Versailles, the Berliner Festspiele in Germany and the Proms, the BBC’s classical music festival, in England.

“John Eliot Gardiner is still going to be allowed to conduct @bbcproms?” the mezzo-soprano Helena Cooke wrote on Wednesday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “Are you joking?”

The Proms said it was investigating. “We take allegations about inappropriate behavior seriously and are currently establishing the facts about the incident,” said George Chambers, a spokesman for the festival.

Gardiner was replaced at the Festival Berlioz on Wednesday by Dinis Sousa, an associate conductor of the Monteverdi Choir, for a performance of the final acts of “Les Troyens.”

Bruno Messina, the general and artistic director of the Festival Berlioz, said in a statement that he was “devastated by the incident,” which he did not describe or give details of, but that he felt it was important that Wednesday’s show go on.

Javier C. Hernández is a culture reporter, covering the world of classical music and dance in New York City and beyond. He joined The Times in 2008 and previously worked as a correspondent in Beijing and New York. More about Javier C. Hernández

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