Sir John Eliot Gardiner CBE FKC (born 20 April 1943, Fontmell Magna, Dorset, England) is an English conductor. He founded the Monteverdi Choir (1964), the English Baroque Soloists (1975) and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (1989). Gardiner has recorded over 250 albums with these and other musical ensembles, most of which have been published by Deutsche Grammophon and Philips Classics. Gardiner is most famous for his interpretations of Baroque music on period instruments with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, but his repertoire and discography are not limited to early music. With the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique Gardiner has performed a wide range of Classical and Romantic music, including many works of Hector Berlioz and all of Beethoven’s symphonies and Mozart’s works.
Gardiner at rehearsal in Wroclaw
A recording of the third symphony of the latter was used in a dramatisation by the BBC of Beethoven’s writing of that symphony. Gardiner has served as chief conductor of the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra and has appeared as guest conductor with such major orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Vienna Philharmonic.
John Eliot Gardiner
Gardiner first took up the baton at the age of 15. He was educated at Bryanston School, and studied history and Arabic as an undergraduate at King’s College, Cambridge. He toured the Middle East conducting the Oxford and Cambridge Singers. During his time in Cambridge he founded, in 1964, his first musical ensemble, the Monteverdi Choir. With the Monteverdi Choir he made his conducting debut at the Wigmore Hall in London in 1966. To complement the Monteverdi Choir he formed the Monteverdi Orchestra in 1968, who played on modern instruments, but after changing to period instruments in 1977 they became known as the English Baroque Soloists. After graduating from King’s College, Cambridge, he studied at King’s College London under Thurston Dart, and with the influential French music professor Nadia Boulanger.
In 1969 Gardiner made his debut in the opera house with a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the English National Opera. Four years later, in 1973, he first appeared at Covent Garden conducting Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride. The English Baroque Soloists made their debut with him in the 1977 Innsbruck Festival of Early Music, performing Handel’s Acis and Galatea on period instruments. His American debut came in 1979 when he conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He then became the lead conductor of Canada’s CBC Vancouver Orchestra from 1980 to 1983.
After his period with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, Gardiner went to France. From 1983 to 1988 he was Music Director of the Opéra National de Lyon. During his period with the Opéra he founded an entirely new orchestra. During his time with the Opéra National de Lyon Gardiner was also Artistic Director of the Göttingen Handel Festival (1981 until 1990).In 1989 the Monteverdi Choir had its 25th anniversary, touring the world giving performances of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610. In 1990, Gardiner formed a new period-instrument orchestra, the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, to perform music of the 19th century. From 1991 until 1994 he was principal conductor of the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra.
From the 1990s onwards he undertook more world tours with his ensembles, including:
A European tour in 1993 with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique featured Berlioz’s rediscovered Messe solennelle. Beginning in Bremen, Germany the tour ended with a recorded performance in Westminster Cathedral, London 1993.
In 2000, Gardiner set out on his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, performing, over a 52-week period, all of Bach’s sacred cantatas in churches around Europe and the United States.
In late 2004, Gardiner toured France and Spain with the Monteverdi Choir performing pieces from the Codex Compostelanus in cathedrals and churches along the Camino de Santiago.
Honours and awards
Gardiner has received a variety of honours and awards. In particular:
Honorary doctorate from the University of Lyon, 1987
Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 1990 New Year Honours
Honorary Fellow of King’s College and the Royal Academy of Music, 1992
Grammy, Best Choral Performance, 1994
Knight Bachelor, 1998
Grammy, Best Opera Recording, 1999
Doctorate Honoris Causa in Musicology at the University of Cremona (birthplace of Claudio Monteverdi), 2006
Bach Prize of the Royal Academy of Music-Kohn Foundation, 2008
Voted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame in 2012
Gardiner is the son of the British rural revivalist Rolf Gardiner, and the grandson of the Egyptologist Alan Henderson Gardiner. He was married to violinist Elizabeth Wilcock from 1981 to 1997; they have three daughters. In 2001 he married Isabella de Sabata, granddaughter of conductor Victor de Sabata. In his spare time, Gardiner runs an organic farm at Springhead in North Dorset, which was set up by his great uncle, composer Henry Balfour Gardiner.