On the 6 May, in a pre-coronation service concert at Westminster Abbey, Sir John Eliot Gardiner will be conducting two of the ensembles he founded: the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. But who is the eminent conductor who will be setting the scene and warming the audience up for the majestic occasion to follow?


Who is John Eliot Gardiner?

John Eliot Gardiner is one of the world's greatest conductors and famous for his interpretations of Baroque music, in particular Bach and Monteverdi.

How old is John Eliot Gardiner?

John Eliot Gardiner was born on 20 April 1943 in Fontmell Magna, Dorset.

When did he become a conductor?

John Eliot Gardiner started studying conducting aged 15 and launched his career when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge with a performance of the Monteverdi Vespers. This performance led the young conductor to found the Monteverdi Choir in 1964. He also founded the English Baroque Soloists in 1978 and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in 1989.

He made his opera debut in 1969 with a performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the English National Opera, and four years later, in 1973, he made his Covent Garden conducting debut with Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride.

During his career he has conducted some of the world's greatest orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra.

Is John Eliot Gardiner married?

John Eliot Gardiner was married to violinist Elizabeth Wilcock from 1981 to 1997, and to Italian soprano Isabella de Sabata from 2001 to 2019.

Does John Eliot Gardiner have any children?

He has three daughters from his first marriage.

Where does John Eliot Gardiner live?

The conductor lives on a 500-acre organic farm close to his birthplace in Dorset.

Has Gardiner also written a book?

Yes. The conductor has also written an acclaimed study of Bach's music, entitled Music in the Castle of Heaven. In the book, Gardiner draws on a lifetime's experience with the music of Bach, and explores how the composer's music achieves its extraordinary, often sublime effects.

What are some of John Eliot Gardiner's best recordings?

Beethoven: the Nine Symphonies
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique / Gardiner

There are so many complete recorded cycles of the Beethoven symphonies that choosing a best Beethoven symphonies set is almost impossible. If, however, you like your Beethoven lean, exciting and played on period instruments (narrow-bore trumpets, hard-stick timpani, etcetera), then Gardiner and the ORR's traversal is one of the very best you can get.

Schumann: Symphonies, etc
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique / Gardiner

Bold, unashamedly early Romantic readings, on period instruments, of Schumann's four symphonies and other works including the joyous Konzertstück for 4 Horns. Gardiner and his orchestra also give us both versions of Schumann's Symphony No. 4, and make a very compelling version for the rarely heard earlier version.

Bach: St John Passion
Mark Padmore / Monteverdi Choir / English Baroque Soolists / Gardiner (2003)
SDG 712

Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir have recorded Bach's St John Passion three times. There was a 1986 studio version for DG Archiv, and a 2021 socially distanced performance at Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre.

Halfway between the two came this live set enshrining a 2003 concert performance in Könnigslutter’s Kaiserdom – a viscerally-charged reading that arguably superseded its predecessor. We named it the best version of Bach's St John Passion.

Bach: St Matthew Passion
English Baroque Soloists; Monteverdi Choir; The London Oratory Junior Choir/Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Archiv Produktions 4276482 (1988)

Gardiner's 1988 recording is arguably the best version of Bach's St Matthew Passion. 'Conducting a period ensemble, Gardiner’s meticulous attention to detail produces the benchmark for authenticity,' we said.

'Directing with a crystal-clear understanding of the work and its musical and theatrical demands, he leads a brisker tempo than some of his contemporaries to best enhance the dramatic energy and urgency of the narrative.'

Monteverdi: Vespers (Vespro della Beata Vergine)
Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra / Gardiner
Double Decca

Gardiner is best known for his historically informed and period instrument performances, but this groundbreaking mid-1970s version of the Monteverdi Vespers is (something of) an exception. Going against the usual Gardiner grain, it uses free vocal vibrato and a mix of modern and period instruments.

This two-for-one Double Decca disc is great value, as it also includes motets by Monteverdi, Gabrieli, and Bassani.


Pic: Chris Christodoulou