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Homo Sentiens

A veteran British conductor steps down from forthcoming performances, and the Polish festival Wratislavia Cantans embraces Mother Nature


High profile veteran British conductor John Eliot Gardiner, who celebrated his eightieth birthday in April 2023, has taken the decision to withdraw from all engagements, including the BBC Proms, and performances with the Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, until 2024.

As conveyed in a statement issued by Intermusica, the classical music agency which represents him, Gardiner will be taking time out from his professional activities for a period of reflection and, in consultation with his medical advisors, will be focussing on his mental health while engaging in a course of counselling.

He deeply regrets his behaviour and recognises that it has had a significant impact on colleagues for whom he has the most profound admiration and respect.

John Eliot Gardiner
John Eliot Gardiner

Throughout his unique sixty-year career, Gardiner has striven to encourage and support generations of talented artists, and he passionately believes that all performers should feel comfortable and secure in their working environment.

Over the next few months he will be undergoing an extensive, tailored course of treatment and he asks for space and privacy while the programme is ongoing, stating:

I am taking a step back in order to get the specialist help I recognise that I have needed for some time. 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. I am heartbroken to have caused so much distress and I am determined to learn from my mistakes.

This announcement follows recent reports that Gardiner allegedly called bass soloist William Thomas a 'dozy bugger', threatened to pour beer over his head, slapped him on the face and punched him in the mouth. The singer had apparently merely left the podium in the wrong direction, following a performance of Les Troyens at the French Festival Berlioz. Stories abound of Gardiner's rudeness in the workplace - a style of working which is thankfully going out of fashion.




On a more positive note, the title of this year's edition of Poland's Wratislavia Cantans – Mother Nature – was inspired by Joseph Haydn's The Seasons. The festival will look at how people understand nature, relate to it and how they have perceived their relationships with the natural world since the dawn of time. Human and cosmic perspectives will intertwine. The festival will look for their roots, being immersed in Baroque and folk music. It will also ask questions about the creation of the world and the place that humans occupy in it, which will culminate in the finale - Les Elements. Each concert will refer to nature, a topic popular with both historical and contemporary composers. The theme of motherhood and its cultural connections with nature will also be present – in both the biblical and anthropological contexts. Mother Nature encourages you to ask important questions and at the same time relish the joy of music.

Wratislavia Cantans - Mother Nature. 7-17 September 2023
Wratislavia Cantans - Mother Nature

Founded in 1966 by Andrzej Markowski as an oratorio and cantata festival, Wratislavia Cantans to this day focuses on celebrating the beauty of the human voice. Presented by the National Forum of Music (NFM) in Wrocław, it epitomizes the highest artistic and organisational quality. Each year, concerts of classical music stars attract thousands of music lovers to the state-of-the-art halls of the NFM, the historic venues of Wrocław and several towns in Lower Silesia.

This year's performers include Christoph Eschenbach, Andreas Scholl, Tõnu Kaljuste with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Wayne Marshall, Alicia Amo and Musica Boscareccia, Accademia del Piacere, Giovanni Antonini with Il Giardino Armonico, the European Union Baroque Orchestra and Iwona Hossa, as well as NFM ensembles: NFM Wrocław Philharmonic, Wrocław Baroque Orchestra, NFM Choir, NFM Boys' Choir and NFM Girls' Choir.

The festival will be accompanied by Ula Dzwonik's retrospective exhibition Homo Sentiens. Piotr Sarzyński writes:

Exhibition titles are random and showy, promising more than their content has to offer, and sometimes seem accidental. But not here. Homo Sentiens hits the heart of the artist's achievements and could easily become the motto behind her work in general.

'Homo' is an apparently simple and widely known word. Yet, depending on the context, it carries an immeasurable wealth of meanings and emotions. We have the 'ecce homo', touching and so important for the Christian civilization. We have the warning 'homo homini lupus', the proud 'homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto', the pessimistic 'omnis homo mendax', the discrediting 'homo unius libri'. These Latin maxims could be quoted on and on. And there is also science, which also makes use of 'homo', naming successive historical ancestors of the human species 'homo erectus', 'homo neanderthalensis', and finally, placing us at the top of the pyramid of living beings (deservedly?): 'homo sapiens'. Do all these phrases and terms have something in common? Yes. They all emphasize the importance of human affairs, focusing on humanity and its various aspects, both those lofty and beautiful, as well as low and even vile.

Posted 3 September 2023 by Keith Bramich



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