Shaftesbury farmer Sir John Eliot Gardiner, one of the world’s greatest conductors, has just turned 80 and has been touring Italy.
by Fanny Charles
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who has championed the music of Claudio Monteverdi for nearly 60 years, has been honoured with the citizenship of Cremona, the city where the great composer was born in 1567 – and the home town of the greatest makers of violins and other stringed instruments, Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati.
The ceremony was a highlight of a short Italian tour by John Eliot and members of his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.
The award recognises his contribution to music, particularly his recordings and performances of Monteverdi’s operas and secular and sacred works, bringing the ‘father of opera’ out of relative obscurity.
Using historically informed performances and period instruments, the conductor has brought these 400-year-old works to international recognition and demonstrated that they are absolutely relevant to 21st century music lovers.
The citizenship ceremony at the 800-year-old Town Hall was attended by the Mayor of Cremona, Italy’s culture minister, the director of the annual Cremona Monteverdi Festival and civic dignitaries and musicians. After receiving the honour, John Eliot spoke movingly of Monteverdi’s humanity and the importance of music in these difficult and dangerous times.
The Monteverdi tour included filming and rehearsals in Venice and Mantua – both places where Monteverdi worked – and Rome. It culminated at Cremona, with a concert of his sacred music as the grand finale of the 40th Monteverdi Festival.
The performance in the church
of Sant’Agostino received a standing ovation.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who was 80 earlier this year and took part in the coronation of King Charles, farms near Shaftesbury. He is one of the world’s leading conductors, renowned particularly for his recordings and concerts of music by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms – and Monteverdi.
Last year, he was awarded the honour of Cavaliere di Gran Croce of the Order of Stella d’Italia, presented by the Italian ambassador, Inigo Lambertini, at a ceremony at the Italian Embassy in London.
At this year’s Proms, John Eliot will conduct the Monteverdi Choir and his Orchestra Revolutionnaire et Romantique in Berlioz’ The Trojans, the first time this massive opera has been performed at the world’s greatest music festival.