'Worried' by Brexit: top British conductor Gardiner

Florence BIEDERMANN
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British conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner is a pioneer of Britain's Baroque music revival going back to the 1960s

Acclaimed British conductor John Eliot Gardiner is "extremely worried" as he prepares for a world tour. Brexit is looming and he sees his two passions -- music and organic farming -- as under threat.

Gardiner shares the concerns of many leading lights in the music industry that European musicians coming to Britain may need visas and work permits once it leaves the European Union as expected in 2019.

A pioneer of Britain's Baroque music revival going back to the 1960s, Gardiner is also an accomplished farmer and fears that Brexit will usher in genetically modified crops from the United States.

"Brexit will have a bad impact on my activity," the 73-year-old told AFP as he prepares for a series of performances celebrating his lifelong love for Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi's music.

"I am extremely worried," he said, lamenting the election of US President Donald Trump as "very troubling" and warning that victory for far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the French vote would be "a real disaster".

- 'Beginning of everything' -

On Monday, Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras will be in Aix-en-Provence in southern France to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the hugely influential composer's birth, kicking off a tour that will end in the United States in October.

Gardiner is credited as being one of the first conductors to restore the original emotion in Baroque music by using period instruments, starting from when he first created the Monteverdi Choir in 1964.

In 1990, he created a group called the "Romantic and Revolutionary Orchestra" that, similarly to his Monteverdi one, plays with period instruments.

On this tour he will be staging three Monteverdi operas: "Orpheus", "The Coronation of Poppea," and -- a first for the conductor -- "The Return of Ulysses".

"Monteverdi to me is the beginning of everything," he said, describing him as "the forefather of all the great music that followed over the next four centuries".

"He has occupied a very special place in my life because I first heard his music when I was six years old... I could barely read music and I was enchanted".

- 'Retrace my roots' -

Gardiner splits his time between music and farming in Dorset, a rural region in southern England.

During a break from rehearsals at London's Sadler's Wells theatre, he spoke to AFP about his early morning start to watch the birth of four lambs.

"After that, I checked on my 148 cows and calves, and then I took the train for London," he said.

The farm, which he inherited from his parents, is a necessity for Gardiner, who described the music industry as "completely stressful".

"I find after a certain amount of touring, I desperately need to retrace my roots back to my own farm, and the company of animals," he said.

Although he is best known for Baroque music, Gardiner conducts a variety of composers -- except for Wagner.

"I don't feel an affinity with him," the conductor said, deploring the composer's political beliefs, his personality and his negative influence.

"I don't like the idea of Wagner and I certainly don't like how his music sounds".