Tourette’s pianist ‘blacklisted’ by orchestras
He has been hailed as ‘‘one of the greats’’, dazzling audiences from Miami to Tokyo. Such is his ‘‘freakish genius’’ that one Grammy-award winning producer even went so far as to say that Nick van Bloss was ‘‘the greatest pianist postwar Britain has produced’’.
Yet over the past 10 years Van Bloss has been snubbed by nearly all of the UK’s top orchestras.
He has drawn the unhappy conclusion that classical music bosses are either unwilling or afraid to hire him because he suffers from Tourette syndrome.
The 50-year-old musician is tormented by 30,000 tics and spasms a day but through ‘‘a miracle of brain chemistry’’ the syndrome does not affect his virtuoso performances of Beethoven and Bach. The symptoms disappear as soon as he sits down on the piano stool. ‘‘It’s a blessed relief,’’ he said.
Reassurances that his Tourette’s is ‘‘the non-swearing kind’’ have fallen on deaf ears, he claimed. With the exceptions of the English Chamber Orchestra, to which he will return this year for its prestigious Pianoforte series, Van Bloss said he had been rejected by British orchestras.
He has written to six demanding to know whether he is being discriminated against because of his disability, after hearing rumours that some managers were put off ‘‘by my backstory’’.
The orchestras were the Royal Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the City of Birmingham
Symphony Orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Halle in Manchester. They strongly deny any allegation of discrimination, saying that they are inundated with hundreds of requests from talented soloists every week for a tiny handful of places. They insisted that their selections were based solely on musical merit.
Van Bloss said: ‘‘No one ever says it’s because I’m not good enough but I’m still being rejected. I want to know why. These orchestras are just not used to being questioned. But question them I will, not only for my sake but for the sake of all disabled and diverse musicians.’’
Promoting diversity is a condition of the £35 million funding that the six orchestras received from the Arts Council for 2015-18. ‘‘As far as I know I’m the only concert pianist in the world who has Tourette’s,’’ he said.
Peter Puskas, his manager, said that the decade of rejections was ‘‘either stupid or just outrageous, quite possibly spiced up with a little arrogance’’.
The Bournemouth orchestra said it took issues concerning disabled musicians and diversity very seriously. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra said they were opposed to any discrimination.