Tourette’s pi­anist ‘black­listed’ by orches­tras

Marlborough Express - - COMMENT&OPINION - LUCY BAN­NER­MAN - The Times

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.

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