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Sir Charles Mackerras Sir Charles Mackerras C.B.E

Patron of The Australian Flute Society

by Robert Brown



Sir Charles Mackerras has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the opera house, on the concert platform and in the recording studio. He was born in 1925 of Australian parents at Schenectady, New York, USA. He was raised in Australia and graduated from the Sydney Conservatorium. Charles Mackerras was Principal Oboist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from 1943-1946. He married Helena Judith Wilkins in 1947; they have two daughters.
Following his departure from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Charles Mackerras travelled to Europe to further his studies as a conductor. As the recipient of a British Council Scholarship, he studied at the Prague Academy of Music, Czechoslovakia, from 1947-1948, in the brief period between the end of the war and the Communist takeover in 1949. His meeting with the legendary Czech maestro Vaclav Talich was a turning point in his musical life. Mackerras developed what has become a lifelong passion and affinity for Janácek. Prague was also Mozart’s favourite city and Mackerras’ Mozart soon became noteworthy as well.
Mackerras made his debut as an Opera Conductor in 1948 with a production of Die Fledermaus at Sadler’s Wells Opera in London, where he was Staff Conductor from 1949-1953. He conducted the first British performance of Janácek’s opera Katya Kabanova in 1951. From 1954-1956 Charles Mackerras was Principal Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra. This was followed by a period as a freelance conductor, which included concert tours to USSR, South Africa, North America and Australia. He was First Conductor of the Hamburg Opera from 1966-1969 and Musical Director of both Sadler’s Wells (later the English National) Opera from 1970-1987 and of Welsh National Opera from 1987-1991, where his notable Janácek productions, among many others, won great acclaim.
Charles Mackerras was Principal Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from 1982-1985. As a Patron of the Australian Flute Society he opened the 5th Australian Flute Convention, which was held in Sydney at Easter 1983.
He has been a frequent guest conductor for the Vienna State Opera, Geneva Opera and Zurich Opera, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. His long association with the Royal Opera includes the recent productions of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Handel’s Semele. From 1993 to 1996 Mackerras was Principal Guest Conductor of the San Francisco Opera. He also has a long association with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He is now Conductor Emeritus of the Welsh National Opera, where in recent years noted successes have been Tristan und Isolde, The Yeoman of the Guard, and La Clemenza di Tito.
Mackerras is Conductor Laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, having been their Principal Guest Conductor from 1992 to 1995, and was Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1993 until 1996. He has recently been appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, following his lifelong association with both the orchestra and many aspects of Czech musical life. One of the highlights of the 1991 season was the reopening of the Estates Theatre in Prague, location of the original premiere of Don Giovanni. Mackerras conducted a new production of that opera to mark the bicentenary of Mozart’s death.
In 1997 Sony Classical released his recording of Le delizie dell’amor, featuring the soprano Andrea Rost. His most recent release for the label is Lucia di Lammermoor with the Hanover Band. Other projects for Sony Classical include recordings of Chopin’s two piano concertos with Emanuel Ax. Mackerras has recorded nearly all of Janacek’s output, most notably an award series of opera recordings for Decca with the Vienna Philharmonic. His discography is as broad as it is long and his recordings win praise for their lively colouristic details as well as the unerring sense of rhythm he brings to his work. He was awarded the Gramophone Record of the Year in 1977.
Charles Mackerras has made frequent radio and television broadcasts and frequent appearances at international festivals and opera houses. He has undertaken much research into performance practice of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and has published prose and complete critical editions of several operas. Mackerras has been a leader in the historic performance movement, bringing the scholarship of a lifetime to both modern and period instrument orchestras. He reconstructed Sir Arthur Sullivan’s lost Cello Concerto, and his ballet arrangements Pineapple Poll, based on the music of Sullivan, and The Lady and the Fool, based on music by Verdi, are well known.
Charles Mackerras received a CBE in 1974 and was knighted for his services to music in 1979. At the end of 1996 he received The Medal of Merit from the Czech Republic, and recently he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Hull, York, Nottingham, Brno, Griffith (in Brisbane) and Oxford (1997). He celebrated his seventieth birthday in 1995 with gala concerts with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh, the Welsh National Opera in Cardiff and with the San Francisco Opera.