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Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Sir Charles Mackerras: 1925-2010
The acclaimed conductor Sir Charles Mackerras has died. He was 84.
Of Australian descent, Sir Charles Mackerras was born in Schenectady, New York. He studied oboe, piano and composition in Sydney. In 1948, he arrived in England and became one of the most important conductors on the EMI roster, often substituting in recording sessions for Otto Klemperer when he was ill. He worked with the BBC Orchestra, conducted at Covent Garden and worked with Benjamin Britten.
Later in his career, he conducted the Welsh National Opera, elevating that company's reputation with an acclaimed production of Don Giovanni.In recent years, he worked with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Hanover Band, the Royal Philharmonic, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He also conducte in New York, serving three years as Music Director of the Orchestra of St. Luke's and conducting acclaimed Metropoltian Opera performances of Die Zauberflöte, The Makropoulos Case, and Kat'a Kabanova.
In 1973, he conducted the opening concert of the Sydney Opera House, featuring soprano Birgit Nilsson. Queen Elizabeth II was in the audience. He became a Commander of the British Empire in 1974 and was knighted in 1979.
Sir Charles was one of the leaders of the period instrument movement of the late 20th century. He was a brilliant interpreter of Mozart's operas, and his Die Zauberflöte with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is one of the finest recordings of that work. His long discography included recordings of those composers, as well as works by Gilbert and Sullivan, Josef Suk, and works by Handel, Donizetti, Dvorak, Martinu, Delius, Walton, Holst and Haydn. His discography also included an award-winning recording of the Dvorak opera Rusalka with the Czech Philharmonic, starring Renée Fleming.
His greatest recorded achievement remains his recordings of the operas of Leos Janacek. The cycle for Decca, included Jenufa, Kat'a Kabanova, The Makropoulos Case, The Cunning Little Vixen, and From The House of the Dead. These recordings did much to expose Janacek's operas to audiences outside of the then Czechoslovakia, and are considered definitive readings of those works.
He worked right up until his death, and was scheduled to conduct Mozart's opera Idomeneo next month.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats
- Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.