I heard this morning of the death (from cancer, at the age of 84) of the orchestral conductor Sir Charles Mackerras. This is a sad day for musicians. I had the privilege of working for Sir Charles briefly while I was in charge of the library at the Scottish Chamber Orchestra; I got to watch rehearsals, performances and recordings close up, memorably The Marriage of Figaro which I still love, but many others. He was one of those conductors who changes the way an orchestra plays just by being in the room - the orchestra always raised their game 10-15% in "Mackerras weeks", because they got more musical challenge and excitement from him than almost anyone else. His ability to drag the absolute best out of any orchestra was based both on his experience as an orchestral player (which always helped to win an orchestra over) and his ongoing thorough scholarship. Before recording "Figaro" he spent time in libraries in Vienna and Prague studying Mozart's original manuscripts, trying to determine what would constitute the definitive version. In his early years as a conductor in London during the 50s he conducted a famous recording of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks which was one of the earliest examples of a "period instrument" recording, in that it used the same instrumentation used in the original performance in Green Park 200 years earlier - this required 24 oboes, and in order to get 24 professional oboe players all available at the same time the sessions had to take place in the middle of the night. He was very popular amongst the pro musicians that I spoke to, and there are some great stories about him. One is that he was the inspiration for his friend Barry Humphries' character Sir Les Patterson ("Australian Cultural Attache"), I'm not sure how true that is but he could certainly be, erm, forceful if things weren't going well. Whenever I heard Mackerras conduct something there seemed to be an energy, focus and intensity about the playing that few other conductors got from their musicians. I've no idea how he did it, but it was marvellous to behold. In the band world we talk glibly about "great conductors", and I've been lucky enough to encounter a few, but I've never met a greater conductor, or musician than Charles Mackerras and the world is poorer for his passing.