Sir Charles Mackerras 1925-2010

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Chat' started by Anno Draconis, Jul 15, 2010.

  1. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    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.
  2. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    I've been avoiding the trolls recently, but felt compelled to comment on this.

    I worked with Charlie Mackerras on a number of occasions. I always found him to be the perfect gentleman and I feel honoured to have played under his baton. The last time was recording Dvorak Symphonies 7 & 8 with the Philharmonia last year. His insight into the music was quite profound and the orchestra had nothing but love and respect for him. Yes, he could be an awkward old begger, but it was always with a glint in his eye and a mischievous smile.;)

    As I get older, I am seeing more and more of the great conductors/soloists pass on. I don't think there are too many musicians of their calibre to replace them either.

    RIP Charlie - you will be sorely missed.
  3. Straightmute

    Straightmute Active Member

    Nicely expressed Andrew. I was saddened to hear the news and the musical tributes on R3 this morning.

    He conducted the first Prom I ever attended as a spotty teenager but I still remember it well, and meeting him briefly afterwards. I saw him at the RAH again last year and he was scheduled to be there again in a couple of weeks.

    He was one of those people you just expected to carry on forever...

  4. johnflugel

    johnflugel Active Member

    Thanks for posting this Andrew.

    I just text my brother to give him the news. He said a few years ago, he did a concert with the Philharmonia after which there was a negative review printed about the trombone section and its volume. Apparently, Charlie sent in a letter to the publication saying 'Don't have a go at my players, it was at my request!'
  5. Brian Bowen

    Brian Bowen Active Member

    What's all this "Charlie" talk? Were you fellows on such speaking terms with this highly respected maestro?
  6. I remember him conducting my first youth orchestra course. Loved him then and continued to throughout my career.
  7. Simon Preshom

    Simon Preshom Member

    I don't think any disrespect was intended Brian. Charlie is the name by which he has become affectionately known, whether you know him or not.

    Great conductor...will be sadly missed.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2010
  8. andywooler

    andywooler Supporting Member

    Sir Charles was the President of The Sussex Symphony Orchestra of which I am the Chair. He was also a personal mentor to our Conductor, Mark Andrew-James. I last saw him at Glyndebourne when he was conducting Magic Flute - from my seat in the 3rd row, he appeared to rarely look at the score! On his last concert with is, his respone to our Oboe when asked how fast would he be taking The Arrival of The Queen of Sheba was "how fast can you play it?" .