Sir Alan Charles Maclaurin Mackerras AC CH CBE (November 17, 1925—) is an Australian conductor. He is known as the leader of English National Opera and its predecessor, and as the director of the Welsh National Opera. He is a noted authority on the operas of Leoš Janáček and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Mackerras was born in Schenectady, New York to Alan and Catherine Mackerras, Australians – his father, an electrical engineer, was doing postgraduate work in Schenectady with General Electric – and at an early age he moved with his parents to Sydney. He was the eldest of their seven children, including five brothers, the others being Malcolm, Colin, Alastair and Neil. They are descendants of the pioneer Australian musician Isaac Nathan. Mackerras attended Sydney Grammar School and The King's School, Sydney in Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney. He studied oboe, piano and composition at the NSW State Conservatorium of Music in Sydney and eventually became principal oboist of the Sydney Symphony. He settled in England in 1946. He won a British Council Scholarship in 1947, enabling him to study conducting with Václav Talich at the Prague Academy of Music.
In 1947, Mackerras married the clarinetist Judy Wilkins "so that they could go to Prague together." They have two daughters, Fiona and Catherine.
Mackerras is currently the President of Trinity College of Music, London. He also serves as Music Advisor to City Opera of Vancouver, a professional chamber opera company led by conductor Charles Barber.
Mackerras has performed a wide range of repertoire, but is particularly closely associated with the operas of Leoš Janáček. In 1951 he conducted the British premiere of Katya Kabanova, which had been written thirty years earlier. He is also a noted authority on Mozart's operas (it has been said that if the scores of Mozart's operas were all somehow destroyed, Mackerras would be able to reconstruct them from memory) and those of Sir Arthur Sullivan. His Sullivan ballet arrangement Pineapple Poll (1951, just after the expiration of copyright on Sullivan's music), based on one of Gilbert's Bab Ballads, continues to be a popular light music favorite in English speaking countries. Mackerras also arranged music by Giuseppe Verdi for the ballet The Lady and the Fool. He also arranged a suite from John Ireland's score for the 1946 film The Overlanders, after Ireland's death in 1962.
He became principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra from 1954 to 1956. In 1963 he made his debut at London's Covent Garden conducting Shostakovich's Katerina Ismailova. He directed the Hamburg State Opera from 1965 to 1969 and English National Opera from 1970 to 1978. In 1972 he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in New York conducting Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. Mackerras worked closely with Benjamin Britten for a time, but after he had joked about Britten's relationships with young boys, they didn't work together again. The events are described in John Bridcut's Britten's Children.
Mackerras directed the Welsh National Opera from 1987 to 1992, where his Janáček productions won particular praise. One of the highlights of the 1991 season was the reopening of the Estates Theatre in Prague, scene of the original premiere of Don Giovanni, in which Mackerras conducted a new production of that opera to mark the bicentenary of Mozart's death. As Conductor Emeritus of Welsh National Opera, his successes have included Tristan und Isolde, The Yeomen of the Guard, and La Clemenza di Tito (all of which productions were brought to London). He was the principal guest conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, from 1992 to 1995 and of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1993 to 1996. During the same period, he was also principal guest conductor of the San Francisco Opera. From 1998 to 2001 he was the music director of the Orchestra of St. Luke's.
In 2004 he became principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra. He is also principal guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, acknowledging his expertise with Czech music. With the Royal Opera, he has recently conducted productions of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette and Handel's Semele. Mackerras has also had a long association with the Metropolitan Opera and has recently conducted The Makropulos Case, Katya Kabanova and Die Zauberflöte with that company.
In August 2008, Mackerras was announced as the new Honorary President of the Edinburgh International Festival Society. He is only the second person to hold this role, after Yehudi Menuhin. As the original part of the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh International Festival has featured performances from Mackerras throughout six decades since his first in 1952.
Mackerras's strategy for working with an orchestra is to come prepared. He has said,
A smaller UK record company, Pye, asked Mackerras to record Handel’s Fireworks Music. ‘We had to do that in the middle of the night, in order to get our twenty-six oboes together.’ The recording, issued in 1959, was received with critical acclaim for attempting to reproduce the sound Handel would have heard rather than the smoother orchestral arrangements usually played until then.
In the 1960s Mackerras made the first recording of the Italian version of Gluck’s Orfeo. For DG he conducted Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and for EMI a ‘new-look’ Messiah, with scholarly texts, small forces and sprightly tempi. He followed that up with Handel’s Saul and Israel in Egypt for DG.
In 1986, he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in the soundtrack to Carroll Ballard's film Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, the first full-length film version of Tchaikovsky's great ballet to be given a major release in theatres. It is performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet and features sets and costumes by Maurice Sendak.
Mackerras's recordings of the complete symphonies of Mozart (Telarc), Brahms (Telarc), Beethoven (EMI), and Mahler, as well as the Mozart operas, continue to attract critical acclaim, as do his recordings of the operas of Janáček (Decca, Supraphon, and Chandos), and major works of Handel, Dvořák, Bohuslav Martinů, Richard Strauss, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Donizetti, Elgar, Delius, Walton, Gustav Holst, and Haydn, among many others.
For Telarc he has also conducted Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado, and The Yeomen of the Guard. In collaboration with David Mackie he reconstructed Arthur Sullivan's "lost" cello concerto, conducting its first performance with cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and the London Symphony Orchestra at Barbican Hall, London, in April 1986, and a recording for EMI shortly afterwards. In 1997 Mackerras recorded Le delizie dell'amor, with the soprano Andrea Rost, for Sony Classical. His most recent release for that label was Lucia di Lammermoor with the Hanover Band (S2K 63174). Other recent recordings for Sony Classical include Chopin's two piano concertos with Emanuel Ax (SK 60771) and (SK 63371). He has also recently recorded Dvořák's Rusalka (Decca) and Slavonic Dances (Supraphon), Josef Suk's A Summer Tale (Decca), Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 24 with Alfred Brendel (Philips), and Brahms's two orchestral serenades (Telarc). For Linn Records he recorded a two-SACD set of Mozart's last four symphonies with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in August 2007.
Conducting the Next Generation; the Birthday Celebrations at Wales' Conservatoire Continue with a Concert Conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. He Tells Karen Price about Working with Top Welsh Performers and the Rising Stars
Mar 27, 2009; SIR Charles Mackerras has enjoyed some of the greatest highlights of his eminent career while working in Wales. And among his...