A sad but fond farewell to Sir Charles Mackerras, the great Australian conductor who has died at the age of 84. Celebrated for an exceptionally wide range of achievements, from championing Gilbert & Sullivan to pioneering the slenderised sounds that mingle period-performance-practice with modern instruments, from working with Benjamin Britten to resuscitating the reputation of Janacek almost single-handed, Mackerras has made the impact of a musical meteorite. And he kept making great music right up to the end. He conducted the first two performances of Cosi fan tutte's current run at Glyndebourne a few weeks back and was to have performed at the Proms next week.
Here's a video interview with Mackerras from the Philharmonia Orchestra, which wonderfully conveys his sparky personality:
I met Sir Charles in rather surprising circumstances. In Paris, back in the last century, the pianist Mikhail Rudy invited me to a concert he was performing of Janacek chamber music in the small auditorium at the Opera Bastille. The programme included not only the Violin Sonata, which Micha played with Pierre Amoyal, and Pohadka with cellist Gary Hoffman, but also the Capriccio and Concertino in which Sir Charles conducted a team drawn from the Paris Opera Orchestra. The concert was part of an extended Janacek project which included a recording of the same programme. I gatecrashed the rehearsal, at which we soon discovered there was nobody to turn the pages; I bravely/stupidly volunteered. Paris admin, seeing an apparently resident turner, didn't book anyone to do the concert...so you can guess the rest, and I was able, with half an eye, to observe Sir Charles at close quarters on the podium bounding with the best possible nature and the most twinkling of eyes through these two unusual and heart-warming works, with which he seemed entirely at one. The recording is available on EMI Classics.
Sadly I was only able to interview him once, by phone, re Dvorak. It was an all-too-brief encounter with a musician I truly revered.
Everyone has been paying tribute to him. Here are a few choice selections:
The Arts Desk reruns Igor Toronyi-Lalic's Q&A interview in which Sir Charles describes (amongst many other things) how everyone fell out with Britten sooner or later;
Obit from The Guardian by the late Alan Blyth (in case you're wondering, the papers commission obits ahead & keep them on file til needed...macabre, perhaps, but sensible...)
I'll update this post with more pieces from the nationals as they appear.
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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