Sir Charles Mackerras at 80 – Congratulations!

Written by: Friends and Colleagues of Sir Charles Mackerras

Sir Charles Mackerras turns 80 on 17 November 2005. The following messages help celebrate this occasion…

Citation, courtesy of Nicholas Kenyon and the BBC Proms Office, for the First winner of The Queen’s Medal for Music: Sir Charles Mackerras

The Queen has approved the award of The Queen’s Medal for Music to Sir Charles Mackerras, CH, AC, CBE.

Sir Charles is the first recipient of this new award, which is to be made annually to an individual (or group of musicians) who is judged to have had a major influence on the musical life of the nation.

Announcing the award at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday July 16th, the Master of The Queen’s Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, made the following statement:

“Sir Charles Mackerras is one of the most highly respected and greatly loved musicians of our time. He was born in America and brought up in Australia, but he has worked in this country now for nearly sixty years, and has become a central figure in our musical life, bringing us discoveries and rare repertory in superb performances, with a continual spirit of adventure.

Through the power and authority of his interpretations of Janacek, he introduced this country to the work of one of the greatest opera composers. He brought stylish performance practice to the music of the baroque and classical periods, especially Handel oratorio and Mozart opera. He has recently been enjoying acclaim around the world in a wide repertory from Brahms symphonies to Strauss operas; and this year he conducted Mozart’s Magic Flute at both the Royal Opera and Glyndebourne.

In this country, he has had long associations with English National Opera and Welsh National Opera, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Concert Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonia, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Abroad, he has worked extensively with the Czech Philharmonic, recorded the Janacek operas with the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted the Orchestra of St Luke’s in New York and the San Francisco Opera. He recently made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic at the age of 78, and was immediately re-invited.

Sir Charles turns 80 later this year, but he has the energy and commitment of someone half his age. Musical life in this country has benefited immeasurably from his presence among us, and will continue to do so. It is very fitting indeed that he should be the first recipient of The Queen’s Medal for Music.”

Nick Breckenfield:

Three Cheers for Sir Charles! One for his giving us Janáček and all things Czech. One for his mastery of Handel and Mozart and the art of ornamentation. One for his faith in Gilbert and Sullivan

And there are other cheers, too. His mastery of Beethoven (his white-hot “Fidelio” with regular collaborator, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, is still ringing in my ears), Brahms and Mahler; his operatic work for Sadler’s Wells, then English National Opera and Welsh National Opera (let alone Australian Opera, now accessible via DVD); his embracing of the possibilities of ‘authentic performance’ in his work with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (including heavenly Schubert); and his belated recognition by Berliner Philharmoniker – engaging him for the first time at age 78 (you would have thought the orchestra would have snapped him up years ago following his Janáček performances at the Vienna State Opera!).

There seems no part of the repertoire he hasn’t graced and illuminated – I recall a world première he was scheduled to do, but was unable to conduct: Macmillan’s Veni Veni Emanuel (his place taken by Jukka-Pekka Saraste).

As he prepares to conduct three operas in London: Verdi’s “Un ballo in maschera”, Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride” and Janáček’s “The Makropulos Case”, we are lucky enough in Britain to experience the fruits of Mackerras’s Indian summer; long may it continue!

Tony Faulkner:

The sheer quantity, range and variety of Sir Charles Mackerras’s work are unique, – combined with unpretentious, and consistent high quality in execution and imagination. Sir Charles’s LPs for Pye were an inspiration when I was a teenager. Some of my earliest orchestral recording sessions were with Sir Charles and set an example of how to achieve precision in the recording studio without sacrificing musicality and energy. His CDs with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (one personal favourite is the Schubert ‘Great C major’ Symphony for Telarc) are very special and brilliantly crafted – spiced with his direct wit and humour. Sir Charles has been a great teacher for me, and I feel very privileged to have worked with him so many times.

Many happy returns Sir Charles, with the emphasis on both the ‘many’ and the ‘happy’.

Margaret Marshall:

Although I didn’t sing so very much with Sir Charles, I’d like to
say congratulations and wish him a very Happy Birthday and Many Happy Returns

Sir Peter Moores:

It’s great to be celebrating your birthday. It’s been wonderful working with you for 25 years on Opera in English, and as you know we have several more recordings to look forward to. Have a Happy Birthday.

David Whelton:

Sir Charles Mackerras is without doubt the greatest living British conductor. His contribution to British musical life is unparalleled: no other conductor combines such academic authority with such brilliant musicianship. Every Mackerras performance is to be treasured and remains in the memory long after it is over: it is a huge privilege for the Philharmonia Orchestra to work with him.

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