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Sir Charles Mackerras died

(This article expired 28.07.2014.)

Sir Charles Mackerras, one of the greatest musical authorities died, aged 84. His beloved composers Mozart and Janáček were played at his funeral in St Paul's Church.

The world lost one of its leading conductors and a great patron of Czech classical music. In a long career of many highlights, Sir Charles became a notable specialist on the Czech composer Leoš Janáček.

His passion for Czech classical music began when he was 22 yeas old. He received a scholarship from the British Council and started his studies on the Prague Academy of Music, learning about Czech music from some of its greatest scholars, such as the legendary conductor Václav Talich, and getting a surprisingly good handle on the Czech language.

His lifelong association with Czech music produced many milestones, including the British premieres of Janáček’s Katya Kabanova (1951), The Makropulos Case (1964) and From the House of the Dead (1965), and his career defining Janacek discography with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. 

Sir Charles made his debut with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1964, where he conducted over 30 operas, including Guiseppe Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, which celebrated his 50th anniversary and 80th birthday in 2005.

In his final season he conducted his beloved Scottish Chamber and Philharmonia Orchestras in Edinburgh and London and he returned to three of his favourite opera houses: English National Opera for The Turn of the Screw which he had last conducted in London in 1956 at the Scala Theatre sharing the baton with Britten; the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden for The Cunning Little Vixen; and Glyndebourne Festival Opera for Cosi fan Tutte where on June 12, 2010 he conducted his final public performance.

In 1980, he became the first non-Briton to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms.

Sir Charles received a CBE in 1974 and was knighted in 1979. He was honoured with the Medal of Merit from the Czech Republic in 1996, made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1997 and made a Companion of Honour in the 2003 Queen’s Birthday Honours. In May 2005 he was presented with the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal and in November 2005 was the first recipient of the Queen’s Medal for Music.

Earlier this year he was awarded the Artis Bohemiae Amicis award for his promotion of Czech art abroad. He was due to return to Prague in the autumn for a farewell concert marking 50 years of cooperation with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

On his funeral on 23 July 2010 in St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, his beloved Mozart and Janáček were played. The Czech Ambassador Michael Žantovský expressed his sympathy on behalf of the Czech Republic to Judy, his wife and Catherine, the younger daughter.

Sir Charles Mackerras and Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines

Sir Charles Mackerras and Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines in the Czech Ambassador's rezidence on a party to commemorate his 80th birthday. He received a gift from Lady Grenfell-Baines, a tinted pen drawing depicting him as a conductor, by Jaroslava Moserová.