Sir Charles Mackerras, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Conductor Laureate and Honorary President of the Edinburgh International Festival Society, has died at the age of 84.
Mackerras, who passed away from cancer in London last night, was the principal guest conductor of the SCO from 1992 to 1995, and held the title of Conductor Laureate. Today there have been tributes from both the SCO and the Edinburgh International Festival Society.
The conductor’s partnership with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was to be celebrated with a performance of his favourite opera Idomeneo at the festival this year. The concert is still set to go ahead, with the festival now reviewing how best to mark the occasion.
A statement on the SCO’s site read: “We learned this morning with great sadness of the death last night of Sir Charles Mackerras, the SCO’s Conductor Laureate. Sir Charles was one of the most distinguished conductors of his generation and it has been an enormous privilege for all of us at the SCO to have had such a special relationship with him over the last twenty years or so.
“He had an almost unparalleled mastery of music across a huge range of styles and periods from Handel through Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Dvo?ák and Janá?ek and beyond. His work with the SCO was always special and there is a rich legacy of performances to remember and outstanding recordings to cherish well into the future.”
It added: “Apart from being a great musician, Charles was a man of great warmth, wit and personal generosity. For him, the music always came first which gave him a humility in the way he approached his craft and an integrity in all the work he undertook.
“His versatility made him stand out from his colleagues at the top of the conducting profession and there remains no one quite like him.
“Everyone at the SCO will miss him greatly but we will also have many fond memories, and consider ourselves especially honoured to have known and worked with him. Our thoughts are very much with Sir Charles’ family and his many friends at this sad time.”
In August 2008, Mackerras was announced as the new Honorary President of the Edinburgh International Festival Society.
He was 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 featured performances from Mackerras throughout six decades since his first in 1952.
Festival director and fellow Australian Jonathan Mills said: "Sir Charles was a marvellous musician and a fantastic colleague and friend. We are incredibly sad to hear of his passing and our thoughts are very much with his family at this time.
"As well as his contributions to the Edinburgh International Festival, he made an extraordinary contribution to Australian music, and to composers such as Janá?ek who would not be as well known or appreciated without his vision and life changing performances of their work. It was a privilege to work with him and he will be dearly missed."
Sir Charles's first appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival was in 1952 at the Empire Theatre (now the Edinburgh Festival Theatre) with Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, conducting his own arrangement of Arthur Sullivan's Pineapple Poll. He returned in 1958 as Music Director for a season of 12 ballet premieres.
In more recent years he is renowned for his performances at the Usher Hall with orchestras including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Hanover Band, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.