The relationship between Sir Charles Mackerras and the Philharmonia Orchestra began 55 years ago, on 21 June 1955, with a recording of his own arrangement of Verdi’s ballet The Lady and the Fool, at Abbey Road Studios. In his own words, “thereafter I seem to have been constantly recording with the Philharmonia”, most recently winning a Grammy award in 2008 for their recording of Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel for the Chandos label, and releasing acclaimed live recordings of symphonies by Schubert and Dvořák for the Philharmonia’s own record label in partnership with Signum Records. A live recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 is scheduled for release on Signum in September 2010.
But the longevity of their relationship was only one dimension of the deep bond between the Philharmonia and Sir Charles. Every performance with Sir Charles was a red letter day for the Philharmonia. A musician’s musician, he was loved by the Orchestra for his honest musicality and for the pure, infectious pleasure that he brought to his music-making. He was a pioneer in his approach to classical performance practice, and he combined this approach with a profound understanding of the 21st century orchestra in a way that led to authoritative and revelatory interpretations of core repertoire. Being part of a Mackerras performance – whether as musician or audience member – was an inspiration; his understanding of the repertoire and sense of its style created definitive performances of repertoire from the 18th to the 21st centuries. His glorious interpretations of Mozart will always remain with us, but his performances of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 last year, which were fortunately captured on disc and will be released at a later date, were equally extraordinary.
David Whelton, Managing Director of the Philharmonia Orchestra, said:
“For me personally, every single time that I have worked with Sir Charles over the last 30 years, I have learnt so much; from every performance, every conversation. It has been such a privilege to have known one of the most remarkable musicians of the 20th century. We will never forget what became his final performance with us in December 2009 – a reprisal of our acclaimed Hansel and Gretel recording with him that was imbued even then with an extraordinary poignancy, and finally a performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony that was quite simply perfect; sublime.”
Alistair Mackie, Chairman and Co-Principal Trumpet of the Philharmonia Orchestra, said:
“Sir Charles had a very special place in the heart of every musician in the Philharmonia Orchestra. I can think of no other conductor with his unique blend of passion, integrity and musicianship. He was completely lacking in pomposity or self-regard: for him, the joy was all in the music and in making and communicating that music. Performing with him felt like an entirely shared experience, and a wholly joyous one. Our musical world is greatly reduced by today’s sad news; we will all miss him terribly.”
The Philharmonia Orchestra offers its sincere condolences to Judy and to all Sir Charles’s family.