With Dame Joan Sutherland, Sir Charles Mackerras, who has died aged 84, was Australia's most distinguished, and honoured, musician and one of the most eminent and respected conductors on the world stage. His career spanned 60 years. His output was prodigious as was his energy. He had conducted Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at Glyndebourne only weeks ago, all but fulfilling his wish "to die on the podium". Alan Charles Maclaurin Mackerras was the eldest of seven remarkably talented children of Alan Mackerras, an Australian engineer, academic and Quaker, and Catherine MacLaurin. He was a descendant of Isaac Nathan, the first musician with a European reputation to settle in Australia.
Born in New York, the family resettled in Australia when he was two. On leaving school, to his parents' dismay, he eschewed the law to study music, becoming an oboist with the Sydney Symphony. In London, in 1947, he won a scholarship to study in Prague where he came to know the music of Janacek and would become the most accomplished Janacek expert and most recorded, outside the Czech Republic. Back in England in 1951 - where he remained, although never losing his Australian accent - he conducted his first Janacek work and, as a longtime devotee of Gilbert and Sullivan, he composed and in 1952, recorded, Pineapple Poll, a ballet based on pieces by Sir Arthur Sullivan. He anticipated the authentic movement, recording Music For The Royal Fireworks, as Handel would have heard it.
He conducted opera and orchestra in the world's best houses. His only real disappointment was not to be appointed chief conductor at Covent Garden, but he was music director of the English and Welsh National Operas. He was the first non-Briton to conduct at the Proms, the first recipient of the Queen's Medal for Music and the second honorary president of the Edinburgh International Festival Society.
Born on November 17, 1925, he is survived by his wife, Judy, a clarinetist, and the younger of their two daughters. He died on July 14. * The National