We remember Sir Charles Mackerras
15 July 2010
Everyone at Linn is very sad at this morning's news at the passing of Sir Charles Mackerras. Although we knew he was ill he took a very sudden turn for the worse and his death came as a shock, especially given his joie de vivre and love for life. Even at 84 he had immense personal charisma and endless energy. Although we had enjoyed his performances for many years before, our professional association with Sir Charles began in 2002 with the recording of the Mozart Requiem with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. This was the beginning of a musical adventure we would all enjoy.
Since then we have established firm friendships and enjoyed many fond times, as well having been personally inspired by his musicianship and optimistic outlook. Here are some of our fondest memories...
Some very amusing memories were formed upon one memorable trip to Cannes. We joined Sir Charles to collect an award from Midem. Whilst being very undemanding one of his few requests was that he always had goat's milk. This raised a problem for our non-French-speaking colleague who was tasked with addressing this issue with the French-speaking hotel staff. Cue some very embarrassing goat impressions in the lobby of the hotel! (Anyone finding themselves in a similar situation should ask for 'lait de chevre'!)
On the night of the awards we collected Sir Charles from the very posh Ritz Carlton, where he was staying (we were not!). On the front steps we were very excited to be 'papped' by a photographer, who obviously knew who Sir Charles was. Very glam!
At the awards dinner Sir Charles took it upon himself to conduct an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday as one of our colleagues was 24 that day. Half the restaurant joined in (while the other half looked on bemused) and it was certainly the most perfectly conducted rendition of this popular tune we have ever witnessed. It was definitely a trip to remember!
We all met up with Sir Charles again in London that year when he was collecting the Orchestral Award at the BBC Music Awards. Of course we had to let Sir Charles know that he was a winner, but what he didn't know was that he was also the recipient of the Disc of the Year Award. We kept that quiet (with much difficulty!). When his name was announced he was genuinely shocked, suprised and above all delighted. Once he overcame his shock we were properly scolded for keeping it secret! This led to a very emotional, off-the-cuff speech and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Our engineer Philip Hobbs worked closely with Sir Charles over many years. Here are some of his memories...
"Sir Charles was one of the very few musicians who could really hear in his head what he wanted something to sound like before the musicians played: I always found working with him fascinating, because he would make an orchestra play the opening phrase of a piece, and would then stop them and make a succession of small adjustments to balance, attack, phrasing, then get them to play it again, and then repeat this process until it actually matched his ideal. Of course this then informed the rest of the performance.
His scholarship informed every musical decision, so even with pieces he had performed a hundred times he was continually referring back to the original manuscripts, in case some further mark of articulation or phrasing could enlighten him further.
His grasp of detail and memory was quite extraordinary. To give an example, several years ago (when he was already well into his 70s) Sir Charles recorded Idomineo for EMI. At the end of the editing process Sir Charles came back with a small list of minor blemishes he'd picked up in the pre-master, which he wanted fixed before release. It came through as a hand-written fax, and was very clear except for one point, where he had written down a certain line of recit and pointed out a word that was out of tune. Unfortunately we couldn't find this line of recit in the 3 volumes of the score.
Time was short, so we tracked Sir Charles down to the Sheraton in Edinburgh, where he was taking an afternoon nap before a concert and explained the situation. Despite several weeks having passed since he'd written his notes, and being slightly fuzzy from sleep, he immediately explained: volume 2, about half way through the book, there's a scene change and on the 3rd page half way down.. We found the recit pretty much immediately and went away to solve the problem. It was only a couple of hours later it occurred that he didn't have the score with him... he basically just had the whole thing in his memory."
Tributes have been pouring in throughout the day from people whose lives he touched. We shall certainly remember Sir Charles with a smile.
Sir Charles Mackerras