Sir Charles Mackerras studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and came to England in 1947 He gained a British Council Scholarship to study further at the Academy of Music in Prague. His great interest and love for Janác?ek commenced in 1947 on hearing Katya Kabanova conducted by the great Václav Talich.
As an assistant conduxtor at Sadler’s Wells in 1951 he gave the first performance of Katya Kabanova in the English-speaking world. Later he introduced The Makropulos Case and From the House of the Dead at Sadler’s Wells and continued conducting highly successful productions of Janác?ek’s operas as well as more standard repoertoire when he became Musical Director of English National Opera (1970–77), and for Welsh National Opera when he became their Musical Director (1987–1992). He has been a pioneer in the dissemination of the music of Janác?ek throughout the capitals of Europe and in the USA and Australia. Jenu°fa has been a particular favourite.
He has had a long association with the Czech Philharmonic and recorded most of Janác?ek’s orchestral works with them as well as Katya Kabanova and Dvor?ák’s Rusalka. Included in his vast discography is an award-winning cycle of the Janác?ek operas with the Vienna Philharmonic in the early 1980s. For Chandos he has recorded Janác?ek’s Glagolitic Mass in the original version, and Kodály’s Psalmus Hungaricus. As part of the Opera in English series he has recorded Osud, La traviata, Werther, Julius Caesar, Mary Stuart, Eugene Onegin, Jenu°fa, The Magic Flute, The Bartered Bride, The Makropulos Case, Hansel and Gretel and Così fan tutte.
Sir Charles has also undertaken much research into the music of the eighteenth century, particularly Handel and Mozart. He has recorded a complete series of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, several oratorios by Handel, symphonies by Mahler and Elgar, and a series of operas by Mozart and Gilbert and Sullivan. He is at present Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, Conductor Laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Conductor Emeritus of Welsh National Opera and Principal Guest Conductor Emeritus of the San Francisco Opera.
Sir Charles received a CBE in 1974, was knighted in 1979, honoured with the medal of Merit from the Czech Republic in 1996 and made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1997. In 2003 he became a Companion of Honour in the 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.