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Posts Tagged ‘obituaries’

Sir Charles Mackerras
Sir Charles Mackerras
(Z Chrapek)

Sir Charles Mackerras, noted for his thoughtful, lucid interpretations of Baroque and Classical-era music, died today (15 July 2010). He was 84.

Alan Charles MacLaurin Mackerras was American born – he began life in Schenectady on 17 November 1925 – but was raised in Australia. He studied oboe, piano and composition at New South Wales Conservatory in Sydney. His first gig was as principal oboist for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Mackerras emigrated to Britain in 1947, and married the same year.

Though he was at home with every era of music, Mackerras was a pioneer in the early music movement. He wrote, "I was … thinking that the way Handel was performed at that time [1940s] couldn’t be right and why was it necessary to have such big orchestras .. The turning point really came when I … first saw the Boosey & Hawkes miniature scores that came out at the end of the War. And then I saw how different Handel’s own orchestrations were from the way [Hamilton] Harty had rearranged them."

Mackerras was, to my knowledge, the first modern conductor to record Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music with the instrumentation King George had demanded of Handel – no strings, all winds. Mackerras assembled his "band of warlike instruments" in 1959, on the 200th anniversary of Handel’s death. He had to record in the wee hours of the morning – the only time that he could assemble 26 professional oboists all in one place.

Mackerras opened even more eyes and ears in 1965 – still well before the HIP (Historically Informed Performance) movement really took root – when he endeavored to perform Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro as Mozart would have staged it. In the years that followed he took his interpretive ideas to several other opera companies, including the Hamburg, Bavarian, and Vienna State Operas; the Welsh National Opera; San Francisco Opera; and the Met.

As an orchestral conductor, Mackerras was associated with several ensembles, including the Czech Philharmonic (as principal guest conductor, 1997-2003) and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He was named principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in 2002.

Mackerras made many highly regarded recordings, including a fine Mozart symphony cycle for Telarc with the Prague Chamber Orchestra. However, he never had a long-term contractual relationship with any label. This left him free to record the projects he chose, with whom he chose, when he chose.

Despite the cancer which had afflicted him for several years, Mackerras maintainted an active schedule. He was to conduct the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Mozart’s Idomeneo as part of the Edinburgh International Festival next month (August 2010).

Mackerras was knighted in 1979 and appointed a Companion of Honour in 2003. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Judy, and a daughter, Catherine. Another daughter, Fiona, died in 2006.

Further reading:

Sir Charles Mackerras Obituary at The Guardian


Sir Charles Mackerras conducts Mozart Symphonies (complete): Amazon, Arkiv Music, CD Universe

Sir Charles Mackeras conducts a wind orchestra in Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music (1959): Amazon, Arkiv Music, CD Universe

WKSU receives no financial advantage from your use of any for-profit vendor cited above. Recordings are available from a variety of sources, both local and online. Links are provided solely for your information, and do not signify an endorsement of any kind.

Alicia de Larrocha
Alicia de Larrocha

Pianist Mitsuko Uchida’s latest Mozart recording — the 23rd and 24th concertos — landed on my desk Monday. She’s accompanied by the Cleveland Orchestra, continuing a partnership which has lasted well beyond her 2002 – 2007 residency with the orchestra.

Though I never expect to see Mitsuko Uchida at the keyboard of a classical fortepiano, or playing in front of the Academy of Ancient Music, her career trajectory has in some ways paralleled that of the Historically Informed Performance (HIP) movement. She was winning prizes in the early 1970s, at about the time the (modern) Academy of Ancient Music played its first concerts. Her New York debut was in 1985, the same year that Cleveland’s Early Music America was founded.

I went straight to the second movement of her Mozart 24th, that gorgeous, wistful respite Mozart gave us between the dense, dark outer movements of his c-minor concerto. As I listened to Uchida’s lucid, gentle, and thoroughly unsentimental playing, I opened my computer’s web browser and discovered that another great Mozart interpreter had left this world.

Alicia de Larrocha, who died last Friday (25 September 2009) in Barcelona, her birthplace, came from the generation before Uchida’s. Make no mistake, she brought to the table much of her own generation’s musical sensibility. When she recorded the Beethoven concertos in the mid-1980s, for example, she didn’t play Beethoven’s own cadenzas. She used the late-Romantic-era cadenzas of Carl Reinecke – the ones she grew up playing.

She wasn’t particularly glamorous, and she was rather shy. But by God she could play the piano.

          – Herbert Breslin

The world recognizes de Larrocha for pushing Spanish keyboard music into the Classical mainstream. To name only one example, a quick glance at one of the online CD retailers shows nearly 4 dozen current recordings of the Suite Iberia by Isaac Albeniz, a cycle she first recorded in the late 1950s. Would there be half as many choices today, had she not championed the work? If she’d accomplished nothing else, that would have been enough.

She performed and recorded plenty of full-bore romantic music — Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Liszt. But it’s for her Mozart that I remember Alicia de Larrocha best. Well before the HIP movement, she was infusing Mozart (and Haydn and Beethoven) with a luminous delicacy that few other pianists could match.

So what am I leading up to here? That Mitsuko Uchida is heir to a mantle that Alicia de Larrocha wore, one with a badge that says "Mozart Pianist"? Not at all. Both of them would have to share that garment with too many other fine pianists.

But I do think we should remember de Larrocha as part of that generation of musicians who rethought the way we approach early music. She wasn’t a Steven Lubin or a Gustav Leonhardt, of course. That wasn’t her way. But she still helped lay the groundwork for a kind of music making that assigns great importance to discovering and communicating not just the musician’s own interpretation of the music – though that’s vital – but also the composer’s intent.

She will be missed.

So what about that Mozart concerto, the one Mitsuko Uchida has just released? Alicia de Larrocha recorded it too, for RCA, back in 1991, with Colin Davis and the English Chamber Orchestra. Do the two recordings help us draw a line from the older pianist to the younger? Not on your life! All it takes is a few bars of that middle movement to telegraph how differently she and Mitsuko Uchida viewed Mozart and his 24th concerto. Bravo for that – we’re richer for having both. Listen for yourself.

Mozart 24 with de Larrocha Mozart 24 - Uchida
Alicia de Larrocha Mitsuko Uchida

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Further reading:

Alicia de Larrocha Obituary at New York Times (registration may be required)

Alicia de Larrocha at the Daily Telegraph

Erich Kunzel
Erich Kunzel

"The world has lost a musical giant and we have lost a dear friend." Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra President Trey Devey speaks for all of us in his statement.

Erich Kunzel, the longtime conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops — he ruled the podium for 44 years — died this morning at a hospital in Bar Harbor, Maine, near his home on Swan’s Island.

In late April Kunzel was diagnosed with pancreatic, liver and colon cancer. "It wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t on the schedule," was his response.

Kunzel was famous as one of the world’s busiest conductors, and he refused to let the disease halt his music making. Even as he was undergoing first one round and then another of chemotherapy, he maintained a full schedule.

However, Kunzel appeared drawn and thinner on the first of August (2009), when he conducted his last Cincinnati Pops Orchestra concert at Riverbend Music Center. Kunzel handed the baton to associate conductor Steven Reineke for the first half of the concert. He then led the remainder of the program from a stool onstage, with Reineke close by.

Among Erich Kunzel’s many legacies in Cincinnati are the Pops’ 38 year series of public park concerts. Through these performances, Kunzel introduced thousands of Cincinnati area residents to classical music.

Kunzel also recognized that young people are the future of classical music. He took a personal interest in promoting the now nearly finished School for Creative & Performing Arts, the nation’s first K-12 performing arts public school. It’s set to open in the fall of 2010. And his last recording, just released by Telarc Records, showcases soloists — and even a composer — under the age of 20.

Kunzel was a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music from 1966 through 1972, where he taught orchestral conducting.

The Cincinnati Pops has set up a memorial Web page, and is accepting cards and notes for Kunzel’s family. Write to Cincinnati Symphony, 1241 Elm Street, Cincinnati OH 45202.

Erich Kunzel is survived by his wife of 44 years, Brunhilde.

Further reading:

Erich Kunzel dies at 74 at the Cincinnati Enquirer

Erich Kunzel’s website

Review of Erich Kunzel’s Last Concert at the Cincinnati Enquirer

Erich Kunzel Tribute Page at the Cincinnati Pops

Discussion of Erich Kunzel’s Health at Film Score Monthly’s Message Board

Edward Downes
Edward Downes (

The former conductor of the BBC Philharmonic and Netherlands Radio Orchestra has died at age 85.

Sir Edward Thomas Downes, CBE and his wife Joan, who was terminally ill, traveled to Switzerland where, according to a statement released by the conductor’s family, they "died peacefully, and under circumstances of their own choosing."

The arrangements were made though the Swiss assisted suicide group Dignitas.

Unlike his wife, Sir Downes was not terminally ill, but his daughter described him as "almost blind and increasingly deaf."

Friends of the conductor said that they weren’t surprised by his action. According to BBC Philharmonic general manager Richard Wigley, "Ted was completely rational, so I can well imagine him saying, ‘It’s been great, so let’s end our lives together.’"

Downes had also served as associate music director of the Royal Opera and as music director of the Australian Opera. He was knighted in 1991.

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, but not in Britain. The deaths are being investigated by Greenwich CID. In the cases of 115 other British citizens who have traveled to Switzerland to die in a similar manner, no friends or family members who accompanied or collaborated with them have been prosecuted. However, some UK officials have expressed concern over the fact that Downes was not himself terminally ill.

Further reading:

Conductor Dies in Assisted Suicide at BBC

With Help, Conductor and Wife Ended Lives at New York Times (registration may be required)

Steven Witser (photo: Cleveland Orchestra)

Steven Witser, principal trombonist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, died unexpectedly Monday night (27 April 2009), of an apparent coronary accident.

If Witser’s name and face seem familiar to you, it’s because until joining the Philharmonic in 2007 he was a member of the Cleveland Orchestra. There he served as assistant principal, acting principal, and assistant personnel manager.

Witser also played in the Center City Brass Quintet.

Steven Witser was born in Oakland and studied at the Eastman School of Music. Christoph von Dohnanyi tapped him for the Cleveland Orchestra in 1989.

Cleveland Orchestra media relations manager Jennifer Schlosser says, "Steve was a pillar of strength and support over his years here in Cleveland and helped people in countless ways. After joining the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2007 he continued to touch people with his selfless sacrifice of personal time and energy and genuine good humor that we all loved."

The Los Angeles Philharmonic concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall on 30 May 2009 will be dedicated to Steven’s memory. The orchestra will perform the opening work in his honor.


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