Sir Charles Mackerras receives Czech Culture Ministry award

Sir Charles Mackerras, photo: CTK

The renowned Australian-born conductor, Sir Charles Mackerras received the Artis Bohemiae Amici Award from the Czech Culture Ministry on Tuesday, for promoting Czech music abroad. A champion of Czech classical music, Sir Charles has conducted the works of Leoš Janáček, Antonín Dvořák and other Czech composers throughout his career spanning over five decades.

Sir Charles Mackerras impressed everyone at the Czech Culture Ministry with his Czech, which he learnt after the war, when he first came to Prague to study conducting. It was then that he discovered the music of Leoš Janáček and other Czech composers which he later championed around the world. Culture Minister Václav Riedlbauch said the award Artis Bohemiae Amici, or Friends of Czech Culture, is the very least he can do in recognition of Sir Charles’ achievements.

Sir Charles Mackerras, photo: CTK
For his part, the London-based conductor said Janáček’s music struck him as soon as he came to Prague in 1947.

“I was extremely surprised when I first came here at the greatness of Janáček’s music, the extraordinary variety of it. It had so many different aspects and expressions and everything that I really decided that I was going to study his music very closely and become a sort of specialist in his music.”

Sir Charles Mackerras became a leading authority on the interpretation of Janáček’s music and helped international audiences discover the Czech composer. He has been a guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he recorded a series of albums. The latest, featuring the symphonic poems by Antonín Dvořák, has just been released and has already become the BBC’s Disc of the Month.

The 84-year-old conductor remembers he first saw Leoš Janáček’s opera Káťa Kabanová in Prague’s National Theatre conducted by Václav Talich, who later became his mentor. Sir Charles considers him one of the greatest conductors of all time, and still remembers the advice Václav Talich gave him more than 50 years ago.

“You mustn’t be conceited, but you mustn’t be too modest either. Because if you’re too conceited, you are not sharing respect to the greatness of the music you are working for. But if you’re too modest, the orchestra will not respect you. I think that was what he said.”

And which of these two has been more difficult for you?

“I don’t know – at different times, different aspects of that. I can’t possibly say in general which of those two aspects hit me more, but I realize that the danger exists.”

Sir Charles Mackerras will return to Prague in September when he’ll conduct the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on the occasion of his 85th birthday.