Australian conductor dies aged 84 after cancer battle

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Sir Charles Mackerras, the Australian symphony and opera conductor who was one of Britain's best-loved classical musicians, has died aged 84 after suffering from cancer, it was announced on Thursday.

Mackerras, who conducted at the opening of the Sydney Opera House, passed away in London on Wednesday night, his management firm said.

After growing up and studying music in Australia, Mackerras moved overseas to England where he made his name as a conductor.

During a career that spanned more than 60 years, Mackerras worked with the Sydney Symphonia Orchestra and conducted orchestras at the English and Welsh National Operas.

He was also the principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra.

In 1973, he led the opening performance at the Sydney Opera House, where he was later appointed chief conductor, the first Australian to hold the position.

Paying tribute, his agent Robert Rattray called Mackerras a "giant" of classical music who throughout his career was able to inspire fellow conductors and musicians.

"His knowledge and his enthusiasm was something he not only could convey to these orchestral players but to some of the most eminent players in the classical music world," he told BBC radio.

The Welsh National Opera (WNO), where Mackerras was musical director from 1987 to 1992, said his death was "deeply sad news".

The company said Mackerras had given "many great performances" with the WNO.

"Sir Charles will be greatly missed," the statement said.

Mackerras had been due to conduct two concerts at the Proms, the renowned classical music festival in London that runs over two months each summer, and which begins on Friday.

© 2010 AFP

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