Charles was born in New York to Australian parents, Alan Mackerras and Catherine MacLaurin. In 1928, when Charles was aged three, the family moved to Sydney, Australia. Mackerras was the eldest of their seven children. Mackerras studied violin at the age of seven and later the flute and was setting poems to music at eight, and wrote a piano concerto when he was 12.
Mackerras initially attended Sydney Grammar School, and also St Aloysius College in Sydney. While at Sydney Grammar, he showed a precocious talent by composing operas and conducting student performances in his early teens. Unconvinced that music was a viable profession, his parents removed the young Mackerras from temptation by sending him to board at The King's School until he was eventually expelled.
At age 16, Mackerras at the NSW State Conservatorium of Music. He earned additional income from writing orchestral scores from recordings. On 6 February 1947, Mackerras sailed for England on the RMS Rangitiki intending to pursue conducting. He later won a British Council Scholarship, enabling him to study conducting with Václav Talich at the Prague Academy of Music. While there, he formed a strong friendship with Jiří Tancibudek, Principal Oboe of the Czech Philharmonic, who introduced him to the operas of Leoš Janáček, thus commencing Mackerras's lifelong passion for that composer's music.
In 1947, Mackerras married Judy Wilkins, a clarinettist. They had two daughters, Fiona and Catherine. Returning to England from Prague in 1948, Mackerras joined Sadler's Wells and began his lifelong association with the Sadler's Wells Opera. In the 1950s, well before the "authenticity" movement, Mackerras focused on the study and practical realization of period performance techniques, culminating in his landmark recording of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks using the original wind band instrumentation.
He became principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra from 1954 to 1956. Mackerras worked closely with Benjamin Britten for a time until 1958.
In 1982 he was the first Australian national appointed chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1985. In 1980, he became the first non-Briton to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms. Mackerras directed the Welsh National Opera from 1987 to 1992, where his Janáček productions won particular praise.
Mackerras's last public performance was at Glyndebourne in the summer of 2010. Mackerras died in London at the age of 84, having suffered from cancer. Source: Wikipedia