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MARK ELDER

Mark Elder was a boy chorister at Canterbury Cathedral before studying at Bryanston School, where he learnt to play the bassoon. As a member of the National Youth Orchestra he played under Pierre Boulez, a formative influence; and gained his first experiences of conducting while an undergraduate reading music at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. After graduating he worked as a répétiteur in 1969 for the Wexford Festival, before swiftly moving on to the posts of chorusmaster for the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and répétiteur at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where he worked with Georg Solti and Edward Downes, amongst many others. Downes invited him to join Australian Opera as staff conductor for two years, 1972–1974, after which Elder returned to London to join the English National Opera in a similar position. After three years he was appointed an associate conductor of the company, before becoming its chief conductor in 1979, a post he held until 1993. Elder’s fourteen years at ENO became known as the ‘powerhouse’ period, during which he shared the artistic direction of the company with the producer David Pountney and the administrator Peter Jonas. Among the thirty new productions which he conducted with the company were Hans Werner Henze’s The Bassarids (1975), David Blake’s Toussaint (1977), Dvořák’s Rusalka (1982) and Busoni’s Doktor Faust (1986). In addition he conducted the full range of the traditional operatic repertoire and he led the company on successful tours to the USA (1984) and Russia (1990). Elder made his debuts at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden with Rigoletto in 1976, at the Bayreuth Festival, conducting Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, in 1981, and at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, with Le nozze di Figaro in 1988.

During the 1970s and 1980s Elder undertook a considerable amount of purely orchestral conducting alongside his predominantly operatic work. He made his debut with the New Philharmonia Orchestra in 1977 at the King’s Lynn Festival, and held the posts of principal guest conductor of the London Mozart Players (1980–1983), of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1982–1985) and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (1992–1995). During this time he established a strong reputation for directing sympathetic readings of new works, leading first performances of compositions by George Benjamin, Jonathan Harvey, Colin Matthews, David Matthews and Nicholas Maw. His first music directorship of a symphony orchestra was with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, from 1989 to 1994. Awarded a CBE in 1989, he was active internationally as a guest conductor during the 1990s, before becoming chief conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in 2000.

Elder’s time with the Hallé has seen great developments in the playing of the orchestra, which in the autumn of 2006 was named as the finest orchestra in the British Isles by The Times. At the same time his own interpretative range has widened significantly, with particularly impressive readings of music by late-Romantic composers such as Mahler and Richard Strauss. For many music-lovers, Elder has returned the Hallé to the golden era of Barbirolli while also taking it forward. He has also been assiduous in developing young conductors both by teaching at the Royal Northern College of Music and by setting up conducting placements with the Hallé. In addition to his work in Manchester Elder, now established as one of Britain’s leading musicians, appears regularly with major orchestras abroad, notably the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouw, as well as with many leading opera companies, including the Bavarian State Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Metropolitan Opera in New York, Opéra National de Paris and Royal Opera Company, Covent Garden.

During the course of his conducting career to date Mark Elder has built up an impressive and wide-ranging catalogue of recordings. Of especial note are his recordings with the Hallé Orchestra, which include the Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 of Elgar as well as the Enigma Variations, Falstaff and the Cello Concerto (with Heinrich Schiff); Holst’s The Planets, with an additional movement, Pluto, composed by Colin Matthews; Nielsen’s Flute Concerto (with Andrew Nicholson) and Symphony No. 5; Richard Strauss’s Don Juan, Macbeth and lieder with orchestra sung by Anne Schwanewilms; and a complete account of Vaughan Williams’s incidental music to The Wasps. With the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra he has recorded three unusual works by Shostakovich, Hypothetically Murdered, Hamlet and King Lear, and the Piano Concerto of Busoni with Marc-André Hamelin. Recordings of contemporary music include George Benjamin’s A Mind of Winter and Ringed by the Flat Horizon, and John Buller’s Theatre of Memory and Proença. Elder’s work with the English National Opera is preserved in stylistically impeccable readings of Verdi’s Otello, Rigoletto, and Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. Many of his other operatic performances are available as video recordings and include, with ENO, Britten’s Gloriana and Dvořák’s Rusalka, and with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).


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