The annual award, created this year, recognizes "an individual (or group of musicians) who is judged to have had a major influence on the musical life" of the U.K.
Born in the United States, Mackerras was raised in Australia, studied at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, and was principal oboist of the Sydney Symphony before moving to England to study conducting. He has held leadership posts with Hamburg State Opera, English National Opera, and Welsh National Opera, among other operas and orchestras, and conducts regularly at the Metropolitan Opera and the Royal Opera. He was made a CBE in 1974 and knighted in 1979.
"Sir Charles Mackerras is one of the most highly respected and greatly loved musicians of our time," said composer Peter Maxwell Davies, the Master of the Queen's Music, in announcing the award. "Through the power and authority of his interpretations of Janšcek, he introduced this country to the work of one of the greatest opera composers. He brought stylish performance practice to the music of the Baroque and Classical periods, especially Handel oratorio and Mozart opera.
"Sir Charles turns 80 later this year, but he has the energy and commitment of someone half his age," Davies continued. "Musical life in this country has benefited immeasurably from his presence among us, and will continue to do so. It is very fitting indeed that he should be the first recipient of The Queen's Medal for Music."
Mackerras was chosen by a committee chaired by Davies and including composer Michael Berkeley and Nicholas Kenyon, head of classical music for the BBC.
Queen Elizabeth II will present Mackerras with a silver medal in a private ceremony on or about November 22—both the birthday of Benjamin Britten and St. Cecilia's Day, which honors the patron saint of music.