The English conductor, Mark Philip Elder, is the son of a dentist. As a youth he divulged talent both as a singer and instrumentalist, serving as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral and as the first-chair bassoonist in the National Youth Orchestra. He studied music at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he studied music and was a choral scholar. He was later mentored by renowned British conductor and musicologist Edward Downes. Elder worked briefly in minor capacities at Glyndeboune and Covent Garden before gaining experience conducting Verdi operas as a regular conductor at the Sydney Opera House, Australia from 1972 to 1974. He returned to England in 1974.
Mark Elder has achieved wide acclaim in the realm of opera, but has also generally devoted an equal share of his career to orchestral work. He perhaps made his strongest impression at the English National Opera (ENO), where he began conducting regularly from 1974. He was the music director of the ENO from 1979 to 1993, and was known as part of the "Power House" team that also included general director Peter Jonas and artistic director David Pountney, and which gave ENO several very successful years of productions. During his 15 years as ENO director, he conducted the company in numerous highly acclaimed productions and led successful tours to the USA, Russia, and other parts of Europe. Elder has also conducted at Glyndebourne, Covent Garden, the Sydney Opera House, the Chicago Lyric Opera. He appears frequently in many of the most prominent international opera houses, including Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera New York, and the Opéra National de Paris and was the first British conductor to conduct a new production at the Bayreuth Festival.
Mark Elder held postions as Principal Guest Conductor of the London Mozart Players from 1980 to 1983, and of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1982 to 1985. He also served as Music Director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra from 1989 to 1994, and as Principal Guest Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 1992 to 1995. In 1999 he was named Music Ddirector of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester. His first concert as Music Director was in October 2000. His proposed novel ideas for concerts have included the abandonment of traditional concert evening garb. Elder is generally regarded as having restored the orchestra to high critical and musical standards, after a period where the continuing existence of the orchestra was in doubt In 2004, he signed a contract to extend his tenure from 2005 to 2008, with an optional two-year extension at the end of that time. In May 2009, the orchestra announced the extension of Elder's contract to 2015. Highlights of the 2009-2010 season, during which Sir Mark Elder celebrates his 10th anniversary with the orchestra, include his and the Hallé’s major role in a complete cycle of Gustav Mahler symphonies marking the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
Mark Elder also works regularly with the world’s leading symphony orchestras and, in the UK, enjoys close associations with both the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. In the USA he has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, his most recent project for whom was a three-week Dvorak Festival in June 2009. He first conducted the Last Night of the Proms in 1987. He was scheduled to conduct again in 1990, but his remarks about the nature of some of the traditional Proms selections in the context of the impending first Gulf War led to his dismissal from that engagement. In 2006, he returned to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra for his second Last Night engagement, a concert which was internationally televised.
His repertory is broad in both the operatic and orchestral realms: though he has favored Verdi in the opera house, he has led performances of Wagner (Die Meistersinger; Parsifal), Ferruccio Busoni (Doktor Faust), Igor Stravinsky (The Rake's Progress), and modern composers like David Blake (Toussaint). His orchestral choices include many standards, while taking in works by modern British composers like George Benjamin, Nicholas Maw, and Jonathan Harvey. Elder has described his own conducting style as follows: "I'm quite a physical conductor. I remember seeing Adrian [Boult] backstage after the 1978 Proms and he was wearing a freshly ironed light blue M&S shirt and he said to me 'I see you're one of the sweaty ones.' He was famously non-perspirational."
Mark Elder has made numerous recordings for a variety of labels, including Sony, Chandos, ASV, NMC, Hyperion Glyndebourne record labels, as well as for the Hallé Orchestra's own label. He has made many recordings with orchestras including the Hallé Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Royal Opera House and ENO. Among his more successful recordings are his English-language version of Verdi's Rigoletto on Chandos, issued in 2000, and his 2004 recording of Edward Elgar's Symphony No. 2 on ASV. He has been involved in several TV projects including a film on the life and music of Verdi for BBC TV and a similar project on Donizetti for German television. Recent opera recordings include Donizetti’s Dom Sebastien, Imelda di Lambertazzi, Linda di Chamounix and most recently Maria di Rohan for Opera Rara. In addition to his conducting and recording activities, Elder also has written on music for The Guardian and other newspapers.
Recent and forthcoming symphonic engagements, apart from his commitment to the Hallé Orchestra, include the Berliner Philharmoniker, Münchner Philharmoniker, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (with whom he conducted a three-week Dvorak Festival in June 2009), Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Russian National Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Recent operatic engagements have included Tannhäuser, Mefistofele, Otello, Samson and Madam Butterfly for the Metropolitan Opera New York, Pelléas et Mélisande, Turandot, and Berlioz’ La damnation de Faust for the Opéra National de Paris, King Roger at The Bregenz Festival, The Rake’s Progress, Euryanthe and Fidelio for Glyndebourne, Bataglia di Legnano, La Cenerentola, Attila, Lohengrin, Simon Boccanegra, Turandot, La bohème, Il barbiere di Siviglia, concert performances of Donizetti’s Dom Sebastien and Linda di Chamounix (both also recorded for Opera Rara), Cyrano de Bergerac by Alfano, Stiffelio and Ariadne auf Naxos , Elektra, Capuleti for Covent Garden, Don Carlo in Genova, and Hänsel und Gretel, Un ballo inmaschera, Charles Gounod’s Faust for the Lyric Opera Chicago and Il trovatore in Florence. Future operatic engagements include Adriana Lecouvreur and The Tsar’s Bride for Covent Garden, Tannhäuser in Paris and Billy Budd at Glyndebourne. In May 2009 he conducted Götterdämmerung complete in concert with the Hallé Orchestra.
Mark Elder was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1989 Queen's Birthday Honours. He won an Olivier Award in 1991 for his outstanding work at English National Opera. He received the 2006 conductor prize of the Royal Philharmonic Society. In April 2007, Elder was one of eight conductors of British orchestras to endorse the 10-year classical music outreach manifesto, "Building on Excellence: Orchestras for the 21st Century", to increase the presence of classical music in the UK, including giving free entry to all British schoolchildren to a classical music concert. In June 2008, Elder received a knighthood in the 2008 Queen's Birthday Honours.