An archive of work by a world-famous American conductor has been donated by his widow to Durham University.
The late Ezra Rachlin, a child prodigy who started out as a concert pianist before taking up conducting in his twenties, was also a talented photographer and images he took of other musical greats such as Yehudi Menuin and Leonard Bernstein are among the wealth of letters, work and music sheets that will now benefit local students.
The invaluable hoard was given to Grey College by his widow Ann Rachlin, now 80, who developed a close bond with the institution after being invited to take up a Fellowship there in 2010.
Ann, who is renowned for her own work as a music educator and taught a young Prince William and Prince Harry, admits it is emotional letting go of the archive but said: “You get to a stage of life when you wonder what is going to happen to these things when you’re no longer around to protect them.
“I could not think of anywhere better than Durham University to house the work. And I know it will always be looked after.”
Her conductor husband was 18 years her senior when they met. Born in 1915, his parents took him to Berlin, then a seat of classical learning, when they spotted his musical potential and he went on to become the youngest student ever at the famous Curtis Institute of Music. His career soared and Sergei Rachmaninov picked him to bring his Third Piano Concerto on tour to Europe. “He had a career in the golden age of classical music in America,” says Ann. She calls him “an extraordinary man” who was great company, quite an artist - he did Art Deco-style drawings at the age of 16 and his artwork features on some of the archive work - and also a fine athlete: a long-distance swimmer, ice hockey player, table tennis champion and yachtsman.
He even obtained a pilot’s licence when, on tour in America with a famous conductor and his wife whom he found difficult to get on with, he took flying lessons to escape them and completed so many hours he became qualified to fly solo.
Rachlin, who died in London in 1995, supported Ann in a music charity she set up to work with deaf children. A musical storyteller, she is also known for her Fun with Music sessions and on her visit to Durham at the weekend to open the Grey College exhibition she hosted a Say It With Music session at the college about Irving Berlin which was streamed worldwide.
She loves her relationship with the city which she had never visited prior to her Fellowship. “I first came in 2010 and have been back every Easter term since,” she says. “It’s been a wonderful experience, particularly at my age. I never went to university. I wanted to, but back then women stayed at home and had babies.
“So it’s been a challenge - but a good challenge. And I’ve also been able to bring my life experience to the students.”
The Ezra Rachin exhibition can be seen at Grey College in South Road, Durham, every Saturday and Sunday plus weekdays by appointment until October 27.