Brilliant Barbirolli dies

PUBLISHED: 16:12 31 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:43 07 September 2010

LADY Evelyn Barbirolli, highly distinguished oboist, widow of conductor Sir John Barbirolli and cultivator of an exceptional garden, has died aged 97

LADY Evelyn Barbirolli, highly distinguished oboist, widow of conductor Sir John Barbirolli and cultivator of an exceptional garden, has died aged 97.

Lady Barbirolli died the day after her birthday on January 25.

Born Evelyn Rothwell in 1911, the daughter of a City of London tea dealer and descendant of Victorian novelist Charles Reade, she was 17 when she first picked up an oboe.

She won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music where Benjamin Britten was a fellow student, and incredibly by the age of 20 she was first oboe in the Drury Lane orchestra's production of Lehar's The Land of Smiles.

At this performance she met Peter Barbirolli who introduced her to his older brother John, who was looking for an oboist for a six-week season at the Royal Opera House.

In 1932 Barbirolli married the soprano Marjorie Parry but the marriage was short-lived. After he became conductor of the Scottish Orchestra, he took Ms Rothwell to Scotland where romance blossomed.

The couple were married on the eve of World War II at Holborn Registry Office.

Her nephew Charles Rothwell said: "She was a super aunt to us and very knowledgeable and helpful and interested right up to the very end.

"It was nice that despite the decline in her mobility she remained mentally alert to the end so it was still extremely enjoyable visiting her."

She became a professor at the Royal Academy and was a member of the first orchestra at Glyndebourne in 1934.

As Sir John became more famous and travelled, she played less and less until after he died in 1970.

Gavin Henderson, principal of the Central School of Speech and Drama who knew Lady Barbirolli for 40 years, said: "She was an extraordinary musician and a great local resident, one of the most genuinely good-hearted people I have ever encountered.

"She was always giving advice. She was helpful to students and gave of her time freely. She will be greatly missed."

In the 1980s she moved to Buckland Crescent and set about transforming the third of an acre garden into her oasis.

Ruth Gorb, former Ham&High women's page editor, said: "For 25 years she opened her magical garden in Belsize Park up to the public. She did it every year without fail, even last year. She was an extremely charming, lovely woman and a great musician."

Lady Barbirolli died of pneumonia. Her family will hold a private funeral next Tuesday and are planning a memorial service in the spring.

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