Gazette                                                                                                                                          Tuesday 7 March 1995

"To appreciate fully a great musician, you have to be a damn fine one yourself", was Ezra's characteristically succinct response to my bemusement at someone's failure to respect the genius of an acknowledged Master. “Otherwise, you don’t understand what it is you are respecting”, he went on.  From Nikisch to Strauss to Reiner to Rachlin, Ezra was a descendent of the most remarkable conducting tradition the world has ever witnessed.  "Damn fine musicians" such as Josef Hofmann, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leopold Godowsky, Joseph Lhevinne, Bruno Walter, Leopold Stokowsky, Fritz Reiner and George Szell paved the way for Rachlin's meteoric rise to fame both as a legendary pianist and as a great conductor.

Ezra 1

Born in Hollywood, Ezra Rachlin was five years old when some of his remarkable gifts were displayed in his first full length piano recital.  In the early 1920s America's venerable musical institutions had not yet been invented and Europe was considered the place for a wunderkind to receive proper training. The Rachlins moved to Germany where in the thriving musical centre of Berlin, Ezra was soon to make his mark.  Salon concerts were still very much in vogue, and at the house of the Abegg family, for whom Schumann had written his famous variations, Ezra often shared a platform with the eighteen year old Vladimir Horowitz. Whilst in Germany, his academic education had not suffered.  He had become totally bilingual, absorbing the entire output of Gœthe, Schiller, Lessing, Kleist, Mann and Zueckmayer.  He had also become street-wise and learned to defend himself against the local bullies in a hostile anti-Semitic environment.

By the time the Rachlins had returned to the USA, the 12 year old boy had gained the reputation of a phenomenal virtuoso performer and was inundated with concert engagements.

A spectacular Carnegie Hall début was followed by further study with Leopold Godowsky and Joseph Lhevinne, and at thirteen, Ezra entered the Curtis Institute as its youngest ever pupil,  to work with the legendary Josef Hofmann.  Whilst at Curtis he was admitted to the conducting class of Fritz Reiner and a close personal and professional relationship was forged with the most exacting conductorial taskmaster of his generation.  Reiner was unrestrained in his approval and his enduring support played a vital role in establishing Rachlin's career as a major conductor.

In 1937, Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto was to be featured in an extensive tour of European capitals, and the composer, who had always shown keen interest in Ezra's talent, spent considerable time preparing it with him.  Returning to the United States with his concert career in full flourish, Rachlin became the youngest ever faculty member of the Curtis Institute.  His fascination with conducting gradually predominated over his pianistic career and after a Command farewell performance at the White House for President and Mrs. Roosevelt, Rachlin decided to accept George Szell's recommendation to be appointed as Conductor of the Philadelphia Opera Company.  Later appointments included Austin Symphony Orchestra (Texas), Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra (at the invitation of Leopold Stokowski) and Queensland Symphony Orchestra (Australia).

Marrying Ann (of Fun with Music), and settling in Europe in the 1970s, Rachlin was widely in demand as an operatic and symphonic conductor.  In England he became associated with the Hallé, the Philharmonia and in particular the London Symphony Orchestra with which he won a gold disc for a series of recordings.

In later years Ezra devoted much of his time to working with young conductors, and whatever I may have learnt about conducting is the consequence of having been one such privileged student. In keeping with his mentor Fritz Reiner, he demanded absolute knowledge of the score, impeccable stick technique and control of the orchestra. As work progressed, I was duly instructed to drop the Mr. Rachlin and when the lesson was over, reminiscences would abound:  "How he felt about performances of the Brahms piano concerti he had given with Bruno Walter, Fritz Reiner and Leopold Stokowski ...."When Rachmaninoff played them..."  How Stokowski had given him keys to his apartment and he had stumbled upon his score of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring rewritten in 2/4 - “The result was exactly the same!"

He was fond of saying that he did not teach "musicianship", but I must beg to disagree.  It was impossible to work with him without deepening one's love and understanding of music.  He was a musician of the greatest stature who had made music with virtually all the great musicians of his time.  His knowledge was prodigious, his mastery exemplary and with his blend of articulate but respectful instruction, warmth, encouragement and humour, he was, as a teacher, as in so many other ways, unique.

Ezra Rachlin: Born USA 5 December 1915; died in London 21 January 1995; survived by Ann Rachlin whom he married in 1969; and by his former wife, Carmen (whom he married in 1941) and his son, Michael.