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Wednesday, June 4, 2014


(Wendy Cussons)

Tribute by Michael Green

Mrs Wendy Cussons, who died in Durban recently at the age of 88, was the anonymous donor of a million rand for the purchase of the Steinway grand piano that now graces the stage of the Durban City Hall on concert nights.

Mrs Cussons gave the R1 million to the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra nine years ago for the specific purpose of buying an instrument to replace the orchestra’s ageing Bosendorfer grand pianos, and she was insistent that she should receive no publicity for her generosity.

The Steinway was bought in England and was chosen by the distinguished German pianist Florian Uhlig, who was assisted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, one of the most celebrated pianists of the 20th century.

Florian Uhlig gave the first performance on the piano in February 2006, playing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. l in D minor with the KZNPO.

Wendy Cussons was born in Durban, went to Durban Girls’ College and later studied music at Witwatersrand University.  She was a sister of the late Hugh Johnstone, a well-known Durban attorney and a former chairman of the Durban Turf Club.

When living in England she married a member of the Cussons family who for more than a century have been associated with the Cussons cosmetic products, the best known of which is Imperial Leather soap.

Mr and Mrs Cussons later settled in KwaZulu-Natal, where both of them eventually died.

Her name was given to a famous red rose, the Wendy Cussons rose, which was bred initially by her father-in-law, a notable horticulturist.

She leaves two sons, Richard, a business man, and Jeremy, a farmer, both living in England.

At her funeral, in St Thomas’s Anglican Church, Musgrave Road, Berea, the well-known Durban pianist Andrew Warburton played one of her favourite pieces, Schubert’s Impromptu in A flat major, Op. 142, No. 2.

The funeral was attended by family and friends, but there was no official representation of any kind, nor has there been any public recognition of her gift to Durban, except a reference from the stage by the famous Welsh singer Bryn Terfel.  She has been as unacknowledged in death as she was (by her own choice) in life.

It is understood that Florian Uhlig, who lives in Germany, has suggested that he himself play at a memorial concert in Durban for Wendy Cussons, but the outcome of this proposal is not known.  - Michael Green