These collections were established by Lady Barbirolli in memory of her husband, conductor Sir John Barbirolli FRAM (1899-1970). A prize-winning cello student at the Royal Academy of Music, Barbirolli’s early career extended from playing as soloist in Elgar's Cello Concerto in 1921 to performing in dance halls, cinemas and circuses. As he himself said, ‘everywhere except the street’.

From 1924 he concentrated on conducting, establishing in particular a reputation as an interpreter of opera. He was invited to succeed Toscanini as the permanent conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936, returning to England in 1943 when he was appointed conductor of the Hallé Orchestra, becoming its Conductor-in-Chief in 1958. During this time he worked regularly with the Houston Symphony and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras in particular. In 1961 Barbirolli assumed responsibility for the Academy’s first orchestra, with the regular assistance of Maurice Handford.

Today's student conductors are taught in the Barbirolli Room, in which part of the collection is displayed. The Sir John Barbirolli archive was acquired from Lady Evelyn Barbirolli and consists of photographs, concert programmes, paintings, sculpture, memorabilia and press cuttings, all of which can be found on the Apollo catalogue. Scrapbooks from around 1912 containing reviews, advertisements for performances, and further biographical items enrich this collection and further its research potential.

A catalogue of other materials such as personal papers, diaries and correspondence is in preparation and will be made available via the Academy website in due course; in the meantime, access to these materials is available on application to the Librarian.