An Australian-born concert pianist, teacher and music editor has died at her home in New Malden at the age of 88.

Sally Mays - whose married name was Mays-Elsom - died of lung cancer, thought to be caused by asbestos poisoning, in the arms of her husband, John, while watching the sun rise.

Her outstanding talents as a musician were apparent from an early age. She gave her first piano recitals at the age of 12, but her parents were determined that she should receive a formal music education to support her love of jazz. She received her AMusA at the age of 13, her LRSM at 15 and ARCM at 19.

She studied at Melbourne University’s Conservatorium, where she won the Clarke Scholarship to the Royal College of Music at the age of 19.

The composer, May Howlett, remembers the ‘golden-haired, blue-eyed girl, sweeping into the foyer in a whirl of energy, glowing after her farewell recital at Melbourne Town Hall’.

At the RCM, she studied with Arthur Alexander, and won the Chappell Gold Medal and many other awards, both as a pianist and a composer. She later studied with Irene Kohler and Marcel Ciampi in Paris, and as a rising young musician, was welcomed by the Menuhins, Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

She gave her first of several Wigmore Hall recitals in 1955, as a soloist and within chamber ensembles. As a student in London, she met her future husband, the writer John Elsom, whom she married, while both were at university, ‘a reckless gamble’ that lasted for 63 years.

For more than 50 years, she returned almost annually to Australia to give recitals, broadcasts and master classes; and added other cities to what became her mini-tour of South East Asia, including Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as South Africa and, in the ‘60s, Southern Rhodesia.

She broadcast many times for the ABC and the BBC; and played at the Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Gennadi Rozhdestvensky.

She was an accomplished pianist of the classical repertoire, from Scarlatti to Debussy, but she devoted much of her career to the discovery, performance and publication of works by contemporary composers, particularly those from Australia.

She formed an outstanding musical partnership with the New Zealand composer, Barry Anderson, a pioneer of electro-acoustic music. He wrote a major sequence of works for piano and synthesisers for her and they toured together to demonstrate what were at the time new and exotic sounds.

Anderson founded the West Square Electronic Workshop and when he left the UK to work with Pierre Boulez in Paris, she became a founder member of the Mouth of Hermes, under Frank Denyer, which staged concerts on the South Bank at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room of works by the then little-known composers from California, Steve Reich and Terry Riley, and from Japan, Mayuzumi and Tagahashi.

In 1988, she gave a series of 12 recitals of works of Australia composers in Sydney to celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of Australia and the opening of the new Sydney Opera House.

She premiered concerti by the Australian composers, Eric Gross, Ann Carr-Boyd and New Zealand’s Edwin Carr; and her performances feature in the 17 CDs of the Jade series of Australian music and in the Anthology of Australia Music on Disc (Canberra).

Sally enjoyed working in the theatre and was the on-stage solo pianist for Margot Fonteyn’s last tours and for the New London Ballet, with Galina Samsova. She performed with Lindsay Kemp at the Bush Theatre and in 2015, took a leading part in fusion concerts with Korean musicians during the Kingston Welcomes Korea Festival.

She joined the Sounds Positive, founded in 1995 by David Sutton-Anderson and Avril Anderson, which specialises in contemporary works by British composers, including Edwin Roxburgh and John Lambert; and continued to play with them as a member of the ensemble until her forced retirement in 2017.

She was a member of the award-winning Alexandra Trio and of Trio Lavolta with Joyce Fraser and Felix Buser, whose repertoire was of classical chamber music. They gave their last performance with her in early 2017.

Sally edited four volumes of graded Australian Piano Music for Currency Press (later Wirripang), which was likened to Bela Bartok’s Mikrokosmos; and broadcast and recorded new Australian piano music for the ABC, so that these works could form a major part of its on-going classical music repertoire.

In 2013, she recorded new works for them by Helen Gifford, Frank Millward, John Carmichael and Elena Kats-Chernin. Her playing is featured on many labels, including Jade, Continuum and the Anthology of Australian Music on Disc (Canberra); and her last public appearance, which was in the Jo Cox Memorial Concert on June 17, 2017, is available on YouTube and can be seen under the name of its film-maker, George Venus.

Sally was an international examiner for the Associated Board; and in her later years, combined her work as an examiner with her tours, notably in South-East Asia. She was an inspirational teacher, whose pupils ranged from all ages and levels of ability.

In the 2016 New Year’s Honours List, Sally was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her "significant service to the performing arts as a leading solo pianist, accompanist and composer, to music education and as an editor."

Sally Mays and John Elsom lived in South West London, and had two sons, Dr. Simon Elsom and Jonathan Elsom, and four grandchildren. She collapsed in June, 2017 and was taken to Kingston Hospital, where they diagnosed her lung cancer.

Sally spent the last few months of her life at her home in New Malden before she passed away peacefully on April 25.

Her funeral will be held at Kingston Crematorium on Thursday, May 24 at 3pm, followed by a wake at The Wych Elm pub on Elm Road, Kingston.