Surprise exit: what is behind the departure of RTÉ old hand Crimmins?
The bowing-out of one of RTÉ’s most experienced musical hands is a bombshell
Séamus Crimmins: “I think I have done all I can to consolidate the standing of the ensembles and, in particular, to lift artistic standards while facing down unprecedented financial challenges”
Most music lovers in Ireland take it for granted, as if it’s the natural order of things. RTÉ is the dominant force in the country’s orchestral life, and has held that position so long – almost as long as the station itself has existed – there seems no reason to question the situation.
As the employer of some 130 professional musicians, RTÉ has an impact way beyond the realm of orchestral music. And I’m not talking about chamber music, where RTÉ’s appointment of a new quartet in residence in Cork is imminent, nor choral music, where the station maintains the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and RTÉ Cór na nÓg. Nor opera, where RTÉ’s involvement is again centre-stage in Dublin, with the RTÉ NSO due to play for Wide Open Opera’s upcoming premiere of Raymond Deane’s The Alma Fetish and John Adams’s Nixon in China, and with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra involved in Dvorak’s Rusalka for Lyric Opera Productions. In the area of opera, who can forget the impact of the breach between RTÉ and the Wexford Festival that led to the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Belarus replacing the RTÉ NSO in the pit at Wexford in 2001?
No. What I mean is that RTÉ musicians teach in our major academies and in our music schools, large and small. They play for choral societies, in amateur musicals and at gigs in places I don’t know about. They give concerts of chamber music and they play the newest of new music.
It is that wide reach that made last Wednesday’s unexpected announcement of the retirement of Séamus Crimmins, executive director of RTÉ’s performing groups, such a bombshell. But Ireland has no independent symphony orchestra funded by either national government or major municipality. Nor has it an orchestra to serve a permanent opera company. In fact, the largest employer of musicians in this country after RTÉ is the Defence Forces, whose establishment runs to 123. Until the late 1990s, RTÉ was actually number two to the Defence Forces, whose musical strength once ran to 215.
“After an exceptionally fulfilling and demanding six years as director of RTÉ’s orchestras, quartet and choirs,” said Crimmins in his departing statement, “I think I have done all I can to consolidate the standing of the ensembles and, in particular, to lift artistic standards while facing down unprecedented financial challenges. RTÉ’s orchestras, quartet and choirs are at the heart of the organisation’s commitment to live music and public service; long may they thrive in a secure and supportive environment.”