RTÉ conductor Noel Kelehan dies

Tue, Feb 7, 2012, 00:00

RENOWNED JAZZ pianist and former conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra Noel Kelehan has died at the age of 76.

Mr Kelehan, who was also a former musical director at RTÉ, was best known with TV audiences as the conductor of 24 Irish entries in the Eurovision Song Contest between 1966 and 1998.

He conducted five winning Irish entries: in 1980 ( What’s Another Year?); 1987 ( Hold Me Now); 1992 ( Why Me?); 1993 ( In Your Eyes); and 1996 ( The Voice).

In 1994, the winning Irish song Rock’N’Roll Kidsby Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan was performed without orchestral accompaniment.

However, the runner-up song that year, To nie ja!performed by Edyta Górniak for Poland, was conducted by Mr Kelehan.

In total, he conducted 29 eurovision entries, 24 of them Irish. He retired as a conductor in 1998.

Mr Kelehan also wrote the string arrangements for U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire.

He arranged the musical accompaniments for many singers who performed on RTÉ’s TV entertainment shows over several decades.

Born in Dublin in 1935, Mr Kelehan was self-taught as a composer and arranger, having received a classical training in piano theory and harmony.

As well as being conductor, he was an accomplished musician in his own right, playing as a pianist in several well-known Irish jazz quartets and quintets from the 1960s onwards.

A life-long fan of the great Miles Davis, Mr Kelehan played with established Irish musicians like Louis Stewart, Jimmy McKay, Mike Nolan, Keith Donald and John Wadham.

Last night, tributes were led by the RTÉ director general Noel Curran who said: “Through his work with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, on television and above all at so many eurovision song Contests, Noel Kelehan became indelibly associated with music at RTÉ and with musical excellence as an expression of Ireland’s confident participation in the wider world.

“He was greatly liked by his many colleagues in RTÉ who knew him as a warm person and as tremendous company.

“He will be missed by all who knew him.”

Anthony Long, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra’s general manager, said: “He will be much missed by RTÉ and particularly the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, with whom he had a very special relationship for over 30 years as a conductor, composer, arranger and not least a remarkable player. Ireland has lost a great talent.”

He is survived by his wife Mary, his daughter Carol and his sons Simon and Brian.