Michael Dervan’s 2015: Lucky in our promoters who go with the gut

We are lucky to have a number of Irish promoters whose taste and empathy for the audience’s experience set them apart

When the Hungarian violinist Barnabás Kelemen played Szymanowski’s Second Violin Concerto with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in November he spoke a couple of words of Irish before his encore, to the delight of the audience. He explained that he’s known those words for nearly 20 years, since the first time he came to play for the late John Ruddock and his Limerick Music Association.

Ruddock made a deep impression on the musicians he chose to promote. His passion for what he was doing, and his deep connection with the music, were unmissable. And he and his wife, Doreen, knew how to give their musicians a good time.

He had passion and he had taste, taste that was highly specific about performers and pieces. There were lots of great players and great pieces he simply wasn’t interested in. So, basically, he put on the kind of concerts that he wanted to hear himself.

It’s an approach that, when it comes off, has an attractive authenticity.

You can find similar distinctions in restaurants. How often have you found yourself eating a flavourful dish but finding that the food avoids the fork, sometimes splashily, and even causes trouble on the way to the mouth? My suspicion is always that the chef has carefully tasted the food but never thought to sit down and find out what it’s actually like to eat.

John Ruddock, sadly, is with us no more. But we’re lucky to have a number of Irish promoters whose taste and empathy for the audience’s experience set them apart. The ones that stand out most clearly are Francis Humphrys at West Cork Chamber Music Festival, Eamonn Quinn of Louth Contemporary Music Society and, for two years now, Eugene Downes at Kilkenny Arts Festival. As they say, it’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s not science at all. It’s a matter of the gut.

My Cultural Playlist For 2015  

The English pianist Benjamin Grosvenor's recital at the National Concert Hall showed a remarkably wise head on young shoulders.

Tom Johnson's piece Nine Bells saw the percussionist Olaf Pyras spend an hour walking through a series of patterns to make music on suspended bells.

Marino Formenti's György Kurtág-inspired, collage-like redefinition of the piano recital.

Peter Whelan's Ensemble Marsyas unearthing a forgotten piece of Dublin's 18th-century past, John Sigismond Cousser's 1711 serenata, The Universal Applause of Mount Parnassus.

A portrait concert of the veteran US experimentalist composer Christian Wolff, a man whose music risks everything in order to live in the micromoment.

Irish Youth Opera's production of Handel's Agrippina, given a persuasive updating by its director, Oliver Mears.

The rising standard of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra's visiting conductors, and hence of the NSO itself, over the past few months.

Chamber Choir Ireland's Arvo Pärt at 80 programme, sounding as if the singers might have been genetically engineered specifically for this music.