Talented violinist and leader of RTÉ orchestra


COLIN STAVELY:Colin Stavely, who has died aged 68, was a violinist of considerable talent and reputation here and in the United Kingdom. He led the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra and was co-leader of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.

A native of Dublin, Colin Staveley was born in 1942 into a musical family and started playing the violin at aged seven.

He was educated at Belvedere College and was well remembered for his singing roles in the annual Gilbert and Sullivan event, and leading the school orchestra. He studied music at the Royal Irish Academy, where his talents were recognised at a young age.

He joined the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in 1958 and went on to become its leader. Two years later, aged 18, having decided to pursue a career in music, he was awarded a scholarship by the Royal Northern School of Music in Manchester, where he studied with violinist Leonard Hirsch.

His first major break came in 1962, when Leonard recommended him to Lionel Bentley, who was searching for a talented violinist to complete the reformation of the internationally renowned Amici String Quartet which Staveley joined – an exceptional opportunity at the age of 20.

He amassed a formidable chamber music repertoire whilst undertaking an ambitious programme of concerts, broadcasts and recordings.

In 1966, he auditioned for the leadership of the BBC Welsh Orchestra and somewhat to his surprise, amongst stiff and experienced competition, was appointed leader – making him at 24, the youngest orchestral leader in the UK.

In 1968, he moved to London where he was appointed co-leader of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing under world famous conductors including Rudolf Kempe.

He was approached by BBC Wales in 1971 to return as leader and support the ambitious plans to augment the orchestra to Symphonic proportions. He had a pivotal role in the selection of new musicians and the successful transition process.

In 1973, he returned with his family to Dublin to lead the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra. He much enjoyed his time back in Ireland, leading the orchestra, giving recitals and teaching as a professor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

One of the highlights of this period was the Wexford Opera Festival in 1974, where he played the violin solo in Massenet’s Thais.

The respected journalist Bernard Levin said of this performance: “I have travelled the world listening to Massenet’s ‘Thais’, but I have had to travel to Wexford to hear the meditation played properly and most beautifully by Colin Staveley.”

In 1980, Staveley was appointed sub-leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, travelling the world on concert tours, and also regularly leading the orchestra for Children in Need. In 1985, growing tired of extensive periods away from home, he decided to become a freelance musician and expand his teaching practice which flourished for many years. He was teaching a young pupil only a week before he died.

In moving to freelance activities he contacted Sid Sax, an influential orchestral fixer, who for specific concerts or recordings (with some of the world’s top musicians – Pavarotti, Domingo, Dame Joan Sutherland, Dame Janet Baker), or for major films ( Star Wars, Fiddler on the Roof), assembled an orchestra (of which Colin was a regular member for many years) from the finest freelance musicians in the UK. There was no hierarchy and the only qualification was that you were a top-class musician.

Colin Staveley will be remembered as a kind, compassionate, generous, intelligent and extremely modest man who was devoted to his family.

He was a richly talented and widely-respected musician dedicated to achieving the highest standards.

He died at home in the UK and is survived by his beloved wife Sue, four children, Emma, Richard, Lucy and Dominic, four grandchildren and his brothers and sisters, Brendan, Derek, Hilda and Celene.

Colin Staveley: born May 17th 1942; died August 13th, 2010