Irish conductor Noel Kelehan has died at 76
The death has been announced of conductor Noel Kelehan, who was not only the most prolific conductor in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest, but also the most successful, by taking the baton and conducting no less than five of the winning songs from Ireland. In addition to conducting for Irish entries, he took charge of the orchestra for several other countries whilst in his role as Music Director of five contests staged in Ireland.
Noel Kelehan was born on Boxing Day in 1935, and grew up in Dublin. With the encouragement of his mother he started taking piano lessons at the age of seven, and made rapid progress passing various music exams. Although he went through a brief period as a teenager where he gave up his music studies, he soon realised after a period of working for his uncle in a clothing shop, which he absolutely hated, that he desired to be a musician.
He studied at the Municipal School of Music in Dublin, in both piano, and, music theory and harmony, and played in jazz and dance bands. He made his debut on radio, aged just 19 in 1955 and then when television came along in 1961, he soon found himself in demand with regular work on RTÉ.
Although he conducted the orchestra in the Irish national selection in 1965, he wasn't sent to Naples to conduct the debut entry of Ireland in Europe's Favourite Tv Show. He had to wait a further year before he took the baton in the international final, for the song Come Back To Stay, which finished in a respectable fourth place. He continued to conduct the Irish entry for the next few years.
However, at this point Kelehan was still working freelance, and in 1970 there was disagreement over his expenses, so he opted not to travel to Amsterdam for the 1970 event, and ironically it was Ireland who emerged the winner with Dana's All Kinds Of Everything, but under the direction of Dolf van der Linden.
As the hosts in 1971, RTÉ appointed their staff conductor Colman Pearce to be the Music Director of the contest, though Kelehan conducted the Irish entry One Day Love, as well as composing the opening music to the event.
In 1973, Kelehan was appointed as a staff conductor with the Irish broadcaster, and found himself taking on the conducting duties for Ireland at the contest on a regular basis.
In total he conducted the Irish entry on no less that 24 occasions, including five of their winning entries; What's Another Year? in 1980, Hold Me Now in 1987, Why Me? in 1992, In Your Eyes in 1993 and The Voice in 1996.
With Ireland being so victorious on so many occasions, Kelehan found himself in the role of Music Director when RTÉ staged the contests in 1981, 1988, 1993, 1994 and 1995. It was in this capacity that he found himself conducting entries for Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1993, and for Romania, Greece and Poland in 1994. Given that the winning Irish entry in 1994 Rock 'n' Roll Kids didn't require orchestral accompaniment, Kelehan was also the most successful conductor in 1994 by taking the baton for the runner up from Poland, To Nie Ja! The following year he conducted the Polish entry for the second year in succession, as well as the irish entry, Dreamin'.
Ill health prevented Kelehan taking the role as Music Director when the contest was staged in Dublin in 1997, but he returned the following year to conduct, what would be his final appearance as the conductor for Ireland, with the entry Is Always Over Now? It was the final year to date that the orchestra has been used at the Eurovision Song Contest.
He retired from RTÉ as staff conductor, aged 65 in 2000, Although he continued for some years, arranging and conducting, mainly for the singer Daniel O'Donnell.
Kelehan leaves behind his wife Mary, and his three children, Carol, Brian and Simon. Eurovision.tv would like to offer their deepest sympathy to his family and friends, at the loss of this distinguished musical figure.
Thanks to www.andtheconductoris.eu for additional information.