A tribute to violinist John Ronayne,
who died on 28th June 2009

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John Ronayne

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The second half of the 20th century was a golden age for orchestral music in England. In a heady mix of great playing and great performers, a representative figure was the Irish violinist, John Ronayne who died on 28th June 2009 aged 77.

Son of a Dublin van-driver who was an amateur fiddler, John grew up in two rooms in a tall narrow house in Capel Street, with a kitchen/living room and a scrum of family beds and an upright piano in the only bedroom. Into this press of bodies the van-driver introduced, for his five-year-old son, a little tin violin from Woolworths.

He passed from the limited instructions of his father into the genial and perceptive care of the well-known Dublin teacher, Michael McNamara, who took John into the Municipal School for Music. It was soon clear that John had talent as he won many prizes at the annual music competitions. But musical life in Ireland was limited and when Max Rostal came to Dublin John auditioned for him and was given a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music in London.

In 1955 he joined the London Symphony Orchestra but quickly moved to the London Philharmonic and then to Thomas Beecham's Royal Philharmonic where he found a conductor he could appreciate. After a year he was appointed co-leader. But when Beecham died in 1961 John returned to Dublin to lead the Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra where he also appeared as soloist playing concertos by Richard Strauss, Prokofiev and others. In 1965 he became leader of the Bavarian Radio Orchestra in Munich where he went with Elgin, his German-born pianist and wife and their three children. When he eventually returned to London he entered happily into the commercial world of music playing for films, TV shows and jingles.

In retirement John settled into his study behind a rampart of books on music and on Ireland, with his 16mm films of players like Heifetz and Feuermann, and his videos of great movies. (Michael Foss)


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