John O’Kane has been announced as the new executive director of RTÉ orchestras, quartet and choirs, a permanent replacement for Séamus Crimmins who retired in July 2013.
The role has responsibility for the Irish national broadcaster’s two orchestras (the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and RTÉ Concert Orchestra), choirs (the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and RTÉ Cor na nÓg children’s choir), and the ConTempo Quartet, recently announced as RTÉ quartet in residence.
O’Kane takes over from Aodan Ó Dubhghaill, head of RTÉ Lyric FM, who had been overseeing the role since Crimmins’ departure. He joins from a senior role as an arts director at Ireland’s Arts Council.
O’Kane’s new role had been vacant since summer 2013. A statement said that he had joined to ‘head up’ the five RTÉ performing groups, but CM has sought clarification as to whether the organisation was still looking for a replacement for Declan McGovern, the RTÉ National’s last general manager, who left in December 2013. Since then, Ó Dubhghaill had been covering both the executive director and general manager jobs on an interim basis.
O’Kane studied at Queen’s University and the Royal Northern College of Music, going on to play in the Ulster Orchestra and as associate principal cello with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. He worked as a freelance player, forming and directing the Belfast-based Sequenza contemporary music ensemble, and playing with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, RTÉ Concert Orchestra and Irish Chamber Orchestra.
He moved into administration after studying for an MBA, becoming chief executive of Irish funding and promotions organisation Music Network in 1998. He worked for Ireland’s Arts Council since 2003, most recently as one of two arts directors, part of the senior management team and responsible for music, opera, theatre, dance and regional arts venues and festivals.
O’Kane said of his appointment: ‘I am really looking forward to working with the remarkable team of musicians and everyone associated with the RTÉ Orchestras, Quartet and Choirs. I hope to bring to bear some of the perspectives and experience I have gathered together from my time working for over 11 years in the Arts Council and, prior to that, with Music Network.
‘It is important that the arts are recognised as an essential element in articulating who we are and I regard the tremendous work of these wonderful RTÉ ensembles is being absolutely central to that.’
Jim Jennings, managing director of RTÉ Radio and RTÉ Orchestras, said: ‘John O’Kane comes to this key role with an outstanding record as a musician and within arts management. This appointment represents a return to working directly in the realm of producing and presenting high-quality music performances and John comes to RTÉ at a time of challenge and opportunity for our musical groups and choirs.
‘The orchestras offered more live performances in 2013 than in 2012, despite pressure on funding and resources, and this output is testament to the energy and commitment from musicians and staff. I’m confident John will match this energy and I look forward to inspiring and adventurous programmes in the seasons to come.’