MY respected colleague Michael Tumelty, who died from a heart attack early on Wednesday, was a champion music critic. By that I mean not only that he was pre-eminent in his field – and I am far from being the only writer following him, in this and other publications, who has shamelessly used details of his style and approach on occasion – but also that he always saw championing music, and those who make it and love to listen to it, as a principle ingredient of the job.

That meant being in amongst the grass-roots of music in Scotland in a way that few specialist writers in his field had been before. Read the work of his predecessors in The Herald, with its long tradition of taking the arts seriously as a matter for its news pages, earlier unidentified under a generic “Our Music Critic” byline, and a tone of aloof commentary is more often the order of the day.

When Arnold Kemp appointed Michael to succeed Malcolm Rayment as The Herald’s classical music man in 1983, it was with a brief to reflect the animated discussions the editor had overheard – and doubtless added volubly to – in Glasgow’s City Halls and Edinburgh’s Usher Hall during the interval and at the end of concerts. Tumelty’s brief was to bring some passion to the role, as well as the expertise of a chap with an honours degree in music from Aberdeen University.

That commitment and vitality his writing delivered in spades, but quickly self-learned, or absorbed from those with whom he worked in his new job at The Herald’s Albion Street headquarters, was the attitude of a newspaper man.

That meant being first to the story, in a field where it was not always immediately obvious what the story was. In reviewing concerts, the task was straightforward, an on-the-night deadline that meant a precise number of words delivered shortly after the music finished to catch the appropriate edition of the paper. Having consumed his words as a Herald reader, my first job in Albion Street included catching and sub-editing those words into the waiting space on a page. When a number of crits were due, Michael’s invariably arrived first and in need of the least attention.

But also being first to identify the new talent emerging in Scotland, or to track subtle shifts in the tastes of the listening, and ticket-buying, audience, and to hear the fractures as well as the growing intimacy in an orchestra’s relationship with a conductor, required very big ears indeed. Michael had those.

In his final years of poor health, which he bore with astonishing equanimity and resilience, I was constantly (and very happily) supplying his phone number and news of his well-being to musicians of all ages, men and women of international standing and those of local community commitment across the country.

Informed by the background in teaching that has preceded his journalistic career, Michael was not just a sharp-eared talent-spotter but also an attentive mentor. Young talents who were going through a crisis of confidence, or were finding the opportunities presented to them overwhelming, opened up to him and turned to him for advice.

Although he would never break a confidence, that meant that The Herald often had the most revealing interviews, detailing the growth of a young artist’s development, as well as their first recital reviews. Conductor Garry Walker, now music director at Opera North, pianist Steven Osborne, and recent multi-award-winning guitarist Sean Shibe are just three who acknowledge the debt they owe to Michael’s early support. When the Herald Angel awards began at the Edinburgh Festivals in 1995 – uniquely among prizes at the annual jamboree embracing the “official” event as well as the Fringe – Michael was out of the blocks like a whippet to make sure that classical music was in the mix. Her debut Festival recital saw Aberdonian soprano Lisa Milne taking her place alongside young actors Emily Watson and Shirley Henderson among the earliest Angel winners.

Read more: a classic Michael Tumelty review

Our national music companies – Scottish Opera, the RSNO and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra – display trophies they were awarded as a result of Michael’s advocacy. His international reach included a swift appreciation of Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra on their first residency in Edinburgh in 1997, and Angels, Archangels and Little Devils given to an impressive list of distinguished visiting conductors and ensembles.

That enthusiasm produced some memorable encounters, including the presentation of an Archangel to Australian Sir Charles Mackerras by playwright Willy Russell, after which Michael could be seen surreptitiously smuggling glasses of celebratory fizz to the conductor while the watchful eye of Lady Mackerras was distracted in another direction.

It is a great loss to this year’s celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven that Michael was no longer able to contribute his knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, his mighty legacy.

Most days, he would probably have named Beethoven as his personal number one, although the doctorate on Claude Debussy he abandoned at the end of his days as a mature student, and his rave reviews for Osmo Vanska’s concerts of Sibelius with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, placed other famously curmudgeonly composers high in his esteem.

Alongside these major names of the repertoire, Michael was always searching for the new. Like many he mourned the passing of the RSNO’s annual Musica Nova season of experiment and innovation at the University of Glasgow, and was an assiduous attender and reviewer of the week of Plug concerts by young composers at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Just as he had been one of the first critics to champion the work of James MacMillan, before the famous Proms performance of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie catapulted him to national attention, so he heard fascinating new voices in Gareth Williams and other composers in those student showcases.

If Michael had the skill to write about new, often challenging, music in an accessible way, he was also as far from snobbish about the popular end of the classical spectrum as it was possible to be.

Certainly if a global vocal superstar like Domingo or Carreras appeared to be phoning in their Scottish performance, he didn’t hesitate to say so, but at the same time he would be one of the few “serious music” critics to be in his favoured seat in the stalls at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall for the Christmas run of concerts from commercial promoter Raymond Gubbay. That was partly because the classical pops repertoire that filled the auditorium deserved its share of his attention, but also because of a consciousness that those events, like pantomime for actors and theatres, were crucial to the sustainability of the careers of freelance musicians and the “gig economy”, before that term was more widely applied.

Something of that same sensibility lay behind the first time he and I worked very closely together, in the face of some corporate opposition. At the start of December 1991, we both attended a press conference at the BBC’s Queen Margaret Drive studios at which plans were revealed to amalgamate the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and BBC SSO, in which the Scottish Arts Council described itself as an “honest broker”. It was presented as something of a fait accompli, designed to streamline arts funding in Scotland, safeguard the BBC orchestra’s future and stem the losses of the opera company.

Michael immediately realised that the price would be paid in the jobs of musicians, their union confirmed its concern, and we returned to the office determined to file a news (me) and analysis (Michael) package that would tell a fuller story. Although it was clear that our superiors had already been briefed by some of Scotland’s great and good with the aim of ensuring The Herald was “onside” when the plan was made public, we were able to report as we saw it.

The fall-out was a saga of inquiries and committees that went on for years, but the end result is that the Orchestra of Scottish Opera survives, albeit part-time and with a parallel identity as a freelance outfit, and the BBC SSO thrives, the mainstay of Radio 3’s Beethoven broadcasting this past week.

It was characteristic of Michael that I learned of the brain tumour that was the start of his decline with the words: “You know how you have always wanted to go the St Magnus Festival in Orkney? Well, this summer it’s your gig.” In time I took on more of his work, although his recovery from that first diagnosis was remarkable and Michael’s reviews were still appearing in these pages five years after his retiral in 2011.

Staff music critics on newspapers were an endangered species during most of Michael Tumelty’s career, but you would never have guessed from his ebullience. He will be long recalled as one of the most robust, reliable and passionate of the breed.