Meet the Artist……Thomas Kemp, conductor

Thomas Kemp (photo credit Eric Richmond/Gramophone)

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and make it your career?

Hearing Paul Tortelier play the Dvorak Concerto with the RPO at Chatham Central Hall in Kent made me want to be a musician: I was 5 or 6 years old.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

Everyone as you can learn something from the good, the bad and the ugly!!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Studying conducting whilst bringing up a family and working internationally as a violinist. I have always found studying hard – I never felt I was a very good student and it was stressful juggling. I think I have always learnt the most when I have been working rather than studying. Sometimes it is best to get on with it.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

Every day has fresh challenges and part of the excitement is to get the best out of the people you are working with. Connecting and empathising is important as well as getting on with the job. Concerts are exciting and feeling the energy from the musicians is exhilarating.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

A Turnage disc that was released on Resonus in January – all world-premiere recordings and superb performances, particularly from the tenor Nicky Spence. I am also proud of the acclaimed collaborations I had with Henrik Gorecki and Arvo Part with my ensemble Chamber Domaine.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

Wigmore Hall

Who are your favourite musicians?

They are mainly all dead or nearly dead!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Working with Anish Kapoor at the Brighton Festival: my ensemble, Chamber Domaine played as part of a huge art installation – The Dismemberment of Joan of Ark – in a disused fruit and veg market in Brighton.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

I don’t really have many preferences but I do like listening to Bach and Purcell if I am trying to relax. Most of the listening I do now is work related but I was a recording nerd when I was a student so I have listened to a lot of recordings during a misspent youth.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

Discipline, realism and knowledge. I teach at the RNCM and I try and be practical first and foremost. Knowing how to balance this with inspiration and encouragement for each individual student or ensemble is key.

Never expect anything back in return as a teacher: you are there to just give.

What are you working on at the moment?

My festival in Kent There is a lot of music to learn as well as logistical things to sort out but it is really worthwhile putting something back into the community where I grew up, particularly the schools project that involves hundreds children from local primary schools – many of whom do not have access to music and top class musicians. That, for me, is vital to being a musician.

What is your most treasured possession? My family. Corny, but true.

What do you enjoy doing most? Doing what I do.


Thomas Kemp is the founder and director of Music@Malling Festival in Malling, Kent. The Festival celebrates the work of living composers alongside the classical greats who inspired them. This year’s Festival will mark the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth, evoking the recitals which Dickens himself would often host, with a performance by Jonathan McGovern, Matthew Sharp and Chamber Domaine.

This year sees the world-premiere of Judith Bingham’s Waning Moon as well as a selection of the composer’s other works and music by Huw Watkins. Alongside this will be music by some of Dickens’ favourite composers: Mendelssohn, Mozart and Chopin.

For further details, the full programme and to buy tickets, please visit the Music@Malling Festival website.