“I feel I have something to say about Mozart” – interview with clarinettist Michael Collins

As clarinettist Michael Collins takes over as Artistic Director in Residence of the London Mozart Players for the 2021-23 seasons, he talks about his influences and inspirations, challenges and hopes for the future of classical music.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I was inspired by my primary school to enjoy classical music. The headmistress took a group of us the the Royal Festival Hall once a month to the Sir Robert Mayer concerts. I heard a piece involving the clarinet and it inspired me to start learning. One of the biggest influences in my musical life has been the great pianist Martha Argerich whom I have had the privilege of working with many times.

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

I have faced many challenges in life but the biggest one was three and a half years ago when I was diagnosed with Colon Cancer. I was and am extremely proud that during all the treatment I was able to continue working and didn’t cancel one engagement. This was quite a challenge.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

It’s difficult to pin point any performance that I am proud of because I find something in every concert to be proud or critical about. Recordings are different; I have made so many recordings over the years but the one which really stands out is a very recent one of Vaughan Williams’ 5th Symphony and the Finzi Clarinet Concerto with my old Orchestra, the Philharmonia

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I feel very “in tune” with the Classical period and Mozart in particular. I feel that I have something to say about this composer; his life and musical growth really intrigues me.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I enjoy fine wine and nice cars. These keep me busy in otherwise a very hectic world. As far as getting inspiration on stage, the excitement of each and every concert is inspiration enough, I feel.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Unlike other solo instruments such as piano and violin, I don’t have the luxury of a vast repertoire. Therefore I don’t usually choose repertoire season to season. I simply accept whichever work comes my way as and when, which means I can have several works and programmes on the go during any one season.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I love the Wigmore Hall. It is intimate, with a great acoustic, and it always feels very special when one walks onto the platform. In fact, most of my memorable concerts are from the Wigmore Hall.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

Classic FM is doing a sterling job in encouraging a wider audience. I do think it is now up to the musicians to take a very active role in encouraging the younger audience to really enjoy classical music. This can be done by breaking down barriers which I feel have been a big stumbling block in encouraging the young audience into accepting and enjoying classical music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

One of my most memorable concert experiences was as a soloist at the Last Night of the Proms. Walking out to such a huge crowd all waving flags, shouting and cheering and then total silence once I started to play will stay with me forever

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think my definition of success is to be happy and content with the present. Not to worry about the future but to always look and search to find a way of keeping ones performance fresh, alive and never routine.

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

I think it is very important to take both the good things from one’s performance, the not so good things and learn from them. Take and accept good reviews and don’t take to heart not so good ones; the most important thing is to be yourself on the platform and never try to copy others. It will shine through if young musicians can be true to themselves and individual. In the long term, this will prove to be a very important part of music-making.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would like to be a better musician, introducing new works to the public and bringing the old ones with a fresh approach. This is something which really excites me for the future.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sitting quietly with a lovely glass of wine listening to a Schubert String Quartet.

What is your most treasured possession?

I think, without reservation, my two children!

What is your present state of mind?

After coming out the other side of cancer, I am in a very positive and upbeat state of mind, even if we are experiencing a terrible moment in all our lives. Music really does help our state of mind; it’s calming, uplifting and can fill us with hope and optimism.

Michael Collins will be London Mozart Players’ Artistic Director in Residence for the 2021–2023 seasons.

His concert as part of LMP’s new online ‘Classical Club’ concert series playing Mozart and Weber clarinet quintets, filmed at the Tower Room in the St Pancras’s iconic gothic revival Clock Tower is available to watch here.

Michael Collins’ dazzling virtuosity and sensitive musicianship have earned him recognition as one of today’s most distinguished artists and a leading exponent of his instrument. At 16 he won the woodwind prize in the first BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, going on to make his US debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall at the age of 22. He has since performed as soloist with many of the world’s most significant orchestras and formed strong links with leading conductors. Collins also has the distinction of being the most frequently invited wind soloist to the BBC Proms, including several appearances at the renowned Last Night of the Proms.

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