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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Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My first clarinet teacher, Frank Holdsworth who was Principal Clarinet with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta was my mentor from the beginning and he continued to give good advice even when I became a Principal player myself in the Philharmonia Orchestra. As a child I liked the way music could make me feel and I seemed to be good at it too so I really had no doubts that it was the right path for me.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

All the great musicians you meet along the way have an effect on developing your own musicianship and I have been fortunate enough to play with most of the world’s great musicians.

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

Getting a job, keeping it, making it work with family life and making enough money.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I recorded the Mozart Concerto and solo directed it, Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto with Robert Craft and Chris Gunning’s concerto too. Orchestrally I like my playing in VW’s Norfolk Rhapsody with Philharmonia/Slatkin but usually I can’t stand listening to myself play.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Those that reflect the human condition

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

Other people tend to do that

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

The Suntory Hall in Tokyo and the Philharmonie in Berlin are both good examples of modern concert halls and the Musikverein in Vienna has the classic shoebox shape so loved by musicians.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Pavarotti in Hyde Park. Princess Diana was there in the pouring rain and we were recorded for Decca. It was part of my trial period for the Philharmonia so I felt a lot of pressure especially as I had a big solo to play from Tosca.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Feeling that I’ve done the music justice

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

Leave ego behind as much as possible and serve the music.

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

In the sunshine

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A great meal with fine wine with my family

What is your most treasured possession?

My Grandmother’s biscuit tin

What is your present state of mind?

Semi mental

Michael Whight performs with The Lisney Trio in Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time at the Purcell Room at London’s Southbank Centre on Monday 9 March. The programme also includes Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio. Further information and tickets


Michael Whight has a varied career as an orchestral player, soloist, chamber musician, recording engineer and producer, conductor and teacher.

A former Principal Clarinetist with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, he has also played guest Principal with all the London orchestras as well as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Conductors he has worked with include Giulini, Maazel, Abbado, Levine, Ashkenazy, Sawallich, Sinopoli, Salonen, Sanderling, Svetlanov, and Harnoncourt.

Alongside some 200 orchestral recordings are Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto with Robert Craft and the Philharmonia Orchestra, the concerto by Christopher Gunning ( of Poirot fame) and the Mozart Concerto which he directed from the basset clarinet with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This was voted ‘the top of current offerings’ by International Record Review. He also collaborated with John Adams in performances of his concerto Gnarly Buttons in San Francisco conducted by Kent Nagano. As a session player he has appeared on the soundtracks for films such as Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter Series and can regularly be heard on TV series such as Father Brown and Granchester. Michael is also the clarinetist on the theme tune for Coronation Street.

In chamber music Michael has worked with Gidon Kremer and friends, the Lindsay Quartet, the Medici String Quartet, the Schidlof String Quartet, the Razumovsky Ensemble, the Nash Ensemble, Robert Cohen and Barry Douglas as well as recording the complete chamber music of Richard Strauss with London Winds for Hyperion and with the Wind Soloists of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe for Teldec.

Michael was the first British winner of the International Clarinet Congress Competition and won the woodwind prize at the Royal Overseas League. He was invited by Valery Gergiev to play in the World Orchestra for Peace. As a conductor he has given concerts with Northern Sinfonia, and the Royal Philharmonic and Pohang Symphony Orchestras.

Michael also has a growing career as a recording engineer and producer. He has recorded and produced for the Naxos and Toccata Classics labels and mixed a soundtrack for BFI/Miramax, in conjunction with the Library of Congress. Michael has also produced two soundtracks for wildlife films, one for Austrian TV/Schlamberger and the other for Netflix/Silverback Productions. This year will see the launch of his own recording label, Marlie.

Michael is Professor of Clarinet at Trinity Laban in London

michaelwhight.com