Profile: James Thomas, conductor, and the Havant Symphony Orchestra

On Saturday 16 September at 7.30pm Havant Symphony Orchestra will be putting on a programme of traditional pre-season ‘Popular Classics’ at the Hayling Island Community Centre. This concert will be conducted by James Thomas, the outgoing holder of the Havant Orchestras Conductor Bursary.

What are you looking most forward to when performing at this concert?

As a local musician, I’m excited to bring this music in front of a Hayling Island audience. I’m also pleased that Thomas Luke will be playing the piano in Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2. It’s unusual for both the conductor and the soloist to come from the southeast area of Hampshire.

All the works are special to me, in particular “The Hebrides” Overture by Mendelssohn, with its Celtic feel and interpretation of the sound of waves moving about. Although it will be an easy listening programme, it certainly won’t be boring: there will be plenty of moments of drama.

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

Both my parents are musicians and my father, Huw, conducts the Solent Male Voice Choir. I started with learning the piano and violin at the age of 4 and have never looked back!

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

The biggest challenge, and the biggest achievement over a period of seven years, has been getting accepted by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to study a Masters of Music in Orchestral Conducting.

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I always welcome input from the team when I’m working on a project and I’m not afraid of there being differences of opinion: very often this dynamic leads to good ideas generation.

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity?  

Igor Stravinsky never got stuck in one mode of writing music and always changed with the times. His works contain a vast amount of energy. I’m also interested in their historical context, as they often have a wonderful nationalistic feel.

Which works do you think you are able to perform best, and why? 

I like working with people where there’s use of the human voice, especially opera. I’m regularly collaborating with my brother David Thomas, who is a professional opera singer.

Which performances are you most proud of?

A recent sold-out concert by the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra, again with Thomas Luke, where we performed Sibelius No. 2 and Rachmaninov piano concerto No. 2.

What are your most memorable experiences, either as a performer, composer or listener?

Winning the Music for Youth National Competition when playing with the Southern Area Youth Orchestra – we got to perform at the Royal Albert Hall.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Don’t give up easily!

How would you define success as a musician?

Being happy doing what you know you can do really well, and surrounded by like-minded people.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?

Making my Proms debut, perhaps alongside Thomas Luke.

What do you enjoy doing most?

People often think that music and sport don’t mix, but as a Welshman I am an ardent supporter of Welsh rugby. I’m not that thrilled when rehearsals clash with the rugby!

About James

James Thomas is a conductor at the start of his very exciting career. He is currently studying at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire whilst continuing to work professionally. A former music scholar at Bedales School, James was a Staff Conductor at the University of Chichester Conservatoire under Crispin Ward where he specialised in Orchestral Studies and Musical Theatre Practice. He has enjoyed guest conductor engagements with the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra and Haslemere Music Group Symphony Orchestra as well as being Assistant Musical Director to the Solent Male Voice Choir. He has recently worked with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s Sitz programme and has served as Musical Director to BROS Productions. James was a recipient of the Jenifer Skellett Fellowship at the end of his university studies and was awarded the Jury’s Choice Award at the Monaco International Film Festival in 2013 for his score to the short film ‘A Life like Mine’.

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