Michael Thomas conducting the Orquesta Ciudad de Almería. / SUR

In the driving seat of Andalusian classical music

Micheal Thomas has been conducting orchestras across the south of Spain since he and his wife moved to Seville in 2000

JENNIE RHODES

The name Michael Thomas will be familiar to classical musicians along the Costas and anyone who attends concerts given by the Mediterranean Youth Orchestra in Almuñécar.

Thomas currently conducts that orchestra along with several others across Andalucía: Orquesta Ciudad de Almería (Almeria City Orchestra) including the infant and youth sections; Orquesta Bética de Cámara - founded by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla (1976-1946) - in Seville; and the orchestra of the International School of Seville San Francisco de Paula, where his wife is a History teacher.

Thomas, 62, grew up in Middlesbrough in the north east of England, to an English father and Belgian mother. He is one of eight siblings and says he comes from a "musical family" in which "everyone played music of some sort".

From an early age, he was playing the violin and belonged to a string quartet. He also spent time with the European Youth Orchestra.

He has travelled extensively through his music and it was on a trip to Granada some 30 years ago with the string quartet when he met his wife.

The musician had been encouraged by his sister to stay and visit the city and the Alhambra: "If you're visiting Granada you have to stay," she told her brother.

This was a piece of advice that was to change his life. "A woman came up to me at a different concert at the Alhambra who said she had seen me perform a couple of days before," the conductor recalls. "I invited her out to dinner and two months later married," he reveals.

The couple have lived in Seville since 2000 and have three grown-up children, who are also musical; one son is in a heavy metal band, his daughter plays percussion, piano and sings and his youngest son works in music production.

It was soon after the couple moved to Spain that Michael, who had had little experience of conducting orchestras in the past, was invited to direct the Andalusian Youth Orchestra which he did for around 10 years. From there his notoriety and demand has gone from strength to strength.

He has also conducted for the Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra at the city's Cervantes Theatre and others across the region.

Michael also has a long list of celebrities with whom he has collaborated, including Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney and Bjork. "Working with Bjork was easy as she is classically trained," reveals the musician.

However, he points out that working with McCartney and Costello was more complicated as classical musicians and pop and rock musicians "use different vocabulary". He gives examples such as a 'Build' in the world of popular music would be a 'Crescendo' for classical musicians.

Describing all three as "very serious musicians", Thomas says of the experiences, "I learned so much working with them."

He says that before the pandemic, on average each orchestra would give around thirty concerts a year. Now things are starting to pick up again with around twenty concerts per year each for the various orchestras he works with. As such, he recognises that he spends "a lot of time driving across the region of Andalucía".

During lockdown he says he did "lots and lots of writing of music and short stories" and admits that he "loved" spending time at home with his family. "Since then it has been incredibly hectic," he says, with things "sort of getting back to normal", despite the continued wearing of masks, separation of musicians and reduced orchestras.

Thomas says all of the orchestras he works with are "enthusiastic" and "really want the culture in their city to work".

He says that information on concerts can be found on each of the orchestra's websites and social media accounts which are kept up to date.

In conclusion, Thomas says of his work, "I can't see myself retiring. I don't like the idea."

I don't think the world of classical music in Andalucía would like the idea of him retiring either.