Explore the Yahama “Artist Insight” Podcast

Michael Collins appears on Yahama ‘Artist Insight’ podcast (Photo: Jack Lewis Williams)

Over the past two years, successive pandemic lockdowns have forced the music industry to find different ways to connect with their audiences when live performances have been curtailed. Video streaming has taken on new importance, as has podcasting. Yamaha, the instrument maker with a history dating back to 1887, already had a series of “Artists Insights” articles online on their website, where their affiliate performers shared their tips and advice for playing their instruments. During the pandemic, Yamaha continued to “make waves” – its brand promise to celebrate “heart-shaking moments” – by turning this series into a podcast.

Hosted by Phoebe Eley, each episode features a different Yamaha artist, but rather than talking about their instruments, the podcasts instead focus on the artists themselves, their backgrounds, and the journeys musicians have taken over the course of their careers. Yamaha’s first season features six of its performers, spanning a range of musical styles and genres, from jazz saxophonist Håkon Erlandsen and baritone horn player Katrina Marzella to singer, songwriter and cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson.

Michael Collins has been playing the Yamaha clarinet for a decade and has been a familiar face on the classical scene since winning the Woodwinds award at the very first BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 1978. In a fascinating podcast, the conversation of Collins with Eley spans a number of topics that go directly back to formative childhood experiences. He remembers being taken to one of Robert Mayer’s concerts at the Royal Festival Hall where he heard Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade and fell in love with the clarinet. And he also remembers a Ladybird book on Mozart – which Collins shares a birthday with (Jan. 27) – which inspired a long-standing love for the composer’s music.

The amiable clarinetist is an excellent storyteller and tells Eley how he was encouraged to apply for the BBC Young Musician. He explains how he had to submit his repertoire each round. Not expecting in his wildest dreams to reach the concerto finale, he took root around a sheet music closet and, unwilling to choose something predictable like Mozart’s or Weber’s concertos, is stumbled upon a sheet music with a blue cover – Gerald Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto – so he wrote that one. Collins, of course, made it to the final and only had three days to learn the concerto from scratch! It’s a job he did a lot to defend, recording it three times.

Eley pulls some very personal answers, particularly about how Collins handled nerves early in his career, but also how he battled colon cancer a few years ago, without missing a single engagement despite chemotherapy. There are also light moments, including an anecdote of how he was invited to perform for the Queen Mother in Windsor and his swaggering response to the Queen asking him questions on his nerves, saying “I don’t. have never seen that for money! “

There are memories of special performances – playing the Quartet for the end of time a stone’s throw from its composer, Olivier Messiaen, is particularly appreciated – and also advice for young performers who are entering the profession. Collins talks about his time in conducting – “You don’t have to be Herbert von Karajan to get your point across… it’s not about dictating, it’s about making music together “. He also reflects on the state of the industry as it emerges from the pandemic, hoping it can come back “refreshed, revived and more equal”.

These podcasts are thought-provoking conversations, with Eley a caring and empathetic host, helping these artists communicate their stories in their own words. A second season is in development and it will be fascinating to hear him get more information on Yahama’s fine roster of musicians.

Listen to the Yahama ‘Artist Insight’ podcast here: yamaha.com

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