David H. Thomas has been an orchestral clarinetist for 25 years. Additionally, he is also an experienced soloist, with numerous critically acclaimed performances.

Starting his performing career directly after undergraduate studies, he won a position with the Greensboro Symphony in 1982. The next year he was offered the principal position of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra in Washington, DC. The grueling demands of opera and ballet repertoire honed his skills as a versatile player. In 1989, he won the principal clarinet position of the Columbus Symphony in Ohio.

A noted orchestra among several giants in Ohio, the Columbus Symphony had its Carnegie Hall debut in 2001. The review was glowing.

For the past 16 years David has impressed audiences with his music making, both as orchestral and solo performer. Columbus Dispatch chief critic Barbara Zuck offered these comments in a 1994 review of Thomas' rendition of Rossini's Introduction, Theme and Variations:

"Thomas, ...has steadily grown in stature and confidence. Even so, I'm not sure anyone was prepared for the absolutely bravura display of virtuosity Thomas delivered last night. Who would have expected him to emerge as the clarinet equivalent of Cecilia Bartoli? I don't recall a bigger or better reception for any artist, anywhere."

From an April 30, 2005 review of the CSO in a concert of opera overtures and tenor arias, Zuck noted: "(Thomas) had as many great lines as the singer, and his brilliant performances once again reminded us how his playing has spoiled us over the years."

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Dreaming Big

I'm still pinching myself. I'm sure I'll wake up and find it was all a dream. In all my 24 years as an orchestral player, I've never been this optimistic about my career.

Four years ago I was chosen to be on the search committee to choose a new music director of my orchestra. The music director is much more than a conductor, especially in the US. He not only shapes the musical product of the orchestra, but fashions the image of the organization to draw financial support. The music director IS the organization to the public eye. Big shoes.

Oddly enough orchestral musicians have not traditionally been asked to help choose the MD (music director). We are obvious choices, considering their experience and skill in the orchestra, and since it's our jobs at stake. But we can be fickle. Our relationship with the MD is intimate, and the glamor of the relationship often wears off quickly. Still, who better to choose our musical soulmate than us?

The search had been rocky, with some candidates popular among the moneyed elite and not the orchestra. The point was to choose someone who could flourish both on and off the podium. We were all nervous that a universally loved candidate would not appear. The very last candidate was Junichi Hirokami. He is Japanese, 4'2" in height, and speaks only broken English. But the musicians loved him. And, after only two "dates" with him, we used our newly acquired clout to get him hired.

As a committee member, I felt the responsibility of my position in shaping the future of the orchestra. There were some contentious meetings where reasonable doubts were raised about Hirokami's ability to raise money and commune with needed donors. I wondered myself. But this candidate promised full attention to anything we needed to succeed. He really, really loved us as an orchestra and desired to take us up. I believed him.

In response to the non-musician committee member's doubts about his ability to flourish off the podium, I decided to use a business model to clarify my point. I asked them which is more important in the long run: a great marketer or a great product? Ultimately, the quality of the product is what sells it. They grudgingly agreed to hire him. I was elated, but nervous.

The negotiations took several months. The musicians became apprehensive. We feared foul play behind the scenes, since those hiring him were not his biggest fans. Hirokami was slated to appear in February, and only two weeks before his engagement it became official. He was to be our next music director. We were relieved. But I was still anxious.

In the first rehearsal his familiar, friendly way of leading did not change from the two "dates" we had with him before "marrying" him. In fact, he was almost too friendly. Why? He was our boss now, so he should criticize us to improve the product. Many obvious rough sections went un-fixed. His tempos were relaxed. Too relaxed. Where was the excitement? I even became a little bored. Uh-Oh!

A press conference was held after the rehearsal to splash the news of his arrival around town. President Bush happened to be in town, so the press crowd was bare minimum. Hirokami had heart wrenching trouble understanding the first question asked of him by a reporter. My spirit sank. This wasn't looking good.

Luckily he perked up at the many hobnobbing parties held through the week. He was direct about asking for money. He began to create an iconography, using a green handkerchief to symbolize peaceful world relations. He hailed the American principal of "freedom" as the reason for his being hired. He was building bridges artfully and skillfully. He brought his wife and daughter over from Japan to meet everyone. Everyone loved him. His charm and charisma reached beyond his differences. This relieved me, but I was still doubtful about the musical product.

Friday night arrived. I showed up early to work on reeds and warm up thoroughly. I want to play my best. Especially since the orchestra and I had chosen him. Junichi Hirokami walked out on stage. The musicians all stood in the traditional respect for the conductor. Hirokami was dwarfed among the towering American bodies. He stepped on the podium, and after acknowledging the audience, he smiled at us. He lifted his baton and gave the downbeat.

The first piece was Dvorak's Carneval Overture. Though the tempo matched what he had rehearsed, the spirit was fresh. The orchestra played buoyantly, as someone who jovially laughs in celebration of great fortune. The sound was rich and deep, since the orchestra was relaxed from such easygoing rehearsals. The music which came from us felt comfortable, easy to slip into and enjoy. We were allowed to savor it as we played it, rather than fearing any tension for any less than perfect moments. Our desire to play well rose up to meet the maestro's geniality. We were respected. Music was encouraged and allowed to flow from us.

We had begun a new era for my orchestra, and a rebirth of the spirit of live music in Columbus, OH.