The Academy of St Thomas was founded in 1973 by Ivan Cane, cellist and former Head of the Instrumental Service for Norfolk. Since its inception the orchestra has drawn on teachers and professional musicians from the area, as well as further afield. Initially a string orchestra, the AST later grew to encompass wind and brass, increasing the range and style of repertoire it performed. This metamorphosis has led to an ensemble which is regarded as one of the country’s leading groups of its type.
From its first concert in St Thomas Church, Norwich, the AST was led by Paul Clarke, a position he held for 35 years. After retiring as Leader in 2008, Paul was succeeded by Ben Lowe. Ben studied with Frederick Grinke and Yfah Neaman spent 8 years working as a professional violinist in London and aboard before settling in Norwich. In 1984 the orchestra appointed a Principal Guest Conductor – the internationally-respected Christopher Adey. Under his direction, the orchestra has been joined by many outstanding soloists, including Alexander Baillie, Michael Collins, John Harle, Maurice Hasson, Steven Isserlis and John Lill.
Part of the orchestra’s philosophy is to offer diverse programming as well as more familiar repertoire. Memorable concerts have featured such rarities as the Petite Symphonie Concertante by Frank Martin, the Concerto for Double String Orchestra by Martinu and Schumann’s seldomperformed Konzertstück for Four Horns. In addition each Season includes a mid-summer concert at Salle Church. This always attracts a large audience, many of whom picnic in the surroundings of this beautiful Norfolk church. The Academy has also recorded a CD of works by Poulenc, Tchaikovsky and Puccini and has worked with the Keswick Choir.
Central to the orchestra’s continued success is the financial support of over 100 Patrons and a number of generous corporate Sponsors. These vital links are greatly appreciated and help to guarantee an exciting future for the Academy.