Michael Collins is among the most prominent British clarinetists of his generation. He has appeared in concert as principal clarinetist with the Philharmonia Orchestra and London Sinfonietta, as a member of the Nash Ensemble, and as a freelance soloist and chamber player. He has made more than 30 recordings for the Hyperion label since 1984, mostly in chamber music fare. He has also recorded for DG, Chandos, and EMI. His repertory is broad, taking in much British music, however, including works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Walton, Arnold, Bax, and Bliss. He has also performed and recorded large chunks from the output of disparate European composers like Mozart, Brahms, Spohr, Poulenc, Bartók, Richard Strauss, and Suk. In addition, Collins has premiered important works by contemporary composers, including Richard Rodney Bennett and John Adams.
Collins was born in Isleworth (west London), England. He enrolled at the Royal College of Music in London in his early teens. His chief teachers there were David Hamilton and Thea King. By age 16 he attained virtuoso status, winning the woodwind prize at the 1978 BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition.
The year 1981 was a watershed one for the young Collins: he joined both the London Sinfonietta and Nash Ensemble. He debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1982, and the following year made his first recording as a member of the Nash Ensemble -- A Centenary Tribute (chamber music of Lennox Berkeley). In 1984 he recorded three volumes of chamber music by Arnold with the Nash Ensemble and also debuted at the Promenade Concerts as soloist in an acclaimed performance of Musgrave's Clarinet Concerto.
In 1985 Collins began teaching at the Royal College of Music and two years later accepted the post of principal clarinetist for the Philharmonia Orchestra. Collins founded the chamber ensemble London Winds in 1988, a group he has toured with throughout Europe, the U.S., and Canada.
Collins left his posts at the Philhamonia and RCM in 1995 to concentrate on freelance work. In the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, he has been appearing as soloist and as chamber music partner to many of the leading musicians of the day, including Martha Argerich, Mikhail Pletnev, Joshua Bell, and Yuri Bashmet. He has also increasingly turned to conducting, and in 2010 became principal conductor for the City of London Sinfonia. Yet he still performs as a soloist, playing such works as John Adams' Gnarly Buttons in 2009 with the composer conducting.
Among Collins' recordings are his 2003 Chandos CD of Edward Gregson's Clarinet Concerto and the 2005 release on Hyperion of Spohr's Clarinet Concertos No. 1 and No. 2.