Meet Leah Thomas, the young clarinetist making classical music cool

Leah Thomas is curator of the Classical on Cuba festival, July 22-24.


Leah Thomas is curator of the Classical on Cuba festival, July 22-24.

Born in the UK and raised in Wellington, Leah Thomas is a clarinetist and advocate for classical music, who aims to perpetuate the genre by bringing it to new spaces, new people, different cultures and different mediums.

After graduating from the New Zealand School of Music, she launched the Pōneke Classical Sessions and this year she is hosting the Classical on Cuba Festival (July 22-24,

She will also perform at the festival as part of the Gemini Clarinet Quintet on Saturday July 23.

* My Wellington: nature in every way
* Follow the crumbs to some of New Zealand’s best pastries
* My favorite table: artist and lawyer Mervin Singham visits Ortega Fish Shack

Leah’s favorite things

TV show

I think the only TV show I could ever watch without fail is David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. I find his documentaries so relaxing and the musical scores are in themselves magical.


It’s so hard to choose, living in Wellington! My second home is Cuba St so I would probably go with Nolita (vegetal delight) or the Rogue and Vagabond, which is legitimately my second most frequent destination on Uber after my house.


My favorite song of 2022 is Last Call by Wiri Donna. This is such a beautiful track from my extremely talented roommate Bianca’s debut EP, Being Alone.

supermarket buy

I am a deeply committed tea drinker and my current obsession is Bell’s Caramel Ginger Black Tea. It’s a crisis if it’s gone and we don’t have another box hidden in the house.


I recently completed How to Loiter in a Turf War by Coco Solid and I’m still speechless! Such a mind-blowing book, which includes poetry and visual art – it blew my mind and was probably one of the most authentically human books I’ve read in a while. My favorite author is Australian author Trent Dalton, who wrote Boy Swallows Universe and all our sparkling skies. Her recent book Love Stories made me sob and smile.

Leah's cat Mouse (center) is on her favorite person's list.


Leah’s cat Mouse (center) is on her favorite person’s list.

Work of art

My favorite piece of art is my best friend Louisa Williamson’s debut album – What Dreams May Come. It’s an incredibly magical and moving piece of ambient big band music that features Te Whanganui-a-tara’s most incredible jazz ensemble. Listening to Louisa’s music is like sitting in a painting.

Item of clothing

My new Kowtow Jacquard scarf! I bought this after I had Covid to cheer me up and it did the trick. It’s so cuddly, warm, sustainably made and I love wearing bright colors in the winter.


I love the podcast you are wrong about – the presenters are super charming and funny, and we learn some pretty crazy stuff! The deep-dive miniseries on Princess Diana got me hooked on the show.


My lovely mum is French so I watched a lot of French TV and movies as a teenager. My favorite movie is The Bélier Family., including the recent Oscar-winning film Coda was based on. The scene where the main character sings for an audition and does sign language for his parents at the same time makes me cry like a baby.


Marlborough Sounds in winter when there are dolphins! Or Central Otago in the summer.

weekend ritual

My weekends usually revolve around going to concerts and shows on Friday and Saturday nights. The live music scene is like my extended family, so I guess going to shows is my chance to catch up with my family!

The person

My cat, the mouse! I adopted her two years ago after our very first lockdown and we’ve been attached at the hip ever since, she’s definitely my one true love.


Curating Classic on Cuba when I can put so many of my talented and whānau friends in front of such a generous and kind audience. I was also able to play with the limits of what we all consider to be “classical music“. I graduated only a year and a half ago from the New Zealand School of Music, so I was very lucky to have this kind of platform!


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