During his exclusive interview with this publication, Michael presented a chronological summary of his personal musical journey, which began in Durban, South Africa.
Michael said that he was born in South Africa, because his parents, Gary and Lilo Neumann, had fled there during World War II.
“I was the son of basically refugees from the Holocaust,” Michael said. “They came from (Berlin) Germany and went to South Africa. That’s why I was born there (in South Africa in 1948).”
During his years growing up in South Africa, Michael gained a love for classical music through concerts that he would attend with his parents.
Inspired by this genre of music, Michael began studying violin, and was taught at a young age by Maria Neuss, the great-great granddaughter of the famous Czech
composer Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904).
It was not until the early 1960s that Michael immigrated to America with his family, which also included his brother, Frank.
Michael’s family eventually resided in San Francisco, where Michael was enrolled in the prestigious Lowell High School.
Continuing his schooling through a music scholarship, Michael studied at San Francisco State College (present day San Francisco State University).
During his first semester at San Francisco State, Michael applied for and received a full-ride music scholarship from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music for violin performance.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in violin performance at the Cincinnati university, Michael earned a master’s degree in orchestral conducting at the same institution.
Shortly after receiving his master’s degree, Michael obtained employment with the Birmingham Symphony in Alabama. For about five years during the 1970s, he played in this symphony’s first violin section and conducted the Birmingham Youth Symphony.
Michael’s longtime connection with Sacramento followed his time with the Birmingham symphonies, as he was hired in 1978 as the assistant conductor and as a violinist in the orchestra for the now-defunct Sacramento Symphony.
A year later, Michael began the first of his 32 years as the conductor of the Sacramento Youth Symphony.
Additionally, Michael continued his work with the Sacramento Symphony, which promoted him as its associate conductor, a position he obtained in 1989 and continued until the symphony disbanded in 1997.
Fortunately for Michael and the Sacramento Youth Symphony, the youth symphony filed for independence prior to when the Sacramento Symphony was discontinued. The youth symphony became its own non-profit organization, which is still in existence today and is led by Michael as its artistic director.
Michael, who is the conductor of the youth symphony’s premier orchestra, said that he made a very conscious decision to dedicate himself to and develop the youth symphony, which debuted as the Northern California Junior Philharmonic Orchestra in 1956.
With the support of the youth symphony’s board, Michael has contributed greatly to the youth symphony’s success.
Since the time that Michael became involved with the Sacramento Youth Symphony, the symphony has grown from 55 youth and one orchestra to 400 youth, three 90-piece orchestras, a summer chamber music workshop, flute and clarinet ensembles and a beginning string orchestra, called the Vivace Strings.
And next year, the youth symphony will add a beginners’ orchestra, called the Prelude Strings.
Michael, who has a wife named Allison and two sons, Gary, who is a guitarist, and Joshua, who plays cello in the nationally touring, major label band, Brandi Carlile (visit www.brandicarlile.com), explained that the Sacramento Youth Symphony, which has performed in several countries outside of the United States, offers a very important educational opportunity for many youth in the Sacramento region.
“There are many, many young people in Sacramento and the surrounding vicinity who want to play music, and especially now with the school systems, as many schools don’t even have an orchestra, because of the budget cuts, etcetera, etcetera,” Michael said. “Well, we provide a very high quality musical education for our young people.”
In addition to his work with the Sacramento Youth Symphony, whose performances have included tribute concerts such as its popular Veterans Day concerts at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, Michael is also the music director and conductor of the Folsom Symphony and is occasionally a guest conductor around the country.
As a well accomplished and highly recognized conductor, Michael has received many awards, including the “Arts Educator of the Year” award from the Arts and Business Council of Sacramento – an award which he received last year.
Michael said that one of his favorite items of recognition that he has received is a hand-carved, wooden gate that leads to his former one-car garage, which was converted into his home studio in about 1999.
“There was a gentleman whose daughter took violin (lessons) from me and whose daughter was in the (Sacramento) Youth Symphony and he was so grateful for what I was doing that he said, ‘Michael, I do woodwork and I want to make you a gate, because I want to show you how much I appreciate what you do.’” Michael said. “He said, ‘I’ll put anything you want on (the gate) and all you have to do is pay for the lumber.’”
Pointing to the hand-carved portion of his gate, Michael, whose favorite composer is Beethoven, said with an upbeat tone to his voice, “This is the opening of Beethoven’s 9th. This is the violin part.”
In reviewing his career in music, Michael said that he is grateful to have spent so many years working in a field that he loves.
“There’s a certain satisfaction level that I feel (working in music),” Michael said. “When I see people in their work, in their jobs, who hate their work and look at (the clock) and say, ‘In another 10 minutes, I’m out of here,’ well, I’m never on a podium going, ‘In 10 minutes, I’m out of here.’ So, I’m grateful to be doing what I’ve set my mind and my heart to be doing. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in that.”
For those interested in attending a performance by Maestro Neumann and the Folsom Symphony, the symphony will perform a special concert, called “Land That I Love,” at Three Stages at Folsom Lake College, 10 College Parkway, in Folsom on Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information, call (916) 357-6718 or visit www.folsomsymphony.com.