Jean Thorel studied orchestral conducting with Jean-Jacques Werner and Léon Barzin, and ballet conducting with Antal Dorati and André Girard.
He has won prizes in harmony and counterpoint at the Paris National Conservatory. With the support of renowned French conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus, he was also awarded the Vocation Foundation Prize in 1989.
In 2008, Jean Thorel was appointed chief conductor of the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, which with its 43 musicians, is the only chamber orchestra in the Asian region with a regular subscription season. In Paris he has been engaged as the permanent conductor of the Stringendo Orchestral Ensemble since 1985 and the Ensemble Instrumental Polytone since 2012.
Jean Thorel is increasingly in demand as a guest conductor throughout Scandinavia, Europe and Asia, his versatility enabling him to conduct a wide range of music from ballet, opera and choral works to multi-faceted chamber and orchestral programmes.
He has guest-conducted the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Musica Vitae, the Danish Chamber Players, Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen, the Saint Michel Strings, Ensemble Quartz, Musiques Nouvelles and the Royal Chamber Orchestra of Wallonia in Belgium. In 2011 he was appointed the principal guest conductor of the EQ Ensemble in Ireland, specializing in contemporary music.
He has also appeared as a guest conductor with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (London), the National Orchestra of Russia, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, the Copenhagen Royal Opera House, the EOS Repertoire Orchestra Beijing, China's National Orchestra Academy at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, the National Music Light Orchestra of Shanghai, the Aarhus SO, Odense SO, Bolchoi Percussion Ensemble, Orchestre Colonne, the Stockholm Lans Symfoniker and the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra.
Thorel's unconventional interpretations of both contemporary and classical music have delighted many music critics in France and abroad. An impassioned promoter of new and rare music, Jean Thorel is regularly invited to guest conduct at major festivals of contemporary music including Ars Musica Brussels, the Numus Festival and UNM Festival in Aarhus, the Composer's Biennale, PULSAR Festival in Copenhagen and Musicarama in Hong Kong. To date he has given more than 500 world premieres.
His extensive discography of more than 25 DVD and CDs includes a recording of works by Louis Saguer with the Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble which was joint winner of the 2002 Académie du Disque Lyrique “Orphée d'Or” prize together with Pierre Boulez's interpretation of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. His recording of works by Sikora won a "special mention" by the Académie du Disque Lyrique in 2003. He is also the first French conductor to record with the Russian National Orchestra and the internationally acclaimed Hilliard Ensemble. His CD "English Recorder Concertos" with Michala Petri has been recently acclaimed by international music reviews; this record was awarded the best classical CD of the year in Hong Kong.
Thorel's recordings include works by Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Poulenc, Durey, Compere, Messager, Alain, Ponce, Françaix, Saguer, Brenet, Vercken, K-A Hartmann, Ledoux, Bosse, Fourgon, Morançon, Pinchard, Lejet, Bret, Sikora, Tchaikovsky, Piazzolla, S.Young, Arnold, Jacob, R.Harvey, Hickey, Bruun, Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen, Karl Aage Rasmussen, Svend Aaquist, Gunner Møller Pedersen, Hans-Henrik Nordstrøm , Erik Højsgaard, Ole Buck, Henrik Sørensen, T. Nielsen, K. Jorgensen, Rosing-Schow, Alrich, Jenkins, Rorem and Yanov-Yanovski.
His musical collaborations thus far include Michala Petri, Evelyn Glennie, the Hilliard Ensemble, Percurama Copenhagen, So Percussion (New-York), François Leleux, Sharon Bezaly, the King Singers, the Vienna Boys Choir, Claude Delangle, Catrin Finch, Mario Brunello, Eric le Sage, Thomas Bloch, Thomas Trotter, Giovanni Sollima, Christian Lindberg, Lise de la Salle, Patrick Gallois, Marie-Claire Jamet, Marielle Nordmann, Christophe Desjardins among others.
Jean Thorel's concerts have been broadcast by BBC Radio 3, Radio France-Musique, France 2, De Soziokulturelle Radio (Luxembourg), Swedish Radio, Danish Radio DR2, Radio Orpheus (Russia), Hong-Kong Radio 4 and the Russian and Polish radio-television networks.