"...mere words cannot describe the vibrant orchestration [or] the inventive choral writing..." - Fiona Bennett (on Yaldo)
James started to compose music when he was a teenager, and his early tape-based pieces from this time reveal an early fascination with the unusual juxtapositions of sounds and collisions of styles which have been a hallmark of his music-making ever since. This is perhaps a reflection of the music which interested and excited him from a very young age – medieval dance music, prog-rock, electronic minimalism, bebop jazz, Eastern folk music, the music of Stravinsky & Messiaen, and the grand orchestral tradition of the European concert hall. James started out as a chorister, clarinetist and saxophone player, but following an undergraduate degree at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he studied with Anthony Gilbert, Adam Gorb, Simon Holt & Clark Rundell, he's enjoyed a mixed and international career as a jazz pianist, orchestral percussionist, vocalist, composer and teacher, and continues to be enormously busy in his fortieth year, although composition is taking up more and more of his time. One of his main aims as a composer has always been to write music which excites and moves an audience – not to say that he has embraced populism, but that his music often pulsates and dances, or allows the luxury of melody to dominate. His music often draws together a number of different stylistic currents to make something totally new and original, for instance his recent (and extensive) cantata “Yaldo” draws upon Syrian folk music, the music of the Byzantine Church in the middle ages, free jazz, Hebrew cantillation & complex Stravinskian rhythms to create a compulsive and explosive sound world. With a background in electronic music production, it's not surprising to hear the influence of dance culture in his compositions often to the fore – as an example take the piece “Badder Gyrations”, an “urban orchestral riot” which grows into a growling dubsteb-flavoured groove, before fragmenting into a kaleidoscopic melee of broken and recycled funk and soul fragments, coming together into a pulsating trance beat. James is working on a number of exciting new projects at the moment: a concerto for the clarinetist Thomas Carr, commissioned by Newbury Symphony Orchestra, an a capella vocal piece for the Cecilia Consort, and a solo piano piece for a concert in Carnegie Hall, and also has planned premières of his music this year in London, New York, Newbury & across the UK.
Selection of recent awards
FASO International Composition Competition (2019)
Piano Teachers Congress of New York (PTCNY) Commissioning Award (2018)
Commissioning award for a new piece to be performed in Carnegie Hall (NYC) in Fall 2020
Royal Northern Symphonia Young Composers' Competition (2018)
Finalist & 2nd prizewinner
ARmusic Publishing House Award (2018)
"Khosk Im Vordum" (Words From My Mother) - a piece for solo (spoken) soprano & double-reed quartet to be published by ARMusic
2018 AGBU Sayat Nova International Composition Competition
3rd prize for Khosk Im Vordun (Words from My Mother) - a piece for solo (spoken) soprano & double-reed quartet
Bromley Symphony Orchestra Centenary Prize (2018)
Orchestra's choice prizewinner
Vienna "Sounds of Matter" (2018)
International Composition Competition Harelbeke (2018)
Updates, performances, commissions & news
A selection of recent & historical projects & performances - a more complete selection is on YouTube (click link)
"B'thulto Yeldath Dumoro"
From "Yaldo" - a multi-movement nativity cantata which tells the familiar Christmas story using the languages of Biblical times - Hebrew, Koine Greek, and, in this movement, Aramaic
"A Century Passed"
short piece for wind quartet, composed for Armistice Day 2018 & performed by 4 outstanding young members of the SBSO
composed for and performed by Trio Immersio (with added electronics) - this piece won 2nd prize in the 2018 "Sounds of Matter" competition in Vienna
Composed for, and performed by, the amazingly talented Benjamin Copeman, with live electronic manipulation by the composer.
Composed for, and performed by, Clifton Band - recorded live at the Anvil, Basingstoke with conductor Benjamin Copeman and speaker Neil Streeter.
Royal Northern College of Music
Bachelor of Music (hons) 1997-2001
PGCE (Secondary Music) 2004-2005