Who or what inspired you to take up the oboe, and make it your career?
When I regained my hearing during primary school after being born deaf I took up piano lessons. Since then I have always been fascinated by the effect that music can have on your life and how you feel. As a teenager I began to look into classical music and stumbled across a YouTube video of Heinz Holliger playing the Mozart oboe concerto. The next week I gave the instrument a try and was instantly hooked. My home city of Ely had only a couple of oboists so lots of opportunities arose around Cambridgeshire. It was from being busy working and performing with amateur ensembles that I decided that i wanted to be a professional oboist. I found the oboe was a great instrument to put myself into given its versatility.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I was greatly influenced by my former piano teacher Jane Holden GRNCM who introduced me to music college and conservatoire study. She accompanied me for performances and indeed for my music college auditions. I am also greatly influenced by my oboe teachers at Birmingham Conservatoire Melinda Maxwell, Jenni Phillips and Gail Hennessy for baroque studies.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I’d have to say adapting to the demands of being a freelance musician. Finding time for other things in my life is so difficult as the little free time I have around my work and studies has to be for my personal practise. Whilst the lifestyle is enjoyable it takes a while getting used to long train journeys and sleeping on sofas after concerts!
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my performance of Rachmaninov’s ‘Vocalise’. I have always loved Rachmaninov’s piano repertoire so arranging it for oboe and coming home to perform it in the stunning surroundings of Ely Cathedral meant a huge amount to me! I’ve recently been working on a couple of Telemann Sonatas which I’m recording in January!
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Schumann, particularly his romances. There is so much expression already on the page so when it comes to adding my own it can be overwhelming with emotional tensity. Aside from that I have a keen interest in baroque repertoire as I enjoy the virtuosity of some of the instrumental writing as well as the opportunity to add my own ornaments, cadenzas and further interpretations to my performances!
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
A good musician would choose their repertoire on what they wish to achieve technique wise generally as a result. Whilst I try to do that, I love discovering new pieces and particularly playing the ones I enjoy (perhaps a little to often). The joys of directing my own ensembles mean that most of the time I get to choose the music!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Each venue has its own qualities and suitability for different works, though, I’d like to mention Ely Cathedral. Because I have played there so many times, I cannot help but return there most Christmas’ and Summers to perform again and again. The building presents so many acoustic challenges for solo instrumentalists so it adds to the difficulty of what could already be a perfect performance!
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
It’s a close call between Beethoven’s ‘Missa Solemnis’ and Bach’s B Minor Mass. I love Bach – he’s my favourite composer and so what could be better than a masterpiece that is essentially a catalogue of all of his best tunes arranged for a mass setting? Whilst the Beethoven, although overshadowed by his ninth symphony, the Missa Solemnis is, in its own way, truly something special.
Who are your favourite musicians?
When I was younger and only just discovering classical music I was and still am greatly influenced by the work and music of Herbert von Karajan, enough to inspire me to want to go into conducting. His extraordinary psychological vision of music,how it should sound and how it should touch ones heart deeply fascinates me. Also some of my other favourite musicians are the great oboists of the modern day: Francois Leleux, as well as Albrecht Mayer and Jonathan Kelly of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
New Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s concert in West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge last summer. Most of the players were people who I’d been in youth orchestras and grown up with, so it was heart-warming reuniting with them to perform Rachmaninov’s 3rd Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto to a sold out audience. I also can’t help but remember a carol concert in Ely Cathedral where aged twelve I came in as a guest violinist. My desk partner had fallen off the edge of the stage and grabbed my arm only pull me and my chair off with her!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Listening. Music is the most powerful art form for expressing your true inner self and feelings. Don’t just follow the score note by note – add a bit of yourself to your performances. Also, do not be afraid of meeting people and collaborate with them. You’re not just playing say, the violin in the after school band anymore. By making the choice to want to be a musician, you have to put everything you have into into it. Listen, interpret, perform.
What are you working on at the moment?
Alongside my studies, 2015 is my busiest and most exciting year yet. I will be performing in a new, exciting series of large scale orchestral projects and performances across the UK whilst also musically directing Handel’s opera ‘Acis & Galatea’ in the Midlands. I’m also looking forward to returning to Cambridge for a Bach Cantata project, and also (hopefully) going abroad for further work and study!
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
It would be nice to think that I’d have financial security and have settled down but I want to do much the same as what I am doing. The joy of music practically being my only hobby is that i never want to stop. Working in a different country would be nice!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Excuse the clichés, but freedom, love and security. Sat on a beach with a beer in one hand and the [non-existent] wife’s hand in the other! The end of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is also my idea of perfect happiness!
What do you enjoy doing most?
Performing. But unrelated to music I have been known to be a cooking master!
What is your present state of mind?
Ambitious (perhaps a little too much)!
Although born with a severe hearing impairment, James began his musical journey when taken to piano lessons aged 7. As James’s hearing, speech, and language improved as he got older, he strongly valued the gift of sound and music and decided to take up other more orchestral instruments such as the clarinet and violin as a hobby. As a teenager, however, James realised his desire and ambition to become a professional musician and chose to specialise on the oboe where he went from strength to strength achieving grade 8 ABRSM disctinction after only a few years tuition and coaching under Carol London and Jane Holden GRNCM. He later held several positions in local orchestras, including the Cambridgeshire & Peterburough Youth Orchestra where he served as principal and solo-cor anglais for 3 years, aswell as the acclaimed New Cambridge Symphony Orchestra. James has also had strong affiliations with other local orchestras including the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra.
During sixth form college James had a succesful audition period for several UK music colleges which led to him accepting a scholarship to study at Birmingham Conservatoire where he trains as a first-study oboist under Jenni Phillips, Melinda Maxwell and Gail Hennessy for baroque oboe. At the Conservatoire James has a busy diary and is frequently involved in projects in collaboration with other students, including orchestral work, chamber music, choral singing, harpsichord accompaniment, conducting, and participating in recording sessions for new compositions and commissions. More recently James has formed his own chamber choir and is heavily interested in music research, having a particular focus on baroque choral music.
The next year will see James perform in prestigious venues across the UK such as St John Smith’s Square and the Barbican in London as well as returning to the familiar surroundings of Ely Cathedral. James will also be directing a production of Handel’s Acis & Galatea with his own orchestra and chamber choir which will be performed in historic venues across the Midlands.
James has vast experience working alongside arts and dramatics agencies as a musical director for performances ranging from opera, musical theatre to new commissioned plays. Alongside this position, James provided performance coaching to students of secondary school age.
Away from music, James is passionate about campaigning for the awareness of severe mental health disorders, and works with schools and health organisations to provide mentoring to school aged pupils.