Biography

‘Brilliantly imaginative’—Tom Service, The Guardian

‘A striking musical imagination’—Paul Driver, The Sunday Times

Composer James Olsen, born in London in 1982, has seen performances of his music by leading international orchestras and ensembles in the UK and continental Europe including the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Sinfonietta, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Britten Sinfonia, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the BBC Singers, the Galliard Ensemble, Tête à Tête opera and Minguett Quartet and by, amongst others, George Benjamin, Martyn Brabbins, Nicholas Cleobury, Clio Gould, Dominic Grier, Timothy Henty, Rolf Hind, Gweneth-Ann Jeffers, Simon Lepper, Sarah Leonard, Tim Mead, David Porcelijn, Nicholas Rimmer and Paul Watkins.

James first came to attention at the age of 16, when his wind quintet Imbroglio was performed by the Galliard Ensemble at the South Bank Centre and released on the ensemble's debut commercial CD; Gramophone magazine described the piece as ‘an uncommonly assured and thoroughly engaging essay from a precocious figure’ and The Times declared him a ‘great British hope’. He read music at King’s College, Cambridge, where he gained a double starred first, and studied composition with Wolfgang Rihm in Germany and with Julian Anderson, Colin Matthews, Robin Holloway, Michael Finnissy and Adam Gorb in the UK.

He has received commissions from, amongst others, the BBC, the Britten-Pears Foundation, the Britten Sinfonia, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Klangspuren Schwaz, the London Sinfonietta, the London Symphony Orchestra, Tête à Tête opera and Wigmore Hall.

Three commerical recordings of his music have been released, including a recording of Chameleon Concerto, performed by Clio Gould, Rolf Hind and the London Sinfonietta and conducted by David Porcelijn, which was released as part of the London Sinfonietta’s Jerwood Series on NMC. James’s music has been broadcast by BBC Radio 3 in the UK and by DeutschlandRadio Berlin and Kulturradio in Germany.

His arrangement of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs for voice and chamber ensemble were first performed by Ann Murray DBE, Simon Keenlyside, the Belcea Quartet and others conducted by Paul Kildea at Wigmore Hall, and was subsequently performed on tour around continental Europe by the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton.

James received a PhD in music in 2009 from the University of London with a dissertation on ‘Understanding The Rite of Spring through the Creative Responses of Listeners’ supervised by Professor Nicholas Cook. He currently supervises undergraduates at the University of Cambridge, where he teaches composition and topics in the history and analysis of music from 1700 to the present.

Projects for 2017 include a children's opera commissioned by Beckenham Junior Choir and Beckenham Youth Voices, a piano trio commissioned by Trio Gaspard, an orchestral work commissioned by the Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra, and new works for Ely Cathedral Girls' Choir, for Hamburg-based Trio Catch, and for the choir of Kremsmünster Abbey in Austria.

Photo by Yuli Gates

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James Olsen