James Olsen, born in London in 1982 of English and South Tyrolean descent, studied composition with Wolfgang Rihm in Germany and with Julian Anderson, Colin Matthews, Robin Holloway, Michael Finnissy and Adam Gorb in the UK. He read music at King’s College, Cambridge, where he gained a double starred first.

His music has been performed by 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, 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.

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.

A recording of Chameleon Concerto, performed by Clio Gould, Rolf Hind and the London Sinfonietta and conducted by David Porcelijn, 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 Keenleyside, 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. He lives in London.

Photo by Yuli Gates


James Olsen