James Garner

Composer • Educator • Musical Director

James Garner is a Leicester-born composer based in London. His music has been described as “utterly accomplished in all respects” (Judith Weir CBE, Master of the Queen’s Music), “atmospheric, evocative and eminently singable” (Sarah Walker CBE), and praised for its “warmth, sincerity and tension” (Bachtrack).

His work has been performed in the UK, Canada, Austria and Russia, at venues such as Kings Place, Central St Martins, Barbican Cinema, Old Vic Workrooms, Milton Court, Arcola Theatre, Australia House, Tanna Schulich Concert Hall, and the Stanislavsky Music Theatre Recital Room. His collaborators have included the director Miranda Cromwell, soprano Elisabeth Boudreault, mezzo-soprano Rachael Lloyd, countertenor James Hall, EXAUDI, Orchestre classique de Montréal, and principal players from the Aurora, Opera North and English Touring Opera orchestras.

James has a deep affinity for vocal and theatrical music, having written seven stage works to date. While in his third year of undergraduate studies, he became the youngest composer ever commissioned by English Touring Opera, for whom he wrote his second opera, Dust Child (2016 UK Tour). In 2017, his first opera, East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon, received its acclaimed North American premiere in Montréal. His next major work, Much Ado, is based on Shakespeare’s original play and was previewed in 2018 for the Association for Opera in Canada. Written for a large cast of soloists, chorus and orchestra, this first full-length opera is commissioned by Opera McGill, who will give its world premiere in the 2023/24 season at Montréal’s historic Monument-National.

James has additionally been involved in the musical direction of multiple world premieres, for companies including the Barbican Centre, Hall for Cornwall (as musical director); Royal Opera House, Royal Festival Hall (as assistant conductor); and for BBC Four/Tigerlily (as consultant). He is also an experienced educator, having delivered more than 20 projects for leading arts organisations such as English Touring Opera, Opera North, Opera Holland Park, the Royal Academy of Music Open Academy, and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

Alongside completing Much Ado, James is currently engaged in a period of research into theatre composition practice, supported by Arts Council England. 2022 will see performances of several new chamber and stage commissions, including the world premiere of Beauty and the Seven Beasts, a multimedia, multi-authored operetta (Fedora Prize Shortlisted) commissioned by The Opera Story, and a duo work for violinist Rose Hinton and RPO’s co-principal cellist Jonathan Ayling.

James originally studied at the Guildhall School, winning the Mary Ryan Award for Composition. He is now taking postgraduate studies with David Sawer at the Royal Academy of Music, generously supported by the Munster Trust and the Maria Björnson Memorial Fund. Previously, James was co-founder and music director of workshOPERA, who were nominated for the 2016 New British Music Theatre Award. In 2020, he collaborated on The Opera Story’s digital series Episodes, which was subsequently recognised with an RPS Inspiration Award.

James Garner performing at the piano

© Natalia Malysheva