Hailed as ‘one of the most inventive young composers and conductors out there’ by The Guardian, James Weeks enjoys a growing international reputation both for his own music and for his consummate performances of contemporary repertoire.
Born in Blackburn in 1978, he read Music at Cambridge before completing a PhD in Composition at Southampton University, studying with Michael Finnissy. His music has been commissioned and performed by many leading performers including London Sinfonietta, Apartment House, Alison Balsom, EXAUDI, Morgan/Dullea, Wandelweiser, New London Chamber Choir, Uroboros Ensemble, Endymion, Anton Lukoszevieze and Christopher Redgate. He has been featured at UK and European festivals and venues including City of London, Spitalfields and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festivals, Gaudeamus (Amsterdam), Quincena Musical (San Sebastian), de Bijloke (Ghent), Wandelweiser (Düsseldorf, Munich), Weimarer Frühjahrstage and Mafra (Portugal). His music is heard regularly on BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now, and he was a member of Bmic’s New Voices scheme from 2005-10.
Since 2005 the main focus of his music has been on solo and small-ensemble works exploring elemental or primary musical materials and processes, either left bare or built up into polyphonic structures of considerable density. Recent major works include Schilderkonst (for mixed ensemble, 2003-04) Stacking, Weaving, Building, Joining (for any number of players, 2006), the Harmonies of South London series (for various ensembles, 2008-11), Burnham Air (for oboe d’amore, 2008), Hototogisu (for children’s choir, 2007), TIDE (for ensemble and electronics, 2007-10), Parnassus (for vocal and string sextets, 2008-09), Mala punica (for eight solo voices, 2008-09), and The Freedom of the Earth (for chorus and instruments, 2011).
As a conductor, he is best known for his work with the contemporary specialists EXAUDI, the vocal ensemble he founded with the soprano Juliet Fraser in 2002. With them he maintains a busy international touring schedule, collaborating regularly with the world’s leading composers, new music soloists and ensembles, and has released six acclaimed CDs, of Finnissy, Fox, Lutyens and Skempton on Mode, NMC and Metier. The ensemble specialises in the most complex new music — performances of Ferneyhough, Dillon, Xenakis, Gervasoni, Birtwistle and Finnissy have won them worldwide praise — and experimental music, often presented alongside repertoire from the Renaissance or early baroque.
He was Musical Director of the New London Chamber Choir from 2007-11, and is also Musical Director of Orlando Chamber Choir (London), focusing on Renaissance and baroque vocal repertoire. In great demand as a guest conductor, he has worked with London Sinfonietta, BBC Singers, L’Instant Donné (Paris), Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, New Music Players, Endymion, IXION, I Fagiolini and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, with whom he recorded Howard Skempton’s Chamber Concerto for NMC. He is also much in demand as a choral animateur and tutor, and regularly leads courses for Dartington International Summer School.
He is also active as an organ recitalist, pianist and writer on contemporary music, and broadcasts regularly on early and new music for BBC Radio 3. In 2006 he co-founded the ensemble Kürbis with the composer Claudia Molitor, dedicated to the performance of contemporary and experimental chamber music. The ensemble has performed in London (The Cutting Edge; Spitalfields Festival), Cambridge (Kettle’s Yard), and at Soundwaves Brighton and recorded for Radio 3. In 2010 he was Artistic Associate of the Spitalfields Festival (London). He is currently a Composition Professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London.