James Whitbourn is a versatile composer with an international reputation for choral music and music for film, television and concert hall. After studying music at Oxford University, he began his career as a BBC producer, winning many awards including a Royal Television Society Award and a Sony Gold. His compositional output has been influenced by his background in speaking to millions and is noted for its direct connection with audiences and with performers.His range of style moves from the lush symphonic scoring heard in the BBC landmark series Son of God (whose seminal themes form his best-known work, Son of God Mass, for choir, saxophone and organ) to the delicate textures of his accompanied choral works.
His monument to date is the concert-length choral work, Annelies, which sets words from The Diary of Anne Frank. The work exists in two scorings, the larger of which - for symphony orchestra - was premiered by Leonard Slatkin at London’s Cadogan Hall in 2005. The work went on to receive its US premiere in 2007 and was premiered in a new chamber version by violinist Daniel Hope and American soprano Arianna Zukerman at The Hague, Netherlands, on Anne Frank's 80th birthday in 2009.
Whitbourn has been commissioned to compose the music to mark several national and international events, including the BBC’s title music for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and music for the national commemoration of 9/11 at Westminster Abbey - subsequently performed in New York on the first anniversary of the attacks. He also composed music for the BBC Events coverage of the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, the annual commemoration at the Cenotaph and the National Holocaust Memorial to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
His choral works have been performed on every inhabited continent of the world, especially the Son of God Mass, which is regularly performed throughout the United States, Europe and other parts of the world. He has a close relationship with Westminster Choir College, New Jersey, who have performed several concerts of his music and who commissioned the large-scale Luminosity. He also has a special relationship with the Choir of King’s College Cambridge with whom he has worked for more than twenty years as producer of Carols from King’s and for whom he composed the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis collegium regale premiered in Easter Day 2005.
His orchestral commissions include the award-winning work Pika, based on the bombing of Hiroshima, one of three large-scale compositions for symphony orchestra written with the poet Michael Symmons Roberts and performed by the BBC Philharmonic, who have also recorded many of his television scores. His collaborations with the poet have also resulted in a set of songs written for and recorded by the mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins.Many of his choral works have been recorded by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, with saxophonist John Harle and tenor Robert Tear under Timothy Brown (Et Cetera KTC 1248) and Commotio, with violist Levine Andrade and tenor Christopher Gillett conducted by Matthew Berry (Naxos 8.572103).He is popular on both sides of the Atlantic as choral clinician and also enjoys a profile as a conductor and producer. As well conducting the BBC Philharmonic, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and other leading orchestras, he directs the London-based vocal ensemble The Choir, whose acclaimed DVD recording of John Tavener’s choral music received a Gramophone nomination.
In 2001, James Whitbourn signed an exclusive publishing agreement with Chester Music Ltd, London, for printed works and Film & TV genre.