James Whitbourn was an internationally-renowned composer recognised by The Observer as “a truly original communicator in modern British choral music”. A graduate of Magdalen College, University of Oxford, his career in music began in the BBC, for whom he has worked as composer, conductor, producer and presenter. His compositional output is admired for its direct connection with performers and audiences worldwide and for its ability to “expand the experience of classical music beyond the edges of the traditional map of classical styles” (Tom Manoff, NPR).


His largest composition is the concert-length choral work Annelies, which sets words from The Diary of Anne Frank. Other notable works include Luminosity, written for the Westminster Choir College and the Archedream dance ensemble, Son of God Mass for saxophone, choir and organ and The Seven Heavens for choir and orchestra - a portrayal of the life of C. S. Lewis in the imagery of the medieval planets.


His choral works have been performed in many prestigious venues, and have been presented on acclaimed recordings, including six complete discs of his choral music. Of the latest of these – Annelies (Naxos) – Gramophone writes “the greatest accomplishment here is that James Whitbourn has written some music of great beauty”, Choir and Organ adding, “Whitbourn’s devastatingly beautiful and restrained treatment of the subject matter makes it all the more poignant”. 


Whitbourn was commissioned to compose the music to mark several national and international events, including music for the broadcast of 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. His commissions have included a work for the enthronement of the Bishop of Salisbury and for the anniversary of the foundation of the Belfast Philharmonic.


He enjoyed a profile as a conductor and producer, with four GRAMMY nominations to his name (including Best Choral Performance for Annelies, 2014) among many other international awards. 


In the latter stages of his career, he returned to the University of Oxford as Fellow and Director of Music at St Edmund Hall, Senior Research Fellow at St Stephen’s House, Director of Music at Harris Manchester College, and a member of the Faculty of Music.


James died at the age of 60 in March 2024. His extraordinary musical legacy lives on.

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