A Composer Profile by PETER WORSLEY
Yet another composer with qualities in both serious and lighter
music, James Stevens fell foul of the BBC avant garde brigade
and performances of his music on radio became a rarity, although
he was feted abroad. He studied initially with Benjamin Frankel
in his exclusive class at the Guildhall School of Music in
London where he won several prestigious awards including the
Royal Philharmonic Prize for his First Symphony and
the Wainwright Scholarship for "composer of the year".
A French Government Bursary took him across the Channel to
study with Darius Milhaud at the Paris Conservatoire where
he met Nadia Boulanger who made him one of her star pupils
with free Saturday evening tuition. He also enjoyed an open
invitation to Arthur Honeggers classes.
He later won the coveted Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize in
Boston, USA, for "composers of exceptional talent and
integrity" awarded by a panel of judges which included
Stravinsky, Copland and Villa-Lobos. Another award was the
Mendelssohn Scholarship which even Benjamin Britten failed
to achieve, despite several attempts!
Stevens commenced his extensive film career while still a
student and was acclaimed at the Ealing Studios where he constantly
devised new film music techniques which are now standard practice.
Unusually, Stevens never confined himself to one particular
musical genre and has taken every opportunity to take part
in pop music, jazz, films, television scores, and musicals
his own musical Mamzelle Nitouche being
revived in Londons West End in the autumn of 2001. Although
also concerned with serious avant-garde works, his
music is melodic rather than atonal.
In one year he was the only British composer to be selected
for the annual International Society for Contemporary Music
(with Etymon) while having a disc at number one on
the Melody Maker charts (with Exploding Galaxy).
In 1990 he was nominated for the BAFTA music award for his
contribution to Chelworth eight one-hour episodes.
In 1995 he was invited to give a "James Stevens Day"
in Cincinnati, shortly after which he was invited by the Musicians
Union of Japan to represent English artists at the Hiroshima
and Nagasaki 50th anniversary memorial ceremonies.
In 1998 the Cleveland Orchestra Piano Trio gave the world
premiere of Concertante a Tre and in 1999 Stevens was
commissioned to write Davids Round for a 9-year-old
prodigy violinist, also in Cleveland, USA. The following year
he was commissioned by members of the Cleveland Orchestra
to write a work for cello and piano called Duo Per Umanita.
Also in 2000 Stevens completed his magnum opus The Reluctant
Masquerade, dealing with the human psyche and nature of
time. In 2001 he wrote the incidental music for American writer
Daniel de Cournoyers epic one-man theatre show Bells
to Hell and also a Processional for a wedding in
He is Chairman of the Churchill Society Music Department:-
SELECTION OF WORKS
- 1st Symphony - first performed on Radio 3. 25 mins.
- 2nd Symphony - first performed on Radio 3. 27 mins.
- 3rd Symphony - 25 mins. first performed by Northern
Symphony Orchestra. 25 mins.
- 4th Symphony (Infantes Miseraie In memoriam
Lili Boulanger) - for orchestra and commentator
- Concerto Capricioso - harp and small orchestra.
- Concertetto Concatato piano & orchestra.
- Concerto Scenes de Seine guitar & small
orchestra. 22 mins.
- Lion and Unicorn overture for orchestra.
8 mins. first performed on BBC Radio 3
- In a Nutshell overture for orchestra. 8
mins. first performed on BBC Radio 3
- Natso No Hikari Ni - translated In the Blinding
Flash of Light That Summer (6th & 9th August
from the ashes translation from the Japanese)
orchestra. 27 mins.
- Celebration for the Dead a Buddhist Requiem
for orchestra, voices and soprano. Premiered by Tokyo
Symphony Orchestra, European premier by Nederlands Radio
Sinfonie Orkester of Amsterdam. 37 mins.
- The Reluctant Masquerade (Seppuku and Lullaby, the
Buddha Weeps, Satoikos Song) - orchestra, mezzo,
baritone and alto. 55 mins.
- Goal! For wind band. Commissioned by the Brecksville
Bees Marching Band, Ohio. First performed at Wembley, England
v Argentina, 1980. 10 mins.
- Celebration amateur orchestra and chorus,
commissioned by Sir Walter St. John School, South London.
- The Father amateur orchestra & chorus.
first performed Canterbury Sinfonia. 20 mins.
- Royal Greenwich March school brass band.
Commissioned by Woolwich Polytechnic. 10 mins.
- Chamber Works
- Etymon 5 players and 3 singers. 22 mins. first
performed ISCM at Reykjavik
- Girl in Scena semi-jazz ensemble. 20 mins.
- Jigsaw for Pipe 2 recorder quartets & 2 soloists.
- WS Loves WH octet & tenor. 25 mins.
- Lewis Loves Alice voice & jazz combo. first
performed Cincinatti, USA.
- Chelworth brass nonet. Short arrangement of TV
series title music
- Concertante a Tre for Joseph Walker
- Kiri to Taiyo flute & piano.- commissioned
- Four Movements & a Coda for viola & piano.
BBC 3, 17 mins.
- Embrionics solo violin. first performance Geoffrey
- Asonics solo piano, first performance Jonathan
Cohen, Wigmore Hall. 20 mins.
- Guitar guitar solo. recorded by Andreas
Herzau on EMI. 17 mins.
- Waltzes for Friends 13 piano pieces
- Duo Per Umanita piano and cello. 15 mins.
- The Insomniac; Intrusion; They Came From Beyond Space;
Sparrows Cant Sing; The Weapon; The Baby & the
Battleship; Cockleshell Heroes; The Fourth Square; The Other
Man; The Secret Pony; The Rival World; East-West Island;
Ring Around the Earth; The Oilmen; Flight Deck; The New
Vikings; Wednesfield Story; Arabia Felix; Portrait of Queenie.
- BBC The Family Reunion; Tonight; Horizon; Chelworth;
- ITV Uncle Silas; The Alcoholics; Armchair Theatre;
Bond QC; Our Street; After Midnight; America Abroad; The
Little Round House; Mr. Papingays Ship; The Cure.
- Echo and the Narcissus; The Salvation of Faust; Voices
in the Air; Ghost Story.
- The Visit producer Peter Brooks opened
Lunt-Fontane Theatre, New York & Royalty Theatre, London
- Ghost Story one act opera commissioned by
- Mamzelle Nitouche- several productions including
Pitlochry and Worthing
- The Pied Piper two productions including
Theatre Royal, Stratford East
- Orpheus in Space mini rock opera, performed
- The Phantom Lover Theatre Royal, Stratford
- Etheria premiered by Gillian Weir in both
UK and USA
- Amo Ergo Sum as per Etheria
- Alls Right With the World
[from Journal Into Melody March 2004]