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 Honegger’s 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 musicalMam’zelle Nitouche being revived in London’s 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 toChelworth – 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 David’s 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 Cournoyer’s epic one-man theatre show Bells to Hell and also a Processional for a wedding in Australia.
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. 20 mins.
- Concertetto Concatato – piano & orchestra. 12 mins.
- 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, Satoiko’s 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. 20 mins
- 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. 18 mins
- 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 by Sumitomo
- Four Movements & a Coda for viola & piano. BBC 3, 17 mins.
- Embrionics solo violin. first performance Geoffrey Grey
- 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 Can’t 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; Stolen Property.
- ITV – Uncle Silas; The Alcoholics; Armchair Theatre; Bond QC; Our Street; After Midnight; America Abroad; The Little Round House; Mr. Papingay’s 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 the BBC
- Mam’zelle Nitouche- several productions including Pitlochry and Worthing
- The Pied Piper – two productions including Theatre Royal, Stratford East
- Orpheus in Space – mini rock opera, performed in Rome
- The Phantom Lover – Theatre Royal, Stratford East
- Etheria – premiered by Gillian Weir in both UK and USA
- Amo Ergo Sum – as per Etheria
- All’s Right With the World