James Whittle is a composer-performer and conductor based in Yorkshire.

He specialises in devising pieces collaboratively, blending musical performance with theatre and movement, and drawing on performance art and dance-theatre practices. His works range from solo to orchestra, with and without voice. With a mix of composed and improvised elements, his pieces often have a satirical streak.

Originally from Woking, James’s first composition was a county prize-winning Christmas carol. In 2011 he graduated from the University of York with a BA Music First class honours with distinction and received AHRC Professional Development funding for his Masters in Music by Research, Composing and devising music theatre.

James was joint recipient of the Terry Holmes Composer/Performer Award 2012 with Victoria Bernath. Together they created the music-theatre concerto Remains of Elmet.

He was selected for the inaugural Cheltenham Festival Composers Academy in 2013 to collaborate with Dr K Sextet. He subsequently won a commission to write a new cabaret song for their Pierrot Project in 2015. In 2014 he was an Impossible Lecture Retreat artist, run by Live Art Bistro Leeds at Beacons Festival, and in December 2015 was Musician-in-Residence at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, as recipient of a Lyons Celebration Award.

In 2017 he completed a PhD in Composition – titled ‘Music is Theatre‘ – supervised by Roger Marsh and funded by a Sir Jack Lyons Research Scholarship.

Community arts and education are key aspects of James’s practice. He has run composition and improvisation projects with primary and secondary schoolchildren, working with 4 York schools to create a collaboratively composed choral-orchestral work, The Darkening Green, in 2011, and for Britain in Song Choral Festival in 2014. As Composer-in-Residence 2015-16 with Castaway Music Theatre, James devised new collaborative work with two adult and youth music groups. In 2016 he collaborated with York Music Centre Jazz Band on a new work to perform with Dr K. Sextet. Currently, James plays cello with York-based disability dance group, Chilli BON BON.

James has collaborated with soloists Alex Wilson, Ian Pace, Robert Rice and Kate Boyd; ensembles Dr K Sextet, Black Hair, Juice, The 24, The Assembled and Chimera; dancer/performers Gracefool Collective, Katharina Arnold, Rachel Fullegar, and Ruth McNulty; rapper/performance poet Raphael Attar and poet Andrew Mitchell.

His scores for theatre, film and radio were born from close collaborations with directors and producers. Radio drama The New World Order, for which he composed a 40-minute score, won Gold in the Best Speech Programming prize at the Student Radio Awards 2013. He now writes the music for award-winning podcast sitcom, Wooden Overcoats.


James is taught cello by Sue Lowe and has had masterclasses with Alexander Baillie, Louise Hopkins, Pierre Doumenge, and Anna Shuttleworth. James has also worked as a live performance and session musician, including playing solo cello on albums for York-based singer-songwriters. He also plays clarinet, piano and otamatone.

An enthusiastic improviser, he has worked with experimental group The Assembled (run by Catherine Laws) since 2012, before which he played with ‘BottleGreen’ Improv Collective. James currently plays with ish.