About James Barrett

James Barrett read Music at the University of Leeds where he studied Composition under James Brown and Philip Wilby. He has played piano and trumpet since the age of six, and his developing interest in composition after University was initially combined with training his voice and having a short but successful career as an operatic singer. He has always had a catholic taste and appetite for a broad diversity of different musical genres encompassing all strands of musical style. This now has a strong bearing on his stance as a composer who believes in pulling back together the fragmentation of music to paint a broad musical picture.

His musical career began as a freelance composer and orchestrator for film, being asked to orchestrate and record with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra straight out of University. He learnt the ropes of orchestration whilst simultaneously living and working as a freelance composer for film and training his voice in Bologna, Italy. He then completed a post-graduate course (1990 – 93) at the Royal Academy of Music in London from where he graduated as the only student that year to be awarded the Dip. R.A.M. as well as a post-student fellowship. His singing training was completed by living for 3 months with the great Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi in Verdi’s home town of Busseto in Emilia Romagna, Italy. After working as an operatic soloist for a few years with contracts at the Royal Opera House and abroad, James made a decision in 1996 to turn to composition full-time.

He has since mixed a diverse career of composing for film, television and concert hall, including working with Sir David Attenborough on BBC Natural History productions; Aardman Animations on the BAFTA-nominated Creature Comforts; and classical concert works for the likes of Sir Roger Norrington, Dame Evelyn Glennie, and the world-renowned trumpeter and Grammy/Classical Brit winner Alison Balsom. James has a passion for writing to film and believes in writing music which takes the film onto a higher plane. He also believes resolutely that the two disciplines of music for film and the concert hall go hand-in-hand in complimenting each other.

Select concert works include his song-cycle Point of Entry, based on the subject of war, which was a collaboration with sculptor Bill Woodrow and poet Selima Hill, originally masterminded by and commissioned through English National Opera’s Contemporary Opera Studio and the Imperial War Museum, and featured on BBC Radios 3 and 4.

Sir Roger Norrington and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra commissioned him to compose a new work for symphony orchestra to mark the conductor’s 70th birthday. Conversation with Chet for symphony orchestra and trumpet was performed with Alison Balsom as soloist, in the Liederhalle, Stuttgart and the Konzerthaus, Vienna, and was broadcast on radio worldwide to great acclaim.

James Barrett
James Barrett

James worked on a chamber opera entitled Beekeeper, which was supported in its development by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, through OperaGenesis, and for which he won an award from the Performing Right Society Foundation towards the music commission. The project is a multi-faceted opera, combining operatic forces with sparse elements of ballet and film, together with a live chamber orchestra including mandolins, solo soprano saxophone, accordion, improvised piano and a more extensive sound world incorporating some cross-over into programmed use of sound effects and surround sound.

He received an award from Arts Council England towards the commission for a new string quartet in five movements for the Smith Quartet, entitled Stato d’Animo, which premiered at St. Georges Brandon Hill in Bristol, then in the Aula Absidale in Bologna, Italy.

Toilers of the Elements, a concerto for Dame Evelyn Glennie, for percussion and string orchestra was premiered to critical acclaim in 2010.

In 2012 he completed a new work for Wells Cathedral Choir entitled Fisher of Men.

Amongst many TV, film, animation and commercial productions, both in the UK and abroad, James has been commissioned by the BBC to score the music for two Sir David Attenborough productions, plus other wildlife work for National Geographic.

He is currently working on a new concerto for trumpet and string orchestra.

As a conductor for film he has recorded with orchestras such as the London Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, Halle, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and Budapest Festival Orchestra.


James’ studio is based at his home in south Devon, close to the River Dart, and the sea.

He has invested in the finest hardware, software, samples and audio monitoring equipment in order to produce world class scores and music recording.

Main monitors are the THX approved Miller & Kreizel 2510P’s, used in many of the top Hollywood studios, as well as Acoustic Research 18 LS’s, which were the only speakers George Martin, producer of the Beatles, completely trusted for trueness of sound.

If you’d like to contact James about commissioning work, collaborating on a musical project or anything else you’d like to discuss, click the button below to get in touch.

James Barrett - Composer

Away From Music

This section gives a representation of how James spends his downtime:

“These moments are of equal importance for my work, in helping to nurture ideas, and give my mind the space and recovery it needs to remain creative and alive.

“Being immersed in nature and close to water has always been important for me – the river is my haven, where I can completely relax.

“Painting serves as an additional strand to my work and acts as a vent which helps feed the creative imagination from another angle.”

“It’s a considerable challenge for 21st-century composers to find a way of writing for the traditional form of the acoustic string quartet. James Barrett has risen to the challenge and has produced a work which I think will delight audiences.”

Nick Capaldi, Arts Council England, South West Executive Director


New Trumpet Concerto – Three Odes To Love