Festival International et Académie

James Heathcote

Cello, Conductor, Musician, Piano

I am a versatile musician based in Manchester, UK. My musical activity can be broadly divided into three disciplines: cello playing, conducting, and piano playing (mostly as an accompanist).

As a cellist I have played with a number of professional orchestras in the UK, including the Orchestra of Opera North, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and the Hallé. I enjoy playing continuo more than anything else, which I first did in a production of Rameau’s Castor et Pollux at university. Since then, I have played continuo in Bach’s Johannes-Passion, Handel’s Saul and, most recently, Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea with English Touring Opera. I also really enjoy playing contemporary music, and in 2019 completed a year in the inaugural cohort of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group’s NEXT programme. More recently, in September, I performed in the premiere of Tim Harrison’s new chamber cantata, When Stars fill Darkened Skies.

During my Master’s at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, studying with David Watkin and John Butt, I researched how audience behaviour has changed over the past century, and explored performance practice of late 19th and early 20th century music. I’m now really interested in putting this research into practice in performance, and a concert I put on in late 2021, ‘What is HIP?’, was an experiment in this realm, exploring the related ideas of a more generative, free approach to the score and the audience as an active participant. The classical session/sight-reading night I run, Vigany’s Cabinet, wasn’t conceived with this in mind, but it is proving that encouraging an audience to engage with classical music in a non-traditional way is possible. Since I’ve started running this event in 2022 we’ve done a lot of music, but the highlights for me have been Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Bach’s Johannes-Passion.

I accompany amateur choirs and community groups frequently. I’m the regular accompanist for the Macclesfield Singers and have worked with groups including the Hallé choirs, Streetwise opera, Stafford Choral Society, Warrington Musical Society and the Smithy Belles. I don’t do that much solo piano playing but I did do some recordings as part of Flip the Stem, an initiative aimed at addressing the imbalance of gender and ethnicity represented in concert programmes (see Listen/Watch). I am also music director at Manchester Oratory.

I have conducted a number of amateur orchestras in the North-West, including the Alderley Edge Symphony Orchestra and the Slaithwaite Philharmonic. Whilst studying on the ‘joint course’ at Manchester University and the RNCM (conducting with Mark Heron), I conducted a number of performances including Ligeti’s Atmosphères, and Tallis’ Spem in Alium in my own arrangement for 40 cellists, which was featured on Classic FM (this can be seen here). Towards the end of my studies, in 2018, I formed my own orchestra for a project entitled ‘How does Mozart work?’ in which I and the ensemble performed a ‘wordless analysis’ of Mozart’s 40th symphony, which took the form of a full performance of the piece with analytical interludes between movements. I’ve since lost faith in the idea, but I still look back on it as an interesting event.

(Last update Jan ’24)


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