James Holmes began his career with English National Opera where he was principal coach and later resident conductor for over twenty years. His work encompassed much of the standard operatic repertoire from Mozart to Britten. He conducted performances of Peter Grimes and The Turn of the Screw as well as a number of contemporary pieces, including world premières by leading British composers such as Gavin Bryars and Jonathan Harvey alongside many other works. It was while at ENO that he began to establish himself as an exponent of musical theatre, conducting important productions of works by Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim, including Pacific Overtures, the recording of which earned a US ‘Grammy’ nomination.
James Holmes later joined Opera North as Head of Music. During his twelve years with the company he became known particularly for his conducting of Britten (Gloriana, Peter Grimes, Albert Herring) and Weill (Seven Deadly Sins, One Touch of Venus, Arms and the Cow) as well as widely-acclaimed productions of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, Shostakovich's Paradise Moscow and, last year, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, a work which he had previously conducted over a hundred times during its celebrated National Theatre production in 1991.
Throughout his career James Holmes has regularly worked as coach/accompanist with a great number of leading British singers, including Bryn Terfel, Sir Willard White, Sally Burgess and Lesley Garrett. He has also assisted many leading conductors – most significantly Simon Rattle, with whom he has worked on eight productions at Glyndebourne (including the landmark Porgy and Bess), the Metropolitan Opera, New York, and at the Salzburg and Aix-en-Provence Festivals.
Since becoming a freelance coach and conductor James Holmes has earned a growing reputation as one of the UK’s most versatile musicians, working on a vast range of opera and musicals with artists ranging from leading classical singers to rock and musical theatre performers. His concert appearances have included engagements with the Halle, City of Birmingham Symphony and London Symphony Orchestras, the London Sinfonietta, the Montreal Symphony and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. He has frequently broadcast and recorded as both accompanist and conductor for BBC radio and TV and also on commercial recordings.
James Holmes is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Kurt Weill Foundation in New York and was artist-in-residence at the 2013 Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau. Recently he was Head of Music for the unique and widely-praised production of Britten's Peter Grimes mounted on the beach at the Aldeburgh Festival. Other recent work includes The Girl I Left Behind Me (Opera North/UK tour) and Pat Kirkwood Is Angry (Manchester Royal Exchange/London and tour), as well as major US concert débuts in California and at Symphony Space, New York.
James Holmes made his French début conducting Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I at the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris with Susan Graham and Lambert Wilson in the title roles. Other recent engagements include further performances of Carousel for Opera North and Sweeney Todd and Kiss Me Kate for Welsh National Opera. This year he returns to the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau and conducts Weill’s Love Life in Freiburg.