James Bowman (countertenor)

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James Bowman
Birth nameJames Thomas Bowman
Born (1941-11-06) 6 November 1941 (age 81)
Oxford, England
Years active1967–present

James Thomas Bowman CBE (born 6 November 1941 in Oxford, England) is an English countertenor. His career spans opera, oratorio, contemporary music and solo recitals. In 2010 it was announced that he would give his last London concert in 2011 at the Wigmore Hall, although he would continue to give recitals outside the capital. A few years previously he retired from the Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace in London, after a decade of service.


Bowman's background is in Anglican church music. He was educated at The King's School, Ely[1] where he began singing as a boy chorister at Ely Cathedral, progressing to become head chorister. After the traditional rest when his voice broke he returned as a bass but around 1959 gave his first public performance as a countertenor to a small school congregation in the Lady Chapel. He later went to New College, Oxford as an Organ Scholar and was a member of the New College and Christ Church choirs.


In 1967, while still a student, he auditioned for Benjamin Britten's English Opera Group. He was cast as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, a part which had been composed with Alfred Deller's voice in mind: Bowman, who had a larger voice than Deller, went to have a long association with the part.[2] He appeared at Glyndebourne in 1970 in Francesco Cavalli's La Calisto (the first countertenor to sing there), at English National Opera in 1971 in Semele, and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1972 in Taverner. In 1973 he created the role of the "Voice of Apollo" in Britten's Death in Venice.

Bowman retired from the operatic stage to concentrate on concert work after having appeared at most of the world's major opera houses including La Scala, Milan; Amsterdam, Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Sydney, Verona, Vienna, Strasbourg, Santa Fe, Dallas, and San Francisco.

Non-operatic work[edit]

Early music[edit]

In 1967 Bowman made his London debut at the opening concert of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The same year, he recorded for EMI records Ltd, with the Choir of King's College, Cambridge and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Willcocks, the Charpentier's "Messe de Minuit" for Christmas H.9

In...[citation needed] Bowman met David Munrow and was invited to join the Early Music Consort of London. The ensemble flourished in the ten years 1967–1976, making numerous recordings and touring extensively. After Munrow's death in 1976, the consort disbanded but Bowman continued to work with former members such as the harpsichordist and conductor Christopher Hogwood and the lutenist Robert Spencer. During the late 1960s Bowman sang regularly with the choir of Westminster Abbey.

For many years Bowman was a member of the early music choral group Pro Cantione Antiqua.

Contemporary music[edit]

As well as the association with Britten mentioned above, he has given the world premieres of contemporary compositions by composers such as Geoffrey Burgon, Alan Ridout and Richard Rodney Bennett. He also commissioned the Self-laudatory hymn of Inanna and her omnipotence from Michael Nyman.

In recital he works frequently with the lutenist Dorothy Linell and the pianist Andrew Plant.



Bowman has made over 180 recordings with all the major record labels and has also worked with many leading conductors including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Frans Brüggen, Christopher Hogwood, David Willcocks, John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington, and Gustav Leonhardt. Between 1988 and 2001 he made many recordings for Hyperion Records with The King's Consort and their conductor Robert King, including the complete odes of Henry Purcell, secular songs and church music, Handel Judas Maccabaeus, the Occasional Oratorio, Deborah, Joseph and his Brethren, Giulio Cesare, Ottone, and Joshua, discs of Schelle, Kuhnau and Knüpfer, and two solo discs of Handel arias. Twentieth-century repertoire includes Vaughan Williams' Ten Blake Songs and "Linden Lea", on the Meridian Records label (CDE 84158).

Solo recitals[edit]

  • Songs of Innocence, recital album with Andrew Swait (treble) and pianist Andrew Plant, Signum 2007


  1. ^ "James Bowman's website". James Bowman. 1998. Retrieved 2 August 2008.
  2. ^ James Bowman (26 November 2009), James Bowman on striking a high note, The Guardian

External links[edit]