Heralded for performances of “spectacular musicianship and technical brilliance” (The Scotsman), “evangelizing urgency” (International Record Review) and “freshness and lucidity” (The Herald Scotland), James Willshire has been praised for the virtuosity and intelligence of his pianism and has developed a reputation for his interpretations of British and French music. He has appeared as soloist at the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican, Bridgewater Hall, St John’s Smith Square, Purcell Room, Palau de la Musica (Petit Palau), Glasgow City Halls, Queens Hall Edinburgh, Perth Concert Hall, St George’s Bristol, Caird Hall and the Fairfield Halls.
A specialist in the music of Debussy, in 2018 James performed the complete cycle of the composer’s solo piano music. These concerts, described by The Herald Scotland as “an unmissable opportunity to hear these demanding pieces live”, included complete cycles in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and individual concerts in the Leeds International Concert Season and at Chetham’s School of Music. James’s interest in Debussy extends beyond performing and he has given talks on Debussy and his piano music, with a special focus on Debussy’s unique approach to sound.
James is a committed advocate of contemporary music, and has given over 25 world premiere performances of works by Ronald Stevenson, John McLeod, Rory Boyle, Nicola LeFanu, Robin Holloway, Errollyn Wallen, Thomas Simaku, Jay Capperauld, Jia Chai, Lynne Plowman, David Lancaster, Michael Parkin, Ailís Ní Ríain and David Power. His performance of ‘Endlings’ by Jay Capperauld with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland received a five star review from The Herald and was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland. In 2015 James premiered the revised version of John McLeod’s Piano Concerto, also with NYOS, in a performance that was given a five star review from the Scotsman.
Since 2010 James has recorded with Delphian Records, with his most recent disc a 2019 recording of the chamber music by Judith Weir with the Hebrides Ensemble. His double-disc recording of Ronald Stevenson was described as “a major achievement” and awarded an IRR Outstanding by International Record Review, and was reviewed by BBC Music Magazine, Gramophone, and Classical Music magazine. Gramophone pronounced as “uncompromising” and “all-encompassing” his recording with Fraser Langton of music for Clarinet and Piano by Rory Boyle, and his recording of the piano music by David Jennings was chosen as one of MusicWeb International’s Recordings of the Year 2013. Future recordings include the complete solo piano music by Cecil Coles, in April 2020, and a recording of the 10 New Debussys project: 10 new works inspired by the piano music of Debussy.
James is a keen educator with an active diary of children’s concert engagements. With the Willshire Piano Duo, incorporating his wife Philippa Harrison and himself, he has developed a series of interactive concert events that the Duo have taken to schools around the UK. He has given masterclasses at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, Chetham’s School of Music, and York, St Andrew’s and Aberdeen Universities, and in October 2019 will be a member of the jury for the 6th European Conservatoires Music Competition. Chamber music also forms a key part of James’ music making, with partnerships as part of the Willshire Piano Duo, Trio Dramatis, the Hebrides Ensemble, with singers Ailish Tynan and Njabulo Madlala, and instrumentalists Fraser Langton, Rosalind Ventris and Matthew Featherstone.
In 2018 James curated and managed the Debussy Festival at St Cecilia’s, an eight concert festival devoted to the chamber, vocal and piano music of Debussy held at St Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh. Further festival appearances include performances given by James at the 2015 The Piano Festival at Glasgow Royal Concert Halls, the Lichfield, Cheltenham and Winchester Festivals, the Hebden Bridge Piano Festival, the Kilkenny Arts Festival, the Cantilena Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, the Roman River Festival, ‘Il Festival di Londra’, the Victoria International Arts Festival and the Paxos International Festival.
James maintains a strong interest in music education and is on the Keyboard Department faculty at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.