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 performed at the BBC Proms, live on BBC Radio 3, and at the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican, Bridgewater Hall, St John’s Smith Square, Purcell Room, Glasgow City Halls, Queens Hall Edinburgh, Perth Concert Hall, St George’s Bristol, Caird Hall and the Fairfield Halls.
James is a committed advocate of contemporary music, giving 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.
As pianist of the Hebrides Ensemble James has collaborated with singers Ailish Tynan, Joshua Ellicott, Roderick Williams, Susan Bullock, Lester Lynch, Charlotte Hellekant, Marcus Farnsworth and Michael Mayes. His work as collaborative pianist includes performances with James Gilchrist and the Carducci Quartet.
As a recording artist James has been highly acclaimed, with his most recent disc a 2021 recording of the chamber music by Stuart MacRae 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 2017 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.
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. Festival appearances include performances given by James at the 2023 Edinburgh Festival, 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 Roman River Festival, ‘Il Festival di Londra’, the Victoria International Arts Festival and the Paxos International Festival.
James is Head of Keyboard at Clifton College, and a member of the Keyboard Department faculty at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.