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James, Layton

View Music by Layton James

Choral  |  New Releases


Known to all as “Skip”, Layton James retired five years ago after 42 seasons as Principal Keyboardist for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Following graduation from The College of Wooster in music and religion, in 1963, he studied musicology under Donald Grout at Cornell University, and later pursued doctoral studies at Stanford University. He has found his true calling to be performance, conducting, and composition. A noted pianist, he was awarded the status of Steinway Artist in 2009. A famous continuo harpsichordist, James built the instruments he played with the SPCO and other groups.

As a composer, he has always felt very comfortable in the Baroque style, and has produced several cantatas, concertos and other works commissioned by the SPCO, his church, and his musical colleagues. Most recently, his “Suite in E-minor” for unaccompanied flute has had a wide following. His interpretations of Handel can be heard in the acclaimed recording of the “Complete Flute Sonatas” with Julia Bogorad and Charles Ullery. He has wide experience in arranging for instruments and voices, and is an expert orchestrator. He recently arranged Fauré’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” for chorus and orchestra, performed at the premier concert of the Maui Chamber Orchestra. Other musicians frequently call on Mr. James to compose original cadenzas for classical concertos, most recently the violinist Chio-Liang Lin He instituted the preconcert lectures before SPCO concerts known as “Fanfares,” and led them for thirty years.

He was the featured harpsichordist on “Messiah” recordings with Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony. Mr. James was a member of the chamber group “The Blue Baroque Band” which appeared at the Phipps in 2012, and has appeared two other times at that venue. He has been Music Director and Organist at Bethel Lutheran Church in Hudson, for the past 18 years, where he conducts the 30-voice Bethel Chorale. He has recently been involved in several recording projects. He was harpsichordist/musicologist for the first American recording of Zelenka’s “Chamber Sonatas”, produced by Crystal Records, and made a DVD conducting Handel’s “Messiah” with the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra and Chorus, in Petoskey, Michigan. He is currently recording a CD with trumpet player Mel Olson. He played keyboards for two seasons with Music in the Mountains, a festival in Durango, CO. He was both performer and arranger of music of Rameau for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society of Madison, WI in 2012. He has appeared as harpsichordist for a performance of Vivaldi’s “Seasons” at the Lakes Music Festival in Brainerd, MN. He is the accompanist of Metropolitan Opera mezzo Margaret Jane Wray, with whom he has concertized in the Twin Cities and locally. This season, Mr. James will conduct Handel’s “Messiah” a joint project of his church and the Phipps Center, on April 9. as well as lead the St. Croix Valley Symphony in two concerts.

Married to Linda James, and ‘father’ to two dogs, he roots for the Green Bay Packers, and enjoys cooking and fishing.


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