James Holmes, Conductor – Helen Sykes Artists' Management – Photo Frances Marshall

James Holmes


Hailed for his “meticulous and magic baton…”


James Holmes is recognised internationally as an expert interpreter of works by Sondheim, Rogers and Hammerstein and Kurt Weill, and is a Board member of the Kurt Weill Foundation in New York.

Read James Holmes’s full biography below.

Current Highlights

Into the Woods (Sondheim) Vienna Volksoper


Lady in the Dark (Weill) Vienna Volksoper


“…a special show that I’d pay to see again… James Holmes’s impeccable conducting of the fired-up orchestra…”
Street Scene, Opera North – Winter 2020

“…this is an exceptional ensemble production, with Weill specialist conductor James Holmes ensuring the highest musical values…”
Street Scene, Opera North – Winter 2020

“James Holmes drew taut, punchy, idiomatic playing from the orchestra.”

“…James Holmes, conducting a  full symphony orchestra, steers a sensetive course between big band brashness and delicately cushioned accompaniment.”

“…the original orchestration realised glowingly under conductor James Holmes.”

“The sound from the WNO orchestra under Sondheim specialist James Holmes was a constant joy.”

“…Under James Holmes’s meticulous baton…the show is a full-blooded triumph…”

“The extremely well-prepared orchestra was led by James Holmes with drive, wit and the necessary pinch of sentiment.”

“…led with great elan and swing…”

“Musically flawless…James Holmes leads the orchestra through the streets and clubs of Greenwich Village with a light, precise baton.”

“James Holmes leads the Volksoper orchestra with big-band drive, tracing Bernstein’s ingenuity with pinpoint accuracy.”




James Holmes was recently honoured with the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music’s Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award.

He 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 several contemporary pieces, including world premières by leading British composers such as Gavin Bryars and Jonathan Harvey.  While at ENO 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 particularly known 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, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, a work which he had previously conducted over a hundred times during its celebrated National Theatre production.

Throughout his career James Holmes has regularly worked as coach/accompanist with many leading British singers, including Bryn Terfel, Sir Willard White, Sally Burgess and Lesley Garrett.  He has also assisted many leading conductors – most significantly Sir Simon Rattle – with whom he 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 music theatre with artists ranging from leading classical singers to rock and music theatre performers.  His concert appearances have included engagements with the Hallé, 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, having conducted as wide a range of Weill’s music as anyone in the world.  He was artist-in-residence at the 2013 Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau.  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 freelance work has included 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, Sweeney Todd and Kiss Me Kate for Welsh National Opera and Judith Weir’s The Vanishing Bridegroom for British Youth Opera.  He is a regular performer at the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau.

His recent engagements include a revival of Kiss Me Kate for Opera North, his début at the Vienna Volksoper conducting a new production of Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, a production of Dead Man Walking at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire and Der Silbersee for English Touring Opera.

James Holmes recently conducted a new production of Street Scene for Opera North, where he returns for Seven Deadly Sins this Autumn.  Other future plans include new productions of Into the Woods and Lady in the Dark, and further performances of Wonderful Town at the Vienna Volksoper.

This biography is not for publication.  Please contact the office for an updated version.


James Holmes – The Truth About Love, Frances Bourne CD

The Truth About Love

A concept CD on the theme of love from Frances Bourne, James Holmes is her idiomatic pianist in six songs on the theme of lust, which he composed for Prague’s underground cabaret club the Red Seven.

James Holmes – One Touch of Venus soundtrack CD

One Touch of Venus

“Recorded in New York and London (in a series of sessions that actually stretched over thirteen years), with the National Symphony Orchestra crisply conducted by John Owen Edwards and James Holmes, this version reproduces Weill’s original scoring and bears his unmistakable sound.”


Mercy and Grand

Mercy and Grand

Mercy and Grand features the music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, alongside music by Kurt Weill, John Tams, folk music. The whole project was put together by Opera North and features singer Jess Walker and a fine and heterodox band of musicians. Arrangements are by Gavin Bryars, Joe Townsend and Jim Holmes.

James Holmes – Soprano In Red, Lesley Garrett CD

Soprano In Red

An hour of operetta highlights by Lesley Garrett with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, conducted by James Holmes. 


Helen Sykes
+44 (0)7799 673367