James Sommerville | The Canadian Encyclopedia


James Sommerville

He began his musical education on piano around the age of 7 and switched to French horn by chance in his Toronto high school, where an influential music teacher was John Fautley.

James Sommerville

 James Sommerville. French horn player, conductor, born Toronto 6 Oct 1962. James Sommerville, who holds Canadian, American and Irish citizenships, has maintained an outstanding career on the French horn covering orchestral, chamber and solo performance. More recently, he has added conducting to his repertoire.

He began his musical education on piano around the age of 7 and switched to French horn by chance in his Toronto high school, where an influential music teacher was John Fautley. He studied at the University of Toronto with Eugene Rittich, and at the University of Western Ontario, and went on to win the CBC Radio Competition for Young Performers (1985) and the Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation Award (1991). Sommerville honed his orchestral skills through positions with Symphony Nova Scotia, the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (associate principal 1986-1991), and the Toronto Symphony (third horn, 1997). He was acting principal horn in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (1996-1998).

Following an arduous audition process that stretched over some six months, Sommerville was rewarded with the coveted principal horn chair of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in 1998, a position he maintained in 2012. As a chamber musician he has appeared internationally in major festivals, among them at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Domaine Forget, Festival of the Sound (Parry Sound), and the Orford Arts Centre, and he has toured Canada, the United States and Europe.

Sommerville's musical skills range from the historical to the contemporary. He has performed the Weber Concertino on period (natural) horn with the Handel & Haydn Society under Christopher Hogwood (2003), and has appeared with Les Violons du Roy under Bernard Labadie. He premiered Christos Hatzis' Winter Solstice for solo horn and strings commissioned by the CBC Orchestra in Yellowknife, NWT (2004), and Elliot Carter's Horn Concerto, commissioned for him by the BSO, in 2007. Sommerville performed the North American premiere of Gyorgy Ligeti's Hamburg Concerto with the BSO, and John Williams' Horn Concerto, with the composer conducting (Tanglewood, 2004.)

Among his recordings are those for Deutsche Grammophon, Telarc, Marquis Classics and the CBC SM5000 label. His Mozart horn concertos with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra won the 1998 Juno Award for best classical recording (soloist with large ensemble), and A Britten Serenade, featuring Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings with tenor Benjamin Butterfield, received a 1999 Juno nomination.

Sommerville has taught on the faculty of the Longy School of Music (Cambridge, MA), and the New England Conservatory (Boston) as well as at numerous other post-secondary music institutions across Canada and the US. He has given master classes, seminars and workshops worldwide including at the Banff Centre for the Arts, the Vancouver Chamber Music Festival, Tanglewood (US), the Lucerne Festival (Switzerland), the Milan-Torino Festival (Italy), and the Saito Kinen Festival (Japan).

Sommerville pursued his interest in conducting with the legendary Finnish maestro Jorma Panula, and in 2008 he was named music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, a position he maintained in 2012 while continuing as principal horn with the BSO. His programming has included the classics, chamber music, and new music as well as a pops series featuring Chantal Kreviazuk and New Brunswick blues singer Matt Andersen. Sommerville also pursues guest conducting engagements.

Selected Discography

Chamber Music for Horn. Rena Sharon piano, James Mason oboe. 2010. Marquis MAR 157

Carl Reinecke and Friends: Chamber Music of the Romantic Era. James Campbell clarinet, Rena Sharon and Stéphan Sylvestre piano. 2005. Marquis MAR 309

Mozart Horn Concertos. CBC Vancouver Orchestra, Mario Bernardi conductor. 1997. CBC SM5000

A Britten Serenade. Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, Simon Streatfeild conductor. 1998. CBC SMCD 5187

Further Reading